By Matt Dixon
KNOXVILLE — Chuck Smith wanted to tell his side of the story as to why he’s no longer a member of the University of Tennessee football coaching staff.
Friday, the former UT player and coach held a news conference on the sidewalk at the intersection of Phillip Fulmer Way and Peyton Manning Pass, just outside Neyland Stadium, to address his departure from the program after one season as the defensive line coach — a position he considered to be a “dream job.”
UT announced on Feb. 6 that Smith would not be returning for the 2011 season.
“The decision to leave the University of Tennessee wasn’t my decision,” Smith said to a handful of media members.
“A mutual decision was brought to me that I’m too big for the program — that my stature is too big, and that I could better help serve this program in a different capacity: ‘Stay and move to another position here or go home.’
“I decided under the circumstances of the school that I love and the efforts that I’ve put in, in fairness to the program, I probably would need to step to the side. The point is, I never agreed to step to the side.”
Smith later elaborated on his exit.
“I would’ve clearly stepped aside, as I will always do the right thing by the University of Tennessee,” he said. “I’m big on being professional. When you say something, I expect you to do it. ... I didn’t get fired. ... In a professional setting, all we had to do was just say, ‘Guys, it is a little uncomfortable. There are rumors. Let’s work it out; let’s figure it out.’”
Smith said disagreements among the defensive coaches began midway through the 2010 season. He felt the line was not being given enough opportunities to pressure opposing quarterbacks.
“In our first seven games, we had six four-man pass rushes called on pass-rush stunts,” Smith said. “Then after that, you guys heard about a little tension maybe? D-line coach had to turn it up a little bit to get more four-man pass rushes, and you see we were second in the league, led the league the last seven games [in sacks].”
During the season, rumors began swirling about possible friction among coaches on the defensive side of the ball.
“The rumors, the lies, the smearing of my name internally inside our defensive room was unfair,” Smith said.
The effects of the conflict even carried into recruiting, he said.
“I wish I could’ve recruited a few guys with the defensive staff,” he said. “Thank you, offensive guys, for being supportive and being on my team and helping us get the job done anyway.”
Smith also thanked other coaches — including his predecessor and current Southern Cal defensive line coach Ed Orgeron and former head coach Lane Kiffin, now at USC — as well as current Vols head coach Derek Dooley.
“I want to thank Derek Dooley publicly for giving me the opportunity,” Smith said. “Thank you to the University of Tennessee again for building me into an absolute successful person that has a thirst for more.”
Smith also said he didn’t get the job with the Vols because of his friendship with Dooley dating back to childhood, saying he hadn’t talked with Dooley in 20 years until Dooley was hired by UT.
“The bottom line is, the reason I got this job is because [New York Jets coach] Rex Ryan called and told him that I was going to be the D-line coach of the No. 1 defense in the NFL.
“I will coach again,” he said. “Hopefully it will be in the SEC, particularly in the East, but it could be the West.”
Still, Smith said he intended the news conference to be a farewell.
“I’m here to say goodbye. I’m here to say thank you to all the Vol fans that deserve to hear the truth,” he said. “A real VFL [Vol for Life] would never, ever, ever walk off on his team.”
Contact Matt Dixon at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6273.