KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – It was an easy decision for Derrick Ansley to return to Rocky Top after spending a season in the NFL as the Oakland Raiders’ defensive backs coach.
Ansley, who was hired as Tennessee’s defensive coordinator in February, said his relationship with head coach Jeremy Pruitt and the lure of Tennessee’s campus, resources and fanbase was strong enough to pull him back to the college game.
“Being from the South and coming back to the South was very appealing to me,” Ansley said. “Working with Coach Pruitt was probably the ace in the hole for me because he kind of gave me my start as a graduate assistant at Alabama in 2010 when he was the secondary coach. He and I have a very, very strong and unique bond. I consider him one of my biggest mentors. He’s helped me along the way throughout my career.”
Ansley was an assistant at Huntingdon College, an NCAA Division III school in Montgomery, Ala., when he first met Pruitt, and the pair eventually worked together at Alabama in 2010-11 before Ansley came to Tennessee as the cornerbacks coach in 2012. He also coached the secondary and was co-defensive coordinator at Kentucky (2013-2015) before reuniting with Pruitt at Alabama as the DBs coach (2016-17).
“Coming back here, working here at Tennessee in 2012, the familiarity with the campus, the fanbase, it was a really easy sell for me to come back,” Ansley said.
Tennessee’s hire of Ansley was a coup after the 14-year coaching veteran and two-time national champion transformed the Raiders’ defensive back unit into one of the NFL’s most improved last fall.
The Raiders had 14 interceptions with Ansley in 2018 after totaling only five in 2017. Ansley coached Gareon Conley in Oakland. Conley finished fifth in the NFL with 15 passes defended as he made tremendous strides in his second year in the league, starting 14 games after appearing in only two games as a rookie.
Ansley believes his NFL experience will give him an advantage back in college football.
“I think that just gives me a little more credibility with the guys because all of them always ask me ‘how is the league, how is practice different than what we do here, how is the 16-game schedule with the preseason,’” he said. “I think it gives a coach a little bit more of a credibility factor on dealing with guys that want to go to the NFL.”
Chevrolet Orange and White Game will Feature First Team Offense vs. First Team Defense
Pruitt announced on Tuesday the format of the Chevrolet Orange and White Game, the annual spring exhibition this Saturday at 6 p.m. at Neyland Stadium.
The first team offense will be paired with the second team defense and the first team defense will be paired with the second team offense to give the fans the most competitive matchups: 1s versus 1s and 2s versus 2s.
The game will be played with a running clock until the final four minutes of each half, and Pruitt is looking for an uptempo game.
“I think we hope to play a little faster so we can get more snaps,” Pruitt said. “We like to get somewhere between the 65-70 (plays) range. Something that has to do with putting drives together. I think it will be a great opportunity.”
Defensive Coordinator Derrick Ansley Press Conference Transcript
On talent-level of the defense:
“I think we have a lot of talent. We are built back-end forward. We have some seniors up front that have played a lot of ball. Darrell Taylor being one. He has done a really nice job this spring. Daniel Bituli in the middle has done a really good job quarterbacking the defense, getting us lined up and in and out of checks. And done a really good job leading by example. If you look at the backend with Nigel Warrior and Baylen Buchanan, although Baylen is out this spring dealing with (an injury). Both those guys are out there every day being consistent leaders. We have plenty enough talent to be successful on the defensive side of the ball.”
On his year with Jon Gruden and the Oakland Raiders:
“On man, I learned a lot. Coach Gruden is a ball guy. Everybody knows that. He’s very intense and very thorough in his preparation and how he goes about his business. I learned a lot about how to run a team, how to build a team, how to manage a locker room – through the highs and lows of our season last year. I would say I learned a lot from him. I consider him one of my friends. We still talk on a daily basis and stay in touch very closely.”
On having an NFL background:
“If we are recruiting the right guys – all the guys that come here and are in our program now – all of them have goals to go to the next level. So with me having NFL experience, I think that just gives me a little more credibility with the guys because all of them always ask me ‘how is the league, how is practice different than what we do here, how is the 16-game schedule with the preseason?’ I think it gives a coach a little bit more of a credibility factor on dealing with guys that want to go to the NFL versus a guy that may not have had that NFL experience moving forward.”
