KNOXVILLE—Peter Sirmon knows the techniques and how to teach them.
Still, the University of Tennessee linebackers coach is doing some tweaking during his first spring practice in that role after primarily coaching the Volunteers’ safeties as a graduate assistant last fall.
“It’s a lot of the same teaching,” Sirmon said Thursday. “It’s more of establishing yourself with the linebackers on what your personality is and how you’re going to coach them and what your expectations are going to be. But there hasn’t been a significant adjustment.”
When Lance Thompson replaced Chuck Smith as UT’s defensive line coach, the 34-year-old Sirmon slid into Thompson’s role. The former Tennessee Titan isn’t new to linebacker drills: He played the position at Oregon and for seven seasons in the NFL and coached Central Washington’s linebackers for the 2008 season.
But he says he’s continuing to learn some on the fly and adapting his style to his players.
“I hope I learn all the time,” he said. “As soon as you think you have it figured out, that’s when bad things happen, so I hope my fourth year coaching will be the same as my 24th coaching — always trying to improve, trying to find a better way to do it, try to find a better way to communicate with these players and make it player-friendly.
“I think that’s one of the biggest challenges we have as coaches is to try to make hard things easy and try to use words that make sense and try to be consistent with our words.”
Sirmon isn’t alone coaching the Vols’ linebackers, as he calls the defensive staff a “100 percent team effort.” Thompson previously has held both the positions he’s coached at UT, and defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox played defensive back at Oregon, coached linebackers at Oregon and Boise State and helped with UT’s line last season.
“When staffs work together, there’s a lot of dialogue, crossover dialogue,” head coach Derek Dooley said. “There’s a lot of sharing of ideas and helping on every staff. It was certainly that case on the defensive staff. Peter helped a lot with Lance on the linebackers just like Lance helped Chuck on D-line, so that’s part of having a good, experienced, veteran staff. You’re always going to have that.”
Added Sirmon: “The more perspectives you can bring and understand the issues that the other position groups are going through and certain concepts and certain defenses, I think it [gives you] a better perspective. It’ll make us better coaches on game day. We can communicate with more than just one group and all collaborate and be able to communicate and get the adjustments done more effectively.”
Three of UT’s top four tacklers last season were linebackers, but Sirmon doesn’t have any of that trio available this spring. Nick Reveiz and LaMarcus Thompson completed their eligibility, and Herman Lathers had offseason shoulder surgery.
That might not be his biggest adjustment: Sirmon will take to the recruiting trail for the first time in his coaching career, so he needs to learn and develop his own style in that regard. But he’ll have a helping hand just like he has with his coaching efforts with the current Vols.
“Justin does a great job of setting the path of where we’re going,” Sirmon said, “and he gives us good direction on what we’re doing. We’re all sitting there and watch film together and tweak it and try to get it as best we can and try to identify the players’ strengths and weaknesses and try to put them in a position to be successful.”
Patrick Brown has been the University of Tennessee beat writer since January 2011. A native of Memphis, Brown graduated from UT in May of 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism/Electronic Media and worked at the Knoxville News Sentinel for two years on the sports editorial staff and as a freelance contributor. If it’s the NBA, the NFL or SEC football and basketball, he’s probably reading about it or watching it on TV. Contact him ...