Tennessee Football: Can New DC Sal Sunseri Help Save Derek Dooley's Job?

Stephen WilliamsContributor IIIMay 31, 2012

Photo credit: Associated Press
Photo credit: Associated Press

For a program that didn’t change head coaches, the University of Tennessee had quite the busy offseason on the coaching front.

The Volunteers will enter 2012 with seven new assistant coaches out of the nine on staff. Only offensive coordinator Jim Chaney and former quarterbacks coach (now wide receivers coach) Darin Hinshaw remain from the 2011 coaching staff.

Former defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox was long considered an up-and-comer in the coaching profession. Because of that, his name often popped up in coaching rumors. Shortly after the calendar flipped to 2012, Wilcox was on his way out of Knoxville and headed for the Pacific Northwest.

The opening on the Vols’ staff wasn’t vacant for long. Eleven days later, Derek Dooley hired Alabama linebackers coach Sal Sunseri as his new defensive coordinator.

Sunseri immediately began installing his 3-4 defense the moment he stepped on campus. The Vols worked throughout the spring to gain familiarity with the defensive concepts.

When the lights turn on in the Georgia Dome on August 31, it will be time to find out just how much the Tennessee defense has learned.

Tennessee has a lot of work to do in order to keep Derek Dooley around long enough to see 2013. The consensus seems to be that the Vols must win eight games to assure his safety.

The question presented here is, can Sunseri help save Dooley’s job? Theoretically, the answer is yes.

Tennessee’s defense could come out in 2012 and dominate thanks to the adjustments made by Sunseri. In that scenario Sunseri would help save Dooley’s job.

However, the far more likely scenario is Tennessee’s defense struggling at times with the change in schemes and having moments when it’s not very good. Making a change in schemes is generally more than a yearlong process. There’s no reason to believe it will be any different in Knoxville.

Anyone following the Tennessee program knows, the defense isn’t going to determine the result of the 2012 season. As was the case in 2011, the fate of the upcoming season lies upon the right arm of Tyler Bray and the Vols’ offense.

If Bray and the rest of the offense have the kind of season people are expecting them to have, the Vols should win enough games to assure Dooley another season. If they falter, or the injury bug strikes again, it won’t matter how well the defense plays. Derek Dooley will hit the market and a coaching search will ensue in Knoxville.

If the Tennessee coaching staff is allowed to stick around for 2013, Sal Sunseri will have an opportunity to do big things with his defense. Given enough time, he’ll be successful in that position.

However, the impact he will have in 2012 is limited. There will be many other things that will help save Dooley’s job before Sunseri.