The late defections of Tennessee defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox and linebacker coach Peter Sirmon for jobs at the University of Washington, however, creates more problems for Vol head man Derek Dooley than defections normally do.
Had Wilcox and Sirmon left shortly after Tennessee's regular-season finale at Kentucky, Dooley would've had more than two months to replace them before National Signing Day arrives on Feb. 1. Because they waited until Jan. 2 to depart, Dooley now has less than one month to try and salvage what was shaping up to be a probable top-10 recruiting class.
The task will not be easy. Sirmon was widely acknowledged as the staff's premier recruiter, having played the lead role in landing several of this year's most heralded commitments. And defensive prospects obviously will want to know who Tennessee's new defensive coordinator is before signing with the Vols. Asking prospects to spend the next four years playing for "a coordinator to be named later" is a tough sell. Perfect example: One of the first things Lane Kiffin did upon taking the Vol reins in December of 2008 was announce the hiring of Monte Kiffin as defensive coordinator. The move not only helped Tennessee keep the defenders it already had committed but helped the Vols reel in some prospects who were intrigued by the idea of playing for such a high-profile defensive coordinator.
Given the close proximity to Signing Day, Dooley may feel some pressure to fill the coordinator void in short order. The quickest course of action, of course, would be to promote from within. The obvious choice in that regard would be Lance Thompson, currently the defensive line coach.
A leading candidate for the Vol defensive coordinator job when Wilcox was hired two years ago, Thompson has an impressive resume. He served as the defensive coordinator at Central Florida (2004-06) and forged a reputation as an outstanding recruiter and position coach under Nick Saban at Alabama (2007-08) before joining Tennessee's staff.
Derek Dooley obviously has a high regard for Thompson. Otherwise, he wouldn't have retained him from Lane Kiffin's staff two years ago and wouldn't have given him a long look as a coordinator candidate at that time.
Then there's the matter of stability. Tennessee had it from 1995-2008, with John Chavis overseeing the defense for a 14-year span. Conversely, Wilcox's replacement will be Tennessee's fourth defensive coordinator in five years, following Chavis (2008), Monte Kiffin (2009) and Wilcox (2010-11).
Promoting Thompson would at the very least provide the stability of having a familiar voice calling the shots.
Finally, there's the matter of scheme. Tennessee's defense struggled when it switched from Chavis' scheme in 2008 to Kiffin's scheme in 2009 and from Kiffin's scheme in 2009 to Wilcox's scheme in 2010. Simply put, a defense tends to be far better in Year 2 than in Year 1 under a new coordinator. No better example exists than Todd Grantham, whose Georgia Bulldogs were dramatically better in his second year than they were in his first.
Promoting Thompson and playing the same scheme in 2012 the Vols played in 2010 and 2011 would lessen the growing pains of adjusting to a new coordinator this fall.
Clearly, Lance Thompson is the leading candidate should Derek Dooley choose the "quick fix" approach. And, with Dooley's job security at issue on the heels of last season's 5-7 record, a quick fix may be all he has time for.