After Derek Dooley spent January recruiting defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox to stay in Knoxville, and trying to keep former strength coach Bennie Wylie on the staff, Dooley made his first staff change as a the Vols head coach on Sunday announcing the departure of former Vol Chuck Smith and the hiring of current graduate assistant Peter Sirmon as the linebackers coach moving assistant Lance Thompson to the defensive line position.
"I am grateful for the personal investment, hard work, and passion that Chuck contributed to our program this past year," said Dooley in a released statement. "He is a dear friend to me, and more importantly, will always be a part of the Tennessee family.
"Lance's extensive experience coaching defensive linemen combined with Peter's work product over the past year makes these decisions seamless," said Dooley. "Lance has experienced tremendous success as both a defensive coordinator and line coach, while Peter's work ethic, professionalism, coaching ability, and success as a linebacker at both the collegiate and professional ranks precluded me from pursuing any other candidates."
Rumors of chemistry issues and some internal strife on the defensive side of the ball have been prevalent since the latter part of the 2010 season. Those rumor became rampant with Wilcox's name surfaced as a candidate for the defensive coordinator job at Texas. At the time all parties denied any personality or chemistry issues.
Late last week, Smith and Dooley met for Smith's year end review sending rumors to a fever pitch. Rumors that became a reality on Sunday when Tennessee released that Smith and Dooley's program had agreed to a mutual parting of ways.
Thompson has more experience as a defensive line coach and was rumored for the position last year when Dooley was assembling his staff. Sirmon, who's Wilcox's longtime friend and former college roommate, earned acclaim from players and staff members this season for his contribution as a safeties coach and he has been thought of as one of the up and coming coaches in college football.
"Pete is extremely smart," longtime NFL assitant and former Tennessee Titans linebacker coach Dave McGinnis said. "He really understands the game. You don't have to spend much time with him to know he's a great person and has a great family. His personality makes him a natural in dealing with college players and someday I think he will be a great recruiter. The thing that tells me he understands the coaching business and really wants to be a coach is that he is willing to do what it takes from the bottom up. He has understood that being an NFL player wasn't going to get him a job. It helped him with some contacts and interviews, but there are a lot of guys out there trying to be coaches who are qualified. In my experience, the guys who become good coaches are the guys who are willing work up from the bottom and Pete's clearly willing to do that.