Chuck Smith doesn’t view himself as a players’ coach. And he doesn’t consider himself an all-business disciplinarian.
Smith sees himself as a mixture of both coaching styles; and that’s what he believes will make him a perfect fit as Tennessee’s next defensive line coach.
“I just don’t talk about Tennessee football from afar,” said Smith, who lettered at UT as a defensive lineman in 1990 and 1991. “I’ve lived it.”
Now, Smith seems ready to live it again. He’s talked to newly hired UT head coach Derek Dooley about joining the Vols’ staff. Smith said he expects to talk to him again soon.
Smith spent the past season assisting with the coaching of the New York Jets’ defensive line. The Jets lost Sunday to the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC Championship Game.
Smith established himself as an All-Pro defensive end during his career with the Atlanta Falcons from 1992 to 1999. He played one season with the Carolina Panthers before retiring after multiple knee injuries.
After his playing career, Smith worked in broadcasting before pursuing a career as a personal trainer for football players, which led him to coaching.
His most recent stop — learning the Jets’ defense under head coach Rex Ryan — has improved his stock as a coaching candidate.
“I’ve been around the world,” Smith joked. “It’s been a blessing working under coach Ryan.”
Smith insisted that he’s not on the open job market — that he’s happy on the Jets’ staff — but that UT would have an appeal.
“It would be an exciting time,” Smith said. “I’m a Vol at the end of the day.”
He has some strong ties to Dooley. The two played together at Clarke Central High School in Athens, Ga.
“He knows me,” Smith said. “He knows my family. He knows my background.”
Smith said he and Dooley share the same approach to football: be organized, have integrity and play hard and fast.
“I guess it would be a smoother transition because I know Derek and I’ve kept up with Derek,” Smith said.
Smith said a move to UT would also be easier than a move elsewhere because he is familiar with the campus and the support staff in the athletic department.
HE believes he could be a better coach in college than in the NFL because of his people skills, which could benefit him as a recruiter.
Smith has no history as a recruit, but didn’t seem swayed by a new challenge.
“I can look a parent in the eye and say ‘Guess what mom? I’ve been that same kid that your son is right now.’” he said. “I understand the importance of an education. I understand the importance of wanting your son to play at the NFL level. I want your son to have the total experience at the University of Tennessee.”
Smith pointed to his time heading up D-Line, Inc., as proof that he can develop NFL talent. While training NFL prospects, Smith is credited with helping former Vol Robert Ayers to become a first-round NFL Draft pick. He also trained former UT defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth while he was with the Tennessee Titans.
“Going into a home, I can explain what it would take if you want to get into the NFL,” Smith said. “No. 1, it’s going to take you going to class and staying out of the street.
“…When it comes to the football aspect of it, I can teach you anything you need if you buy into it. I will have no weaknesses going into any parents’ home.”
Smith said he’s not one to try to be a player’s best friend, but his experiences can help him relate.
“I don’t look down my nose at these guys,” Smith said. “They’re looking for mentors.”
While UT’s fans are looking for a savior.
Smith, along with the rest of the Vols’ fan base, has watched Tennessee’s football program get wracked by former head coach Lane Kiffin’s departure and the scramble to replace him in less than three days.
“I understand what our fans are going through right now,” Smith said. “I understand why they’re so disappointed in Kiffin, because we win championships.
“The message might have been lost over the last couple of years, but that was our mentality.”