December 19, 2010
Will Horns hook Wilcox?
Tennessee coach Derek Dooley could be facing two difficult tasks today: preparing the Vols to face North Carolina Dec. 30 in the Music City Bowl and finding a way to keep Justin Wilcox as his defensive coordinator.
Wilcox, who was introduced as the final major piece of Dooley's inaugural staff in February, is at the very least a viable candidate of interest, VolQuest.com has confirmed from at least three sources, to succeed Will Muschamp on Mack Brown's Texas staff in the same capacity. Wilcox was given a three-year deal worth a total of $1.875 million when Dooley hired the former Oregon defensive back and son of NFL Hall of Famer Dave Wilcox away from Boise State.
Multiple attempts to reach both Dooley and Wilcox today were unsuccessful, but sources told VolQuest.com that Dooley met with his defensive leader this morning and that there were scheduled staff meetings this afternoon prior to team functions scheduled for this evening. The Vols are off today from practice after four sessions of what Dooley termed a "mini-camp" style phase of preparation. Tennessee enters its game-week mode Monday morning as it prepares to face the Tar Heels in 11 days in its first-ever appearance in the Music City Bowl.
The apparent seriousness of the Wilcox discussions would suggest just how quickly things can change in the coaching ranks. As Dooley addressed the media Wednesday during his bowl press conference, he said candidly that he anticipated his coaching staff would remain intact.
"I don't anticipate any changes. I think the nature of this business is there's always going to be some interest. And I hope there is interest in our coaches, because that means we're doing a pretty good job," Dooley said. "But if we lose coaches to other programs, the last thing I'm going to do is worry about it because there's a whole bunch of coaches that'd kill to be in their shoes. I don't expect our coaches to go anywhere. I think they're all pretty happy here."
Despite his unit facing a number of adverse situations on defense, Wilcox helped the Vols on their four-game winning streak by limiting opponents to 14 points or fewer in each of those games. In the five games in which UT opponents scored 31 or more points, the Vols' defense was victimized by its offensive counterparts having a combined 13 turnovers in those games. Overall, UT's defense was 8th in the SEC and 56th nationally in scoring average, as it yielded 24.7 points per game. With a pair of eventual first-round NFL Draft picks, Tennessee last year ranked 38th nationally after its defense allowed 22.23 points per game in 13 contests.
Tennessee also this season had a walk-on or former walk-on start on both its defensive line and at linebacker. The Vols also have a former walk-on, Tyler Wolf, taking first-team reps right now at safety while Janzen Jackson deals with undisclosed personal issues at home in Lake Charles, La. Additionally, Tennessee had a true freshman (Corey Miller) start on its defensive line, as well as a 265-pound, converted defensive end start along its interior. The Vols also had first-year starters at safety in Brent Brewer, an elder freshman who spent time in Minor League baseball, and at cornerback in Eric Gordon and Marsalis Teague, who was converted from wide receiver into arguably the Vols' best cover corner.
Interviewed by Dooley in Denver in late-January, Wilcox was given a three-year deal that began with an opening salary of $600,000. Before he bolted Austin as Texas' designated coach-in-waiting to succeed Mack Brown, Muschamp had a multi-year deal that paid him at least $900,000 annually. Then-defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin earned $1.2 million and collected a $300,000 bonus the day the Vols were blown out by Virginia Tech in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.
If Wilcox chooses to leave, he would owe the University of Tennessee $300,000 per his buyout agreement.
Brent Hubbs and Paul Fortenberry contributed to this report.
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