Derek Dooley made it through National Signing Day without anybody raiding his first staff at Tennessee.
Changes are coming for the Vols coach heading into his second season anyway.
In what was termed a mutual decision according to a school release on Sunday evening, UT announced the first departure under Dooley's watch with defensive line coach Chuck Smith parting ways with his alma mater to "pursue other career opportunities." There will be no search for a replacement though, with graduate assistant Peter Sirmon earning a promotion to coach linebackers and Lance Thompson sliding down to fill the void left by Smith.
“I am grateful for the personal investment, hard work and passion that Chuck contributed to our program this past year,” Dooley said in the release. “He is a dear friend to me, and more importantly, will always be a part of the Tennessee family.”
His time serving in an official capacity again with the Vols was short-lived though, ending just one season after Dooley signed Smith to a two-year deal worth a total of $475,000 to help rebuild the program and develop the defensive front.
UT had some issues creating pressure on the quarterback early in the season, though a pair of injuries in the first week of camp to expected starters and the lack of much depth were clearly factors in the lack of sacks. But Smith, himself a former UT standout before a productive NFL career, was widely praised by the players at his position for his knowledge of the game and he also had two talented freshmen that he seemed particularly excited to work with over the coming years.
“If I’m here as I plan on being here with Corey Miller and Jacques Smith, we’re going to bludgeon the conference,” Smith said in October. “I got a guy right there in Jacques Smith that has the potential to be a top-five pick in the NFL.
“We’re working towards that, and all I tell folks is just stick by us. We’ve got some bright days ahead of us and young, talented players here that are as talented as anybody in the conference.”
That should still be the case for the Vols, who added a handful of significant pieces to the rotation on the defensive line last week on National Signing Day to go along with Smith and Miller.
But the plans for Chuck Smith to stick around to coach them have changed, with Thompson now in charge of molding them after working with the linebackers over the last two seasons. Thompson brings significant experience to the position after handling linemen for seven seasons during his career before shifting his focus to the middle of the defense.
His change in roles also provided the opportunity for Sirmon to become a full-time member of the staff after serving as a graduate assistant working with the secondary last season. Sirmon brings plenty of expertise to the position after a seven-year career playing linebacker with the Tennessee Titans, and he’s already considered a rising star in the coaching profession and was clearly well regarded by both Dooley and defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox.
“Lance’s extensive experience coaching defensive linemen combined with Peter’s work product over the past year makes these decisions seamless,” Dooley said. “Lance has experienced tremendous success as both a defensive coordinator and line coach, while Peter’s work ethic, professionalism, coaching ability, and success as a linebacker at both the collegiate and professional ranks precluded me from pursuing any other candidates.”
Austin Ward covers Tennessee football. He may be reached 865-342-6274. Follow him at http://twitter.com/Vols_Beat and http://blogs.knoxnews.com/ward.