He’s 40 years old and he still looks like he could put on a helmet and get after a quarterback.
Alas, there would be sticky eligibility red tape, since he did play those nine seasons in the NFL.
No, Chuck Smith can’t help solve Tennessee’s defensive line issues like he did in the old days.
He has to be content with teaching someone else how to do it.
To put Smith in perspective, let’s activate the time machine and set the dial back two decades.
After the 1989 season, the Vols needed defensive help in a big and immediate way. So Johnny Majors turned to the junior-college ranks.
He signed Smith out of Northeast Oklahoma to anchor one defensive end and Chris Mims to line up at the other side. He brought in Dale Carter to patrol the secondary.
The Vols won an SEC title in 1990, then the Sugar Bowl.
In 1991, Smith was first-team All-SEC, recording nine quarterback sacks. The Vols went 18-5-2 in his two-year career, then the Atlanta Falcons took him in the second round.
Returning to 2010, Smith has landed on the UT coaching staff at the invitation of his former high-school teammate from Athens, Ga., Derek Dooley.
Smith is in charge of Tennessee’s defensive line. It’s not an easy assignment to launch a collegiate coaching career.
The D-line is, in the words of defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox, a motley crew.
Dooley once referred to the defensive-tackle pool as a sack of potatoes, meaning just stick your hand in and grab one because there’s not a lot of difference in them.
There are a couple of proven veterans but not enough. Walk-ons are playing, true freshmen are playing, guys off the track team are playing, ends are playing tackle.
Smith played at a high level in the NFL. He has worked in the business world, been a talk-radio host, served on UT’s Athletics Board and developed a reputation as a personal coach and trainer for aspiring NFL players.
Last year he joined the coaching ranks full time with the New York Jets.
Now he’s essentially at ground zero, molding UT’s motley crew.
And loving it.
“I’ve never flinched,’’ he said Wednesday.
“I’m mixing and matching. There’s no other way to put it.
“It’s like a Crayola box and I’ve got 18 different colors in there, depending on who’s hot and who’s healthy.’’
One of the colors is orange. Smith is the only former Vol on the coaching staff. Wilcox, who came from Boise State, had never met Smith but quickly figured out what he brought to the mix.
“Energy,’’ Wilcox said. “He’s about ready to head-butt the players half the time because he’s got so much juice.
“He obviously loves Tennessee. He would run through a wall.
“And, the NFL background, so he’s got credibility with the players.’’
While he might want to head-butt them half the time, he’s got his players’ backs, too.
They’re trying their hardest, he says. They’re taking coaching. They’re learning to swim in the deep end.
“Everyone should keep riding with us,’’ Smith said, “and look at the big picture, not the small picture.
“Cause our day is coming again.’’
Mike Strange may be reached at email@example.com or 865-342-6276.