Tennessee Defensive Coordinator Search: The Answer Is Already on the Vols' Staff

Joel BarkerSenior Writer IJanuary 5, 2012

Less than one full week after the unexpected departures of defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox and linebackers coach Peter Sirmon, head coach Derek Dooley is working hard to fill both vacant positions. 

The name that has continued to resurface throughout the week is former Miami Hurricanes head coach Randy Shannon. His was the first name mentioned Monday and as recently as Thursday there were reports that Shannon had agreed to take the job. 

Without official word from the university, however, it is anyone's guess as to who will take over the defense and the future top assistant's ever-important role in recruiting.

Earlier in the day Thursday there was a report that former Tennessee and current LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis turned down an offer from the Vols exceeding $1 million per year.

Another expected top candidate, Clemson's Kevin Steele was seemingly all but eliminated from contention after his defense gave up 70 points in Wednesday's Orange Bowl against West Virginia. 

You have to figure Tyrone Nix's name has come up in conversations around Knoxville. Nix, who was on Houston Nutt's staff at Ole Miss, has been linked to more than one open defensive coordinator position since the entire staff in Oxford was relieved of its duties. 

Provided Dooley and the Vols strike out on Shannon, there is one man who not only deserves the promotion, but, in fact, might be the best option remaining. 

That man is current Tennessee defensive line coach Lance Thompson. 

Before coming to Tennessee as part of Lane Kiffin's staff in 2009, Thompson coached one of the best linebacker units in recent SEC history at Alabama. Known for his incredible recruiting acumen, Thompson's presence on the Tennessee staff has been essential in each of the Vols' past two top 15 classes. 

Before he was added to Nick Saban's first Alabama staff, Thompson was defensive coordinator at Central Florida from 2004-06. 

According to Thompson's Central Florida bio, Thompson's '05 defense ranked No. 12 in the nation in turnover differential and forced 32 turnovers the following year ('06).

A promotion from within the current staff probably wouldn't rally the fans as much as hiring Randy Shannon would. But you'd have a hard time convincing me that promoting Thompson wouldn't be as productive on the field and in the homes of potential recruits as making the splashy "home run" hire with Shannon.

The longer this search goes on, the better Thompson's chances become.

With his pedigree as a top defensive assistant in major college football (Georgia Tech, LSU, Central Florida, Alabama, Tennessee) for well over a decade, Thompson should be near the top of Dooley's list anyway.