Tennessee appears close to filling one hole on its coaching staff.
Another might be popping up to replace it.
The Vols have been focused on their vacant defensive coordinator position and are taking close looks at Alabama outside linebackers coach Sal Sunseri and Navy defensive coordinator Buddy Green, with the former interviewing Wednesday and the latter up today according to a source familiar with the search. But with Derek Dooley’s attention on that critical hire, another program seems interested in giving Derek Dooley even more work to do during an already busy offseason.
According to a source familiar with the personnel but not authorized to speak publicly, offensive line coach Harry Hiestand is a top candidate for the same position at Notre Dame and could leave the Vols after two seasons working under Dooley.
Hiestand left the Neyland-Thompson Sports Center shortly before 2 p.m. on Wednesday, stopping briefly to deny reports that he had accepted a deal with the Irish.
“No, I haven’t taken another job,” Hiestand said. “I haven’t talked with anybody today.”
According to a separate source in the program, Hiestand also hadn’t spoken with any of his players to alert them of a possible change in leadership late in the afternoon either.
Should Hiestand leave, Dooley would be looking for a fifth new assistant since the season ended in disappointing fashion with the Vols losing at Kentucky and missing out on a bowl bid to end his second season.
Wide receivers coach Charlie Baggett retired and special teams coordinator Eric Russell left for Washington State in December, and defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox and linebackers coach Peter Sirmon left earlier this month to join the staff at Washington.
At this point, Dooley has only made one hire to offset the departures, bringing Jay Graham back to his alma mater to coach running backs with a two-year, $225,000 deal.
According to a source, Dooley is close to a deal that would fill the position formerly held by Russell, with San Diego Chargers special teams coordinator Rich Bisaccia at the top of the list for the Vols.
Fresh off his role in helping the Crimson Tide to a national championship on Monday, the 52-year-old Sunseri has emerged as a possible choice for the job Wilcox held for two seasons. The assistant head coach for Alabama has ties to both Dooley, who also worked under Nick Saban, and UT athletic director Dave Hart, a former staff member for the program until his hiring in September.
Green, 58, has spent the last 10 seasons with the Midshipmen, twice picking up nominations for the Frank Broyles Award for the nation’s top assistant. Among his stops during a career that dates back to 1979, Green spent six seasons as the coach at Tennessee-Chattanooga before helping rebuild the defense at North Carolina State prior to his run with Navy.
Should the Vols agree to terms with their possible candidates for the coordinator spots, they’d still have one more full-time position available. And if Notre Dame is able to do the same with Hiestand, Dooley will have to add one more on top of that.
“That’s kind of the nature of our industry,” Dooley said during his press conference last Tuesday. “I’ve said all along that when people are wanting your coaches, despite what a lot of people think, we’re obviously doing something right.
“Like any coaching change, we use it as an opportunity to get better. And that’s what we’re going to do here because as much of the good things as those guys brought, there are always areas where we can improve.”
The Vols haven’t addressed them all yet. A new one could be on the way.
Austin Ward covers Tennessee football. Follow him at http://twitter.com/Vols_Beat and http://blogs.knoxnews.com/ward