Longtime Tennessee assistant football coach Steve Caldwell gave his boss something of an early Christmas present Sunday.
With at least two coaching vacancies to fill after the Vols face Wisconsin in the Outback Bowl on Jan. 1, Tennessee's defensive ends coach made sure UT coach Phillip Fulmer didn't have to add another position to his coaching search.
Caldwell had spoken several times with newly hired Arkansas coach and longtime friend Bobby Petrino about becoming the Razorbacks' defensive coordinator, but on Sunday night Caldwell told Petrino that he would remain at Tennessee.
"(Petrino) and I have talked three or four times about the job, and before I ever went to meet with him, I wanted to make sure whether it was something that I wanted to do," Caldwell said Sunday. "After spending some time with my family, I've decided that I'm not going to do that. This is where my family is. Tennessee is really my family now."
Caldwell and Petrino, who resigned as the Atlanta Falcons' head coach earlier this month to take over at Arkansas, coached together at Nevada in 1994.
At Nevada, Caldwell was the co-defensive coordinator and Petrino the offensive coordinator.
Caldwell arrived at Tennessee in 1995 and has been in Knoxville ever since.
"We're very excited about Steve staying," Fulmer said Sunday. "He's an outstanding football coach, a really outstanding person. His family means a lot to UT. As much as anybody that we have on our staff, he creates the kind of atmosphere that you'd want your son or daughter to be around."
The deciding factor for Caldwell was family.
"That really played a huge part in it," Caldwell said. "(Caldwell's granddaughter) is six months old and for me to up and leave right now and ask my wife to do that - it might have to happen someday, but it doesn't have to happen right now."
UT has yet to announce raises for its assistant coaches, although Fulmer said that Caldwell will receive an increase.
Still, it won't be as big as the one Caldwell could have received at Arkansas, which paid Reggie Herring $350,000 as its defensive coordinator this season.
Caldwell, regarded as one of UT's best recruiters, earns $150,000.
"I won't get into the salary or anything right now, but we ought to be able to help that some," Fulmer said. "Not nearly what he would have made as a coordinator, but enough to justify him staying here. You have to compliment our administration for allowing us to keep pace with pay. It's gotten crazy quickly, a little bit, but our administration does a good job of keeping pace."
Tennessee already must replace at least two assistant coaches.
Current offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe will take over as Duke's head coach following the Outback Bowl, and wide receivers coach Trooper Taylor will become co-offensive coordinator at Oklahoma State.
Tight ends coach Matt Luke and running backs coach Kurt Roper, both of whom coached with Cutcliffe at Ole Miss, could also join Cutcliffe's staff at Duke.
Neither have been available for comment since Cutcliffe was named head coach.
If those two leave, the Vols will have four new coaches on the offensive side of the ball for next season.
On defense, however, Tennessee has enjoyed a rare level of continuity.
Defensive backs coach Larry Slade has the shortest tenure of any defensive coach - and he came on board in 1999.
Defensive line coach Dan Brooks has been at UT since 1994, and defensive coordinator John Chavis has been with the Vols since 1989.
"It's something that we've enjoyed a measurable amount of success, and a lot of it's due to that continuity and to that teamwork that we've had over a number of years now," Fulmer said. "Offensively, we're obviously getting ready to have to start rebuilding that continuity, but it's been unbelievable the amount of people and the quality of people that are interested in that (offensive coordidnator's) job."
Tennessee interviewed Clemson offensive coordinator Rob Spence on Friday, the only known candidate to interview for UT's offensive coordinator job.
But Caldwell's decision to stay means Tennessee won't be searching for a new defensive ends coach.
"It's not somewhere that I want to leave," Caldwell said. "Bobby and I talked about all those things. He was very understanding. I think he'll do a great job at Arkansas, regardless of what people might think over the past few weeks.
"He was nice enough to even consider me as his defensive coordinator. It was just a pleasure. It was really overwhelming that he would consider that."
Drew Edwards covers University of Tennessee football. He may be reached at 865-342-6274.