DESTIN, Fla. — Mark Richt didn't have a defensive scheme in mind when he sought to hire a new defensive coordinator after the 2009 football season. The Georgia coach was more interested in hiring the right person to head up his defense.
The right person turned out to be Todd Grantham, who had an extensive pro background as a defensive coach. His defense of preference happened to be a 3-4 alignment, which meant the Bulldogs would have to adjust to a new system as well as a new coordinator.
"It might have saved us a little grief (if Grantham had stuck with a 4-3 defense)," Richt said. "But I wanted to get the right guy."
Georgia's defense struggled at times to make the transition in 2010. That struggle is now relevant to Tennessee, which will make the same switch — from a 4-3 to a 3-4 — this season under new defensive coordinator Sal Sunseri.
"Everybody makes the assumption that you are going to be better Year Two," UT coach Derek Dooley said at the SEC spring meetings. "That doesn't mean you stink Year One. Georgia's defense was pretty good Year One."
Dooley is right. While the Bulldogs fielded one of the best defenses in the country last season, they weren't an abject failure in 2010 when they suffered through a 6-7 season.
They ranked 23rd nationally in defense that year. But there were just enough breakdowns to remind you it was a defense in transition. The Bulldogs gave up 49 points to Auburn and 31 or more to four other opponents.
Breakdowns aside, the Bulldogs actually improved in one area over the previous season. They forced more than twice as many turnovers as the 2009 defense.
That stat surely resonates with Dooley, whose defense ranked 10th in the SEC in takeaways last season. He said he was prepared to make changes even before defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox left for a similar position at Washington.
"We were going to do things differently," Dooley said. "There was a lot of open dialogue on that throughout the course of the year."
The change had more to do with philosophy than scheme.
"If your scheme is philosophically different than what I believe in, I'd have a problem with it," Dooley said. "It's not necessarily the Xs and Os. It's more the philosophy of playing winning defense.
"There's a lot of schemes that win. I do believe in being multiple and being aggressive."
And like Richt, he was more interested in the coach than the scheme.
"If Sal had a little different scheme than what he's running, I'd still hire Sal," Dooley said.
Sunseri installed the 3-4 scheme this spring. But you won't know how well his team can execute it until the fall.
The switch is a risk for a head coach who has had back-to-back losing seasons while trying to rebuild UT football to a respectable level.
"You have to do what you believe in and what you think is right," Dooley said. "You can't worry about growing pains. You've got to get to the end result.
"I don't believe in recruiting for the short term. And I don't believe in making program decisions for the short term. Hopefully, you can survive the short term, and you've got a pretty salty program five, six years down the road. That's the hope."
"If you don't, you look back and say I probably should have made (decisions) more for the short term."