On having an SEC background:
“I think it helps. Most of the guys in our room, on all side of the ball, I’ve recruited a lot of those guys. From Deangelo (Gibbs), Nigel (Warrior), Baylen (Buchanan), a lot of those guys … Darrell Taylor. We’ve all known a lot of those guys for awhile. So coming back here, there wasn’t any new faces so to speak. It was just me getting acclimated to how these guys have matured in the year that I was away from college football. It’s been an easy learning curve.”
On why he left the Raiders for the Vols:
“I think anytime you take a job you have to create value for yourself and you have to take in the family factor. Being from the South and coming back to the South was very appealing to me. Working with Coach Pruitt was probably the ace in the hole for me because he kind of gave me my start as a graduate assistant at Alabama in 2010 when he was the secondary coach. He and I have a very, very strong and unique bond. I consider him one of my biggest mentors. He’s helped me along the way throughout my career. Even when we didn’t work together. When he was at Georgia and Florida State, we always talked and always bounced ideas off each other. He’s helped me tremendously grow as a young coach. Coming back here, working here at Tennessee in 2012, the familiarity with the campus, the fanbase, it was a really easy sell for me to come back.”
On personnel that he inherits:
“From a personnel standpoint, I was at Alabama for two years and before that I was at Kentucky for three years. Every year we competed against Tennessee. So, I was very familiar with the personnel that these guys inherited and I talked to coach Pruitt, coach Rumph, coach Sherrer and coach Rocker all through last season when I was on the west coast. I was very aware of the personnel we had coming in here and I’ve known these coaches for five to 10 years and I have known coach Rocker for almost 20 years. When I was a player at Troy he recruited me. With the familiarity and knowing those guys, it was an easy transition because we all respect each other and know each other. We all have the right intentions with the kids.”
On his fingerprints on the defense scheme:
“We are going to run the defense through coach Pruitt’s vision. We all have the same philosophy and the same vision. The main thing we want to see when we turn on our tape is guys flying around, communicating and playing clean football. If we do that, we will give ourselves a chance to be successful in the SEC.”
On coming back to the college game:
“The relationship with coach Pruitt made it an easy, no-brainer for me, but also to coordinate a defense for the first time in the SEC at a storied program like Tennessee. We have an unbelievable tradition and an incredible boss in coach Fulmer, who give us everything we need resource wise here. To come back to be a defensive coordinator and work with coach Pruitt, both of those things were very positive in coming back.”
On Alontae Taylor and Bryce Thompson:
“Coach Pruitt did a really good job of developing those guys last year. Both of those guys played a ton of ball as freshmen. They are not learning on the job anymore. Now, it is about fine tuning the techniques and going out every single day and mastering those techniques. Both of those guys are competitive, have a unique skillset and play corner very different, but effective. We look forward to those guys being the cornerstone of the defense moving forward.”
On Darrell Taylor from a leadership perspective:
“When you look at Darrell, he is a guy when you turn on tape that jumps out. He was a guy that made a decision to come back for his senior year and we all appreciate that because he is a difference maker. One thing that you don’t see on the field is him grabbing guys like Deandre Johnson and Jordan Allen. Even the young guys like Jaylen McCollough and Warren Burrell, I see him high fiving and being positive with the young guys we have back there. That kind of leadership is contagious and as coaches you always want to try and build on that and promote that kind of leadership.”
On Pruitt’s willingness to give up play calling duties:
“I think it shows that he trusts me and it shows me that he has the same kind of philosophy as me. This is coach Pruitt’s defense. I am just going to try and get it the way that he wants it. He is going to let me call the plays which is very valuable for my growth. My job is to make sure we have success on defense.”
On the defense line:
“It starts with Coach Rocker up front. Coach Rocker puts in hard work every day. He’s always the first one in the building. He’s the one that coaches those guys with a lot of passion and you can see that passion trickle out through the players. John Mincey has been developing. He didn’t play a whole lot last year, but he is a guy that is working hard every day and mastering his ability. You talk about Emmit (Williams). Emmit has kind of been a rock inside. And we have a slew of other guys. Butler has done a really good job inside and Aubrey Soloman is working hard to master his position. All of those guys are working hard. We just need to continue to have those guys to work out throughout spring and summer so, they can come in to fall camp ready to go.”
