'Dream job'

After 11 years as an NFL player and eight more in other pursuits, Chuck Smith is back at the University of Tennessee ... and he couldn't be happier.

"This is my dream job," the former Vol defensive end said following Tuesday's practice. "I had two dream jobs in my young career: One was to be D-line coach with the Atlanta Falcons and - who else? -Tennessee ... the two teams I've always bled and sweated for."

Before playing for UT, Smith was a teammate of first-year Vol head man Derek Dooley at Clarke Central High in Athens, Ga., during the 1980s. When Dooley offered Smith a position as defensive line coach last winter, the ex-Vol jumped at the chance.

"This is an unbelievable opportunity," he said. "I believe in the power of what we can accomplish here. You can't measure in words how proud I am to be here. When I looked Derek in the eye and accepted this job, I told him I would commit everything I can every day, every minute ...

"I sound like Tim Tebow, don't I?"

After a brief laugh, Smith continued: "But I would commit myself to working around the clock and doing whatever it takes. It's been a blessing ... the things I've learned and being able to come here and try to help lead Tennessee to a championship one day."

Smith spent two years at junior college before joining the Vols for the 1990 and '91 seasons, earning All-SEC honors as a senior.

A second-round draft pick of the Falcons, he spent the next 10 years with Atlanta before playing his final pro season with the Carolina Panthers. He was pass rush coach and assistant defensive line coach for the New York Jets last season before answering the call from his alma mater. Coming "home" brought back a flood of pleasant memories.

"I look back at my career here at Tennessee and, golly, I had some unbelievable people involved in my life that I'm really friends with," Smith said. "Coach (Phillip) Fulmer - what a huge supporter he's always been of mine. Coach (David) Cutcliffe ... Coach (John) Chavis recruited me.

"I can go on and on. Everybody I've had a chance to cross paths with - from (former UT aides) Sugar Bear Hamilton to Larry Lacewell to Rex Norris to (former UT player) Kacy Rodgers. These guys are football guys."

Smith also mentioned former UT head coach John Majors, equipment managers Roger Frazier and Max Parrott, David Blackburn (who has held just about every non-coaching position in the football complex), administrative assistant Bill Higdon and academic counselor Carmen Tegano. All but Majors are still working for the Vols.

"I tell kids: Tennessee folks stick together," Smith said. "These are guys who have been friends and partners throughout my life. Even when I wasn't working in football, these guys would help me and support me all down the line."

The relationships Smith forged during his two-year Vol career still thrive. That's why he feels blessed to be back in the heart of Big Orange Country.

"The best thing I ever did for myself in 1987 (as a high school senior) was come through here and fall in love with Tennessee," he said. "Regardless of whatever happens here to me, it will never take away how I feel about the university."


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