...and now without his defensive coordinator and top young recruiter.
We've known 2012 was going to be "the year" for Derek Dooley ever since the Vols lost to Kentucky. That's even more true today, not just because Justin Wilcox and Peter Sirmon have left Tennessee for Washington, but because a significant percentage of the Tennessee family has already made up their minds about UT's head coach. Some did when the clock struck zero in Lexington, but a large group joined them today.
Remember this: by all accounts, Justin Wilcox was offered the defensive coordinator position at Texas in December 2010. Texas. The school that won a National Championship in 2005 and played for another in 2009. The school that wraps up recruiting before the season actually starts because it eats its own state alive. The school that single-handedly triggered massive expansion in college football. With a sixty year old head coach who had just lost his coach-in-waiting to Florida. Justin Wilcox could've gone to Austin, done a good job, and reasonably could've been the head coach of the Longhorns one day.
He said no to Texas in December 2010. But he says yes to Washington in January 2012?
Not good, friends.
No disrespect to Washington - we're thousands of miles apart and never cross paths. I couldn't even tell you the last time we were recruiting the same player.
But despite Tennessee's struggles and massive, massive turnover over the last few years, this is not a lateral move. It's a sub-lateral move. If Steve Sarkisian has continued success, it may not look like a sub-lateral move very long. But right now? Since losing Rick Neuheisel after the 2002 campaign, Washington is 37-72. They've appeared in two bowl games. One of them, you'll recall, featured a defense last seen giving up 67 points and - jackpot! - 777 yards in the Alamo Bowl.
So all of this makes all of us come to the same conclusion: if Tennessee's two most coveted assistant coaches, the two guys that almost everyone said the Vols couldn't afford to lose, left a Vol defense that returns nine starters plus Herman Lathers to coach for a program that's won a third of its games in the last decade? They couldn't have done so for football reasons or upward mobility.
We all assume they're jumping off the Titanic.
Let's try to be at least a little rational: the Vols aren't going to fire Derek Dooley right now because he lost his defensive coordinator. That's not in the realm of possibilities. The Vols will take a recruiting hit without Wilcox and Sirmon, and it could be a very serious one, but Dooley will still be the coach at Tennessee in 2012.
But let's also understand this: who's going to jump on the Titanic?
Many of the names that fans are apt to throw out there - starting with John Chavis and flowing down a long way - are much more likely to be head coaching candidates in 2013 than defensive coordinator candidates right now. This means Dooley may have to take a chance on a young up-and-comer who will still be playing with less than a full deck depth-wise, and will have to teach those kids something new. Again.
Here are the Vol coaches and coordinators in the last six years:
- 2007: Phillip Fulmer - David Cutcliffe - John Chavis
- 2008: Phillip Fulmer - Dave Clawson - John Chavis
- 2009: Lane Kiffin - Jim Chaney - Monte Kiffin
- 2010: Derek Dooley - Jim Chaney - Justin Wilcox
- 2011: Derek Dooley - Jim Chaney - Justin Wilcox
- 2012: Derek Dooley - Jim Chaney - ???