On Deangelo Gibbs on the defensive side of the ball:
“I love it. I’ve known him since his eighth grade year. It’s hats off to him that he can go out there and the first 10 practices learn our offense which is very complex with coach Chaney and then come over on defense for the last five and play a complex defense. It has been a breathe of fresh air for the defensive guys especially in the secondary that he is able to get in there and fill in right now without missing a beat. He is ultra-competitive, has great ball skills, has a unique skillset and is a bigger man. We are very thrilled to have him over there and coach Pruitt will kind of figure out where he will land this summer and we are going to make the best decision for the team and for him.
Tennessee Assistant Head Coach Tee Martin Press Conference Transcript
On talent at wide receiver:
“I’ll start with the wide receiving group, I was really impressed. It’s a group of four seniors that have played a lot of football. The first thing I look for is toughness and the will to win. It starts with number 15. He’s been a solid force for a lot of years and he’s the guy at practice that gets guys going, when a play needs to be made, he steps up and makes the play. Marquez Callaway has also been playing tough, he’s a little banged up. One thing you like to see through leadership is guys who can play through pain and play through a little bit of adversity. Marquez has been doing a good job of doing that. Another guy that’s been doing a good job is Josh Palmer. He’s had a couple of touchdowns in the last two scrimmages and been very consistent mentally and physically. As a unit, I like where we are. We’ve grown a lot throughout the spring. Quarterback-wise, Jarrett Guarantano has done a great job and I’m really impressed by his arm talent and really impressed by him mentally being able to handle a few offenses over the last few years and then now getting a complicated offense with a lot of operating at the line of scrimmage and checks and things of that nature. That’s what quarterbacks do at the University of Tennessee. So I’ve been really impressed by him.”
On bringing the 1998 championship ring and bringing up his past at UT:
“I haven’t done it yet. At some point we’ll get there. I’ve been moving a lot and trying to get settled into the house, but we’ll get there. For me, that’s a very special symbol of pride, of hard work, of determination and all of those things coming together as a team. I’ll find the right time to do that. I’m looking forward to that moment, hopefully it’s during training camp, maybe it’s some point during the season. Once this group gels together we’ll get to things like that.”
On the moment it sank in he was here:
“It hits me at different times. Really just walking around the building and sitting in my office as a coach here. As a player, you kind of hang around and go check on your coaches and then go about your business. Over the years, I’ve come back for games and everything was happening over at the stadium. It had been a long time since I had been over in this building and had seen everything. When it finally kind of set in, it was coming in early in the morning, being here late at night, recruiting for the school that you played at and had so many great memories at. It kind of hits me at different times when I’m around the building or I’m on the phone with recruits. I’m really selling the place that I played at. It’s not just a job for me, it means more to me since I’ve done it here at this place and had the opportunity to come back and get it back to what I know it can be. It’s been a different feeling for me, because I’ve been a lot of places that I’ve liked when I was there coaching, but nothing is like coming back home.”
On first impression of Ramel Keyton:
“Really good. I’ve only ever been around two other wide receivers in my coaching career that have been early high school graduates. Both of them came in and were injured and we didn’t get to see much of them. The first thing that you’re concerned about is the physical conditioning of the young man coming out of high school and going straight into the way of college practicing, lifting weights, the classroom regimen, the weight room regimen, the meeting schedule, it can be a lot for a young man to adjust to. Ramel has been smooth. We’ve been challenging him every day to play fast. Sometimes a young man comes out of high school and they were the fastest guy on the field and then when you get to college, the junior and seniors and guys with more experience move a lot quicker than you do and you’re the slow guys. I’m really proud of what he’s learned and what he’s accomplished. During the first scrimmage, you could tell he had a little nervousness about him. He dropped a couple of balls, but then came back in the second scrimmage and made every play that came his way. And also only had two mental assignment errors the whole scrimmage. That says a lot about his mindset and his determination. Josh Palmer has really taken him on as a little brother, you see them in here doing extra work and catching balls on their own, watching film on their own. Ramel is always asking for ways to get better and asking about how he’s doing. He’s an eager young man and that’s what you like to have in a freshman receiver.”
