KNOXVILLE — Derek Dooley approached the typical hoard of reporters after the University of Tennessee football team’s Monday morning practice inside the Neyland-Thompson Sports Center.
“I know what you guys want to talk about,” Dooley said.
He was quite right.
Coordinator Justin Wilcox didn’t speak with reporters, but he coached the UT defense as usual Monday morning and prepared for the Dec. 30 Music City Bowl as rumors swirled about his potential move for the same position at Texas.
It hasn’t happened yet, and Dooley isn’t convinced it will happen.
But if it does, the Volunteers coach said he and his players will be fine.
“Here’s all I can tell you,” Dooley said. “Nobody on our staff has been offered any jobs, I don’t anticipate any staff changes and I’m going to reiterate exactly what I said [last week]: It’s a fluid industry, and it always is, but I don’t anticipate any changes, and nobody on our staff has been offered a job. That’s where we are.
“The first thing is ... well, there’s a couple of things. I’m never going to beg people to stay at Tennessee, because this is a great job and there are thousands of coaches that would kill to be here, and we’re never going to have one coach that’s going to be bigger than the program, so I think we should expect this every year. So get used to it, because it’s a good thing.
“When programs want your coaches, it means your coaches are doing a good job.”
It’s become clear that there is at least a mutual interest between Tennessee’s defensive coordinator and the Longhorns.
Wilcox is making $600,000 in the first year of a three-year deal with the Vols, and his buyout would be $300,000, but those figures bother deep-pocketed Texas. The past three Texas defensive coordinators have left the program to become head coaches, and Wilcox — who came to Tennessee from Boise State — might perceive that situation as one step closer to taking charge of a program.
“I don’t view it as a negative that there’s chatter about it,” Dooley said. “I hope there’s chatter every year about our coaches. If there’s not, they’re probably not doing a good job.”
Tennessee’s players would like to hear at least one more thing: That they won’t have to replace Wilcox and play for a fourth defensive coordinator in four years.
“I’ve heard rumors about it, but you can’t really do much or say much,” junior linebacker Austin Johnson said. “I love Coach Wilcox, and he’s a great coach, and I want him to stay as bad as anybody else, but I know he’s got to do what’s best for his career, so we’ll kind of just see how that happens.
“But, you know, I guess we’re kind of used to coaching changes by now.”
They’re so used to them that many Vols simply joke about it. Senior middle linebacker Nick Reveiz said that while he hopes Wilcox stays, “it wouldn’t be devastating” if he leaves.
“You just keep going, and you’ve got to have blinders on,” Reveiz said. “You can’t listen to the rumor mill. All you can do is really just trust the guys that are in authority over you, and that’s part of the duty that we have as a team. We have to trust Coach Wilcox, and whatever he does, that’s his thing. You can’t be looking toward the future.
“All you can do is trust the process that’s in plan right now, do what he’s telling you to do, and if something happens, you know what? Everything happens for a reason.”
Johnson laughed and added, “We’d probably handle it better than most.”
Dooley didn’t seem distracted or concerned with the situation Monday morning.
“They can call my coaches all the time and offer them anything they want. And if our coaches want to leave, they can leave,” Dooley said. “I’m not going to beg a guy to stay, because I’ve got thousands of them right behind him waiting for their job. And we don’t depend on an assistant coach, just like one player doesn’t make a program. We have a staff. We have an organization. I believe this is a phenomenal job, and I believe our coaches are happy. It’s a great job. They’re well-compensated. We’ve got some good talent here. We’ve got a chance to do some special things.
“I’m losing sleep over North Carolina, not our coaches.”
Dooley, when told there were stories in Texas saying Wilcox to the Longhorns was nearly a done deal, replied, “That’s news to me.”
“To my knowledge, he’s never been offered a job at Texas, and he’s not going to be named within 48 hours,” Dooley said. “So if he does, then, you know what we’re going to do, we’re going to get a defensive coordinator and then we’re going to go play the bowl game. I’m not worried about it.”
And he’s not going to spend much more time discussing it, judging by his gradually-more-animated tone Monday morning.
“I’m not talking about Internet rumors,” he said. “I’m not talking about Lance Thompson and Justin Wilcox and Jim Chaney. I’m not going to do that ... because every year there’s going to be talk about our coaches going somewhere, because we have a good staff. And that’s a good thing. Every year I talk to all of our coaches about other opportunities — ‘Where do you want to head professionally? What are you thinking long-term wise? How can I help you?’ — because we all are in it for Tennessee, but then everybody’s got their personal goals that they have. And I don’t think that’s worthy of public record. I don’t think that’s a fair thing.
“Justin was up here all day last night game-planning North Carolina. I feel like I’m better equipped, because I’m at the University of Tennessee. I didn’t feel like that at my previous place, because we have money, we have facilities, we have players, we have great administration and we’ve got the best fans in the country. ... I was always high-anxiety this time of year at my previous job, because we didn’t have money to compensate and make the job competitive. But we’ve got that here.”
Contact Wes Rucker at email@example.com or 865-851-9739. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/wesruckerCTFP or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/tfpvolsbeat.