SEMINOLES HIRE SUNSERI
After a rough season as Tennessee's defensive coordinator, Sal Sunseri landed at Florida State, where he'll coach defensive ends. The former Alabama assistant joined Jimbo Fisher's staff earlier this week and will help coach the Seminoles in the Orange Bowl against Northern Illinois on Jan. 5.
According to the Orlando Sentinel, Sunseri will make $200,000 at Florida State. He was scheduled to make $800,000 and $850,000 at Tennessee in the second and third years of his deal the next two seasons. As outlined in his contract, Sunseri is owed the difference in salary from his new job, which puts Tennessee's tab in the range of $1.4 million.
KNOXVILLE — Willie Martinez and John Jancek are reversing roles at Tennessee.
Now it's up to the pair of former Georgia assistant coaches to reverse the fortune of a broken Volunteers defense.
Three years after they were fired in Athens, Jancek and Martinez have reunited in different roles on new coach Butch Jones' first staff in Knoxville. They face the task of repairing a Tennessee defense that this season was historically the program's worst.
"Let's be realistic: We've got some challenges," Jancek said Thursday afternoon inside the Neyland-Thompson Sports Complex, where most of Jones' staff met with the media for the first time. "But I love our players' attitudes, at least the guys that I've met with up to this point. They're positive.
"They want to be coached. Whether you're a 3-4 or a 4-3, they don't really care. 'Coach, just tell me what I've got to do to be successful.' That's how we're going to approach it."
Fair or not, both coaches will be linked to their final days in Athens, when the Bulldogs allowed 34 or more points five times during a 7-5 season in 2009. Martinez, now Tennessee's secondary coach, was in his ninth season at Georgia and his fifth as defensive coordinator. In addition to coaching linebackers, Jancek was Martinez's co-coordinator after four seasons as strictly a position coach.
Georgia won the SEC title in Martinez's first year as coordinator in 2005, but he hasn't been a coordinator since that 2009 season that included a 45-19 blowout loss in Knoxville when the Vols' Jonathan Crompton threw for 310 yards and four touchdowns.
"I think you never really stop learning as a coach, and obviously you learn a lot when you're in this league," Martinez said. "Number one [is] the recruiting part of it, and every Saturday you're playing at the top level of college football. It all starts with players.
"You've got to have a great defense. The defense has to play at a championship level. When we were at Georgia, that's how we won the championships, the two that we won."
Following his departure from the SEC, Martinez coached the secondary at Oklahoma for two seasons before returning to the league at Auburn this season. Oklahoma finished 51st and 79th nationally in pass defense in the pass-happy Big 12 while Martinez was there, but the Sooners were in the top 25 in pass-efficiency defense. Auburn's defense intercepted just two passes this season.
After playing defensive back at Miami, Martinez has coached college secondaries for nearly 20 years.
"I feel comfortable either way, but obviously it's something that I've played and done most of my career," he said. "I like recruiting and coaching those types of players -- that last line of defense, the game coming down to how well you play in the secondary. I've always loved that challenge because at the end of the day when you win a ballgame and the secondary plays really well, it's probably going to come down to that."
Cincinnati's defense made marked improvement in three seasons under Jancek. After allowing 28 points per game in 2010, the Bearcats finished 12th in the country this season by allowing just 17 points per game. Despite losing its top tackler and two defensive tackles who went in the first 90 picks of the NFL draft, Cincinnati remained in the top 30 nationally in both passing-efficiency defense and rushing yards allowed.
"The reason we were successful is we just didn't beat ourselves," said the 44-year-old Jancek. "We lost a lot of production from the team before. We kept the players motivated, and we kept the scheme simple so they could execute."
Jancek said his time at Georgia was "invaluable" and spoke to the importance of the trust level he has with Martinez from their five years together in Athens.
"He's a great teacher of the game, and I think that's important," Martinez said. "He relates with the players really well. He's a fundamental coach, really good recruiter, and it'll be good."
After a disastrous season in which Tennessee failed at an attempted switch to a 3-4 base defense under Sal Sunseri, Jancek will take Tennessee back to the 4-3 scheme, one in which he stresses speed. After the Vols' 2011 defense finished in the top 30 nationally in yards allowed under Justin Wilcox, Tennessee gave up 471 yards and nearly 36 points points per game this season.
The first seven SEC offenses they faced each scored at least 37 points on the Vols, and Troy ran up 721 yards.
Jones' staff hit the recruiting trail very hard last week, and multiple assistants admitted their entire focus has been on shoring up the 2013 signing class. That's not left a lot of time for video study on the current team. Jancek said he's watched only two games, and that was during his plane flight from Cincinnati to Knoxville.
"We know we've got some things that we've got to address," Jancek said. "We know there's going to be adversity down the road. We know that this is a great opportunity, and that's how we're going to approach it.
"We're not going to look back and reference this past season and keep bringing this up. Hey, that's in the past. We've got to focus on the future -- getting these guys right, getting their mentality where it needs to be, developing a mindset every day of winning and being 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 ...
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Willie Martinez is back in the Southeastern Conference.