Greeson: Uncertainty troubling for Vols nation

Greeson: Uncertainty troubling for Vols nation

January 12th, 2012 by Jay Greeson in Sports - Columns

The search for University of Tennessee's defensive coordinator continues, and with each passing day a new name or three appears and a new level of consternation is added to the process.

Reports from Knoxville had Alabama linebacker coach Sal Sunseri interviewing Wednesday for the opening.

Hey, everyone saw Alabama's linebackers put on a clinic in Monday night's 21-0 whipping of LSU in the BCS title, so Sal must be the best thing since sliced bread, right?

To be fair, Sunseri obviously had a hand in the dominating defensive effort Alabama produced. With Sunseri's linebackers leading the way, the Tide suffocated LSU and did not allow the Tigers to cross midfield until the fourth quarter.

Plus, if Sunseri is the front-runner, that allows the Vols and head coach Derek Dooley the cover to say that this was all part of the plan from the beginning. Is that true? Maybe or maybe not. But this seems to be the closest UT has come to making a move despite a river of unattributed sources throwing out names from Randy Shannon to Kevin Steele to Phil Bennett to Ron Zook to even former UTC head coach Buddy Green.

Sunseri's late addition to the list at least offers some plausible explanation why the Vols have not pulled the trigger in this crucial time. Being coachless -- especially when that coaching vacancy is a coordinator -- during the recruiting days of January turns each day into a dog day -- it feels seven times longer to the fan base and the potential recruits.

Granted, there's a real chance that Sunseri could return to Alabama for a pay raise and a lesser job, and that could create an avalanche of worry among the Big Orange nation.

That said, be aware of this two-way caveat: Hiring defensive assistants off of Nick Saban's staff should always be viewed with a well-trained eye. Yes, new UT AD Dave Hart got an up-close view of the Alabama staff during his time in Tuscaloosa, so he should know Sunseri's skill level.

But coaching defense for Saban is like coaching offense for Steve Spurrier, you may be in charge of a part of it -- maybe -- but that's Spurrier's offense and Saban's defense and there's no debating it. Period.

Let's put it this way: If you go to a restaurant and absolutely love the chef, are you going to hire the waiter to run your kitchen. We all know an uber-successful, control-freak like Saban is leaving nothing to chance. The Tide defense is Saban's defense and anyone who coaches it is doing so in title only (and yes, that includes Kirby Smart).

The same could be said in regard to recruiting. If you choose to believe that Sunseri or Smart or anyone this side of the Bear is the lead recruiter for the Tide, well, you have my permission to stop reading this column. Saban is Alabama's lead recruiter and anyone who thinks otherwise is simply unaware or uninformed.

We thought from the start that Dooley needed a home run hire in the public view. None of the names above -- including Sunseri -- appear to be a home run hire, although you could make an argument that Shannon still has enough name recognition to qualify. Dooley still needs a big-time hire, but as each pitch goes speeding past, it's becoming more and more apparent that the time to swing for that home run is now. Especially with a monster recruiting weekend just days away.

So it goes for a coach -- and a UT team -- that seems way more reactionary that proactive. How else would you describe a program that is waiting to hear if a linebackers coach will be its defensive coordinator?