KNOXVILLE - Tennessee football coach Derek Dooley will have four new assistant coaches for his third season with the Volunteers.
While the perception of assistants making lateral moves may not be favorable, Dooley views the changes as opportunities.
UT currently has three openings on its staff after defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox and linebackers coach Peter Sirmon bolted for Washington on Monday and special teams coordinator/tight ends coach Eric Russell left for Washington State last month. It's the most staff turnover Dooley has faced in his time with the Vols, and with pressure mounting to win more games in 2012, he knows the importance of the decisions he'll have to make.
"It's that time of year as we know every year," Dooley said at a news conference Monday inside Neyland-Thompson Sports Complex. "I think I was counting today, seven schools in the SEC alone are going through coordinator changes, so that's kind of the nature of our industry. I've said all along that when people are wanting your coaches, despite what a lot of people think, we're doing something right. All three of those guys came from the Pacific Northwest, so it was a chance for them to get back home, and I understand it.
"I really appreciate the work they gave us the last two years. They put their heart and soul in this program, and the program is significantly better today than when we all came here 22 months ago. Those guys played a big part of it. Like any coaching change, we use it as an opportunity to get better, and that's what we're going to do here because as much as the good things that those guys brought, there's always areas where we can improve. We'll begin that search to try to get the right fit."
In his first public comments since the Vols' loss to Kentucky in November, Dooley said the search for the new coaches is in its "early stages." The coach did say he's begun gathering information and had a lot of conversations with a lot of people. Dooley has to balance his work in the last month on the recruiting trail and mentioned the fact that some NFL teams are still playing as factors in the timeframe on any hires.
"It's really complex," he said. "Certainly, the quicker the better, but what we're not going to do is try to compromise who we get to try to hurry it up.
"It's unbelievable the amount of interest that coaches have wanting to come here. I think they understand that it's a great time to come to Tennessee. It's certainly a much better time than it was two years ago when we came to Tennessee, and all the coaches out there know that, especially on defense. We finished 28th in the country on defense, and we've got nine starters returning and we've got a great mid-year signee to boot. That's pretty appealing."
Arnett to receive unconditional release
Dooley will grant DeAnthony Arnett an unconditional release after having some one-on-one conversations with the freshman receiver, who wants to transfer closer to his ailing father in Michigan. UT's stance last week was only to release players to non-competing schools, which, in Arnett's case, limited his options to the three Mid-American Conference schools. An unconditional release includes Michigan and Michigan State, two schools that are close to Arnett's hometown of Saginaw and were among his finalists last year.
"The most important concern for me is the welfare of our student-athletes," Dooley said. "That's No. 1, and I also have a responsibility to Tennessee. I needed some one-on-one dialogue with DeAnthony, because these are big issues, they're complex, they're emotional and like every issue that we deal with with our players, it's no different than a parent and a son trying to talk through, sort through the heart of the problem and help him make a good decision that's the right decision for his future.
"I'm really supportive of DeAnthony, he's got a great future as a person and as a player and he's been very mature through this thing during a tough time and an emotional time. Once we started the one-on-one dialogue, it's been very comforting for both of us. I'm wishing him well there when that time comes."
With UT's offices reopening from holiday break today, Arnett officially can proceed with the process of transferring. He made 24 catches for 242 yards and a pair of touchdowns this season. He released a statement via email to multiple media outlets, including the Times Free Press, that further explained his reasons for leaving, praised his time at UT and thanked Dooley for adjusting his stance.
"I am sure that my request to leave UT was not the best or most expected news to Coach Dooley," Arnett wrote. "However, he took the time to hear me and understand that I must keep family first at all times. For this reason his decision to release me unconditionally comes as a sign of a compassionate and empathetic coach. I will never be able to express fully my appreciations and gratitude for his decision.
"I want to ensure that all recruits, currents players and fans know that the University of Tennessee is headed in the right direction. All good things take time and work. UT has always surpassed the rest and I believe in due time they will be back to the number one program in the SEC. If I did not have issues within my family, you could guarantee that I would continue to be a VOL.
"I just want to thank Coach Dooley and the University of Tennessee for leaving a footprint in my life that will never be erased. I am forever indebted to you."
No roster announcements yet
Dooley was upbeat about his program amid the negative perception that's been building since the Vols finished the second of consecutive losing seasons for the first time in 100 years. He's excited about the future of his program with the youth and experience returning. He said he's had multiple conversations with a handful of his players while they've been home on break.
Just how that final roster will look, though, as the Vols begin the offseason workout program is unclear. Dooley said he'll address those next week, when spring-semester classes begin. The closest discussion to that centered on star receiver Da'Rick Rogers, who was at the center of multiple reports last month that said he had been suspended. The Times Free Press reported that Rogers was not suspended, although he was facing some degree of internal punishment.
"Da'Rick is on our team, and he's good," Dooley said.
Plenty more from Dooley's news conference online, in Wednesday's Times Free Press and on Twitter.