While interviewing Derrick Ansley last week, I noticed that Tennessee's new cornerbacks coach kept glancing to his right as though he were concerned that still more media-types were headed his way.
I could sympathize. UT assistant coaches are allowed to interview just often enough that the local media can recognize them as readily as a Neyland Stadium usher. Once available, the coaches must feel like hostages to a media contingent that's reluctant to let go.
Ansley has more reason to be antsy about losing any waking moments to the media. He spent two years working for Alabama coach Nick Saban, whose idea of media access makes UT's look like open range.
No one should quibble over Ansley's employment as a graduate assistant with an archrival — not after all the other Tide-to-Tennessee movement. He's merely the most recent example of the Sabanization of Tennessee football.
First came head coach Derek Dooley, who was an assistant under Saban at both LSU and the Miami Dolphins. Then, defensive coach Lance Thompson dropped by for a few years before returning to Alabama. Out went Thompson, in came another Saban assistant, Sal Sunseri, now serving as UT's defensive coordinator.
Any UT fan bothered by the growing Saban/Alabama influence should consider the alternatives. Would you rather UT manned its coaching staff with Woody Widenhofer disciples? Alabama has won two national championships in the last three seasons under Saban. If you can't afford Saban, why not buy into the Saban connection?
UT is all in, as evidenced by the number of former Alabama coaches and administrators who
have signed on with the Vols in the last few years. My advice to anyone seeking employment at UT: Show up for your job interview in a crimson-colored baseball cap with a scripted white "A," and list Nick Saban as a reference.
Some UT fans might be more concerned about Ansley's lack of experience with FBS programs — two years as a graduate assistant at Alabama and a few months at Central Florida — than they are his Alabama background. If so, they might find the details reassuring, the most significant of which is that he worked directly under Saban, whose area of expertise is the secondary.
"He's been coaching DBs for 37 or 38 years," Ansley said. "So in the time I spent with him, I said 'I got past a lot of coaches.' He's really, really good at what he does. I was very blessed to go down there and work with him."
And he was determined to make the most of it.
"The first couple of months, I tried to kind of shadow him," Ansley said. "I learned how he wanted things. I just tried to get two steps ahead of him and anticipate what he wanted. When you stay even with a coach like that, you're getting behind."
The rest of the SEC — UT especially — knows all about being behind Saban, Since he moved to Tuscaloosa, the Vols have lost five consecutive games to the Tide, by an average of 21.6 points.
Ansley has firsthand knowledge of the challenge. The strength of Alabama's 2011 national championship team was its secondary. In the midst of UT's spring practice, Ansley doesn't feel as though he has been jettisoned to a different football galaxy.
"I don't think there's a big drop-off," he said when asked to compare the secondary he left behind to the one he now helps coach. "The thing Alabama had last year was experience. That's one thing we've got this year. Now, it's time for these guys to take it to the next level."
Anyone who has coached under Saban at least knows where the next level is.