Firing's a first

Tommy West has been a head football coach for 11 years. Not once had he felt compelled to fire a coach during the course of the season. Not when he was at UT-Chattanooga. Not when he was at Clemson. Not in his first five years at Memphis. Until now.

In Year Six at Memphis, things weren't going well, so West pulled the trigger and fired Joe Lee Dunn as defensive coordinator.

``To be honest, I'd lost faith in our system and our scheme and I didn't think we were getting better, and I didn't think we were gonna get better down the road,'' West said. ``When I feel that way, I need to make a change.''

Memphis had trouble stopping power running teams last year. West discussed the dilemma with Dunn, who uses an unorthodox style of coaching and refuses to wear a head set. When an average Ole Miss team ran through Memphis, the signs were bleak. When Memphis blew a fourth quarter lead against East Carolina, West had seen enough.

Out with Dunn.

In with West.

West has served as a defensive coordinator before. So, this isn't virgin territory. But it was unusual to try to put in a new scheme in two weeks. Memphis is going from a 3-3-5 to a 4-3.

``It's hard enough to try to get a base package and a few wrinkles off that in spring practice, much less over a two-week period,'' West said. ``We'll be very basic and very simple and try to put our players in position to compete, give them enough tools to give them a chance to win the game.''


West likes what he's seen – for the most part -- out of quarterback Marty Hankins, a transfer from Southeastern Louisiana who passed for 7,777 yards in two seasons under Hal Mumme, the former Kentucky coach.

``He's done OK,'' West said. ``I thought he played really good in the opener, OK in the second and not very good in the third one. … He's capable of putting up some numbers when we're throwing the ball and that's what we are – we're a pass team first.''

West said there was an adjustment period for Hankins and the staff.

``We know how to handle him now,'' West said. ``He's a kid that puts a lot of pressure on himself. You've got to be careful with him. When things went back at East Carolina, it kind of compounded. We've got to do a better job of handling him and calming him down.''

Asked about Hankins' skills, West said: ``He doesn't have a cannon but he's got adequate arm strength. He's very accurate and he knows where to go with it. He was in Hal Mumme's passing game for two years and Hal knows how to throw the ball. I think he can be very good for us.''


West said he's impressed with a Tennessee offense that is averaging 11 more points per game this year than last.

``They're different,'' West said. ``They're more of a passing team now than they were. David (Cutcliffe, UT offensive coordinator) is doing a nice job getting the ball in the hands of his playmakers. .. And the quarterback looks very comfortable. He didn't look that way a year ago, especially when we were there. But he looks very comfortable now.''


West wasn't sure he wanted to continue the series against Tennessee, but last year changed his mind.

Playing without star running back DeAngelo Williams, Memphis almost pulled an upset, leading in the fourth quarter before falling 20-16.

``I wasn't sure about this game, whether I really wanted to keep playing it or not,'' West said. ``But last year, being up there (Knoxville), it is a good game. Our fans like it.''


Tennessee linebacker Ryan Karl is from Nashville, but his mother's side of the family is from Memphis – and that makes this game even more important.

``I have to win,'' Karl said. ``My mom's side of the family, they all went to Memphis State, except for my mom. They're pretty big fans of Memphis. They'll be rooting for Memphis and me but not anyone else. When I make a play, they'll be happy, but when Memphis makes a play they'll be happy, too. That was the case last year. We came out on top so we could rub it in a little bit.''

Karl said the Vols need a quick start against Memphis.

``Definitely,'' Karl said. ``Momentum in this game is a big factor. When you start giving other teams hope, they'll definitely start playing harder and make plays they usually wouldn't when you let them hang around. We have to go out there and stop them early and score early.''

Karl said he knows Memphis will give its best against the Vols.

``They want our number,'' Karl said. ``They're in the same state as us. They're going to want to come out and prove they're the best team in the state.''

That doesn't mean UT won't play hard.

``I think Tennessee definitely gets fired up because we have a lot of guys from Memphis,'' Karl said.


Tennessee defensive tackle Demonte Bolden said he's ready to contribute at a high level for the Vols.

Bolden, a sophomore from Chattanooga, had a strong spring in 2005, but regressed as he tried to play within the system.

``When I first got here, I didn't know any plays,'' said the 6-6, 290-pounder. ``I just ran around buck wild. After the (spring) game, coaches said, `Yea, Demonte, you did good, but you busted all your plays.' I had to calm down and play defense.''

Bolden said he enjoyed the ``buck wild'' days.

``In my terms, yeah, I liked it,'' he said. ``I tried to take the easy way out, but here, you can't take the easy way out. You've got to help the defense. I had to learn my fundamentals, then let loose.''

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