In an unusually high amount of staff turnover, Tennessee lost seven assistant coaches since the end of the 5-7 season in 2011. Darin Hinshaw and Jim Chaney are the lone holdovers from last season's staff as the Volunteers enter head coach Derek Dooley's third season.
Departed Coach —Position—Date—New School—Replacement—Old School
Charlie Baggett—Receivers—Dec. 1—Not retained—Jay Graham*—South Carolina
Eric Russell—Special teamstight ends—Dec. 11—Washington State—Charlie Coiner—North Carolina
Justin Wilcox—Defensive coordinator—Jan. 2—Washington—Sal Sunseri—Alabama
Peter Sirmon—Linebackers—Jan. 2—Washington—Derrick Ansley—Central Florida
Harry Hiestand—Offensive line—Jan. 12—Notre Dame—Sam Pittman—North Carolina
Lance Thompson—Defensive lin—Jan. 15—Alabama—John Palermo—Middle Tennessee St.
Terry Joseph—Recruiting/secondary—March 2—Nebraska—Josh Conklin—The Citadel
* as running backs coach
as cornerbacks coach
KNOXVILLE -- On the seventh day, Tennessee replaced its seventh departed football assistant coach.
One week after safeties coach Terry Joseph elected to take a similar position on the staff at Nebraska, the Volunteers went to the Football Championship Subdivision for his replacement.
UT tabbed The Citadel defensive coordinator and safeties coach Josh Conklin on Friday. In two seasons with the Bulldogs, Conklin led a defense that finished third in the Southern Conference and allowed 20 or more points just seven times in 22 games.
"Josh brings successful coordinator experience and consistent secondary production to our defensive staff," UT coach Derek Dooley said in the school's release. "He comes highly recommended and I believe will be a great fit for our football staff."
Dooley's staff still must identify a recruiting coordinator, another title Joseph held. In Conklin, the Vols are getting another coach familiar with the 3-4 defense, which the Bulldogs ran in 2011. Though the goal is multiplicity, UT will be transitioning to more three-man defensive fronts under new coordinator Sal Sunseri.
Before going to The Citadel, Conklin coached defensive backs for three seasons at Wofford, where he also coached special teams in 2009. The former South Dakota State linebacker began his coaching career at his alma mater in 2003. After two season as a graduate assistant with the Jackrabbits, Conklin was a full-time staff member for two seasons coaching the secondary and special teams.
He'll split duties in the Vols' secondary with cornerbacks coach Derrick Ansley. Sunseri prefers more specialization with his defensive staff so that coaches aren't responsible for too many players.
"The bottom line is those corners and safeties are getting one-on-one coaches," Sunseri said last month. "It's hard when you're coaching four guys to see everybody at once. Now I've got eyes on the safeties, eyes on the corners and then they're meeting one on one.
"[With linebackers] you'll have an inside guy, you'll have an outside guy. Now if you look at it, [defensive line coach] John Palermo's working with three guys, I'm working with two, somebody else will be working with the outside 'backers who I have total faith in. The most anybody should work with is three to four guys."
Only Darin Hinshaw, who switched from quarterbacks to receivers coach this offseason, and offensive coordinator Jim Chaney remain from last year's staff. None of the assistants who left did so for what could be considered a promotion.
For Joseph, who had coached with Dooley for five seasons at UT and Louisiana Tech, the chance to reunite with two former LSU colleagues in Huskers coach Bo Pelini and defensive coordinator John Papuchis was enough of an incentive.
"Coming to a place like Nebraska was a great opportunity for me," Joseph said in that school's release announcing his hiring. "And then to throw in the chance to work with Bo again, it was a perfect fit. I am excited to get to work with our players and other coaches as we start spring ball and get prepared for the season."
Though all seven coaches left for various reasons, at least one has gone on the record to mention Dooley's job security as a factor. Eric Russell, who coached special teams and tight ends at UT before leaving for Washington State, said publicly this week that stability was part of the reason he left the Vols. The Cougars' assistant head coach and special teams coordinator reunited with Mike Leach, his former boss at Texas Tech.
"I think at Tennessee, it was going to come down to how many games you won next year, and unfortunately nobody's got a crystal ball," Russell told the Spokane Spokesman-Review. "I tried to take the sentimental stuff out of it. A chance to be an assistant head coach and concentrate purely on special teams was a little bit of a unique situation."
With seven new assistants, the Vols face a unique situation of their own when spring practice starts in 16 days.
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 ...