On learning about Josh Palmer’s background:
“Josh was the only one that I recruited at my last stop. I was down in Miami recruiting and had a buddy that was a receivers coach at St. Thomas Aquinas that said he didn’t know what the kid can do and that he was from Canada. I watched him run and offered him a scholarship at USC. At the time he was looking at Syracuse and at other places closer to where he was from. I left him alone a little bit and them looked up and he had signed with Tennessee. So I was actually happy that he signed with Tennessee even though I was somewhere else because I thought he was a talent. The only concern at that time was how much football he had played. He reminds me of Nelson Agholor. Although Nelson had played a lot of football coming into college from high school, he had played a lot of running back and not wide receiver, so when Nelson moved to wide receiver, he hung on every detail that I coached on. Whether it was depths, releases, the way to catch the ball or reading conversions and coverage, Nelson hung on every word that I said. And I can see Josh in the meetings mentally processing as I’m talking. It really reminds me of Nelson. Josh has really improved this spring. I’m really impressed with where we started 13 practices ago and then where we are right now. I’m really excited about a summer with him, knowing what the potential and capabilities are for a young man like him. He has the size, the speed, the hands, the route running and the releases. He has the ability to be a big time player in the future.”
On the Lady Vols hiring Kellie Jolly Harper and his time as a student-athlete with her:
“Three-time national champion, how could you forget that? Congratulations to her and her family, she’s been successful at her previous stops. I’m happy to get back some Tennessee blood. You know, Holly (Warlick) was, and she did a great job for us as a university, and for that women’s basketball program. But it was exciting to see someone from the family and someone who was around during the time that we were in school. We were undefeated and they were undefeated, it was pretty cool to see that in parallel. We were complaining about how hard Phillip (Fulmer) was on us, they were complaining about Pat, rest in peace. So, I’m really excited for her, and I’m looking forward to welcoming her back.”
On experience at wide receiver:
“The thing that you want most is the experience that they have. There’s no substitute for experience. A guy knowing what it’s like to play against Georgia and Florida and be on the road at Alabama, there’s no way that I can explain that to Ramel (Keyton). But, the four seniors in the room, they understand what that’s like. The only thing that’s a negative when you inherit guys that are veterans is you have to break some of the old habits and the ways that some of the other coaches may have asked you to do things in the past. Some of these guys have had three different guys telling them that. The first thing you have to do is build trust. When I first got the job, it was just a lot of talking to them on the phone, bringing them by the office and sitting down and getting to know them and having them get the opportunity to know me. Some of them may have seen the pictures on the wall and all of that stuff but have never had a relationship or have never had the opportunity to get to know me. And, that’s where coaching begins. Before I can ask a young man to go out and give me one hundred percent effort, he needs to know that I care about him, that I know who he is, and that I want him to get better. So, that’s what I wanted to establish coming into spring ball, because I knew that once we got on the field, I’m kind of a different person when we get on the field. But they know I care about them, and they know that everything that I ask them to do is to get them better and to get our offense better, and ultimately get our team better. So, the positive is they are experienced. The negative, if there is one, is some of the old habits that have to be broken to get them to do the things that we would like them to do the way that we would like for them to do it.”
On last season at USC:
“It was kind of a perfect storm last year. A young team, we had lost our top offensive players at every position, whether it was wide receiver, losing your quarterback, your top tight end, and it was what it was. We didn’t perform the way that you need to perform at a place like that. And, you get canned. But, every coach in this business, at some point, is going to get fired. For me, it was a lesson for me to learn about planning for your future and doing the best that you can do at job that you’re currently at. You can’t take a job worried about losing your job, and you can’t think about your last job when you take the next job. It was my first opportunity going through that. And, it was positive to leave a place that was really good. I have no bad words to say about where I came from. But then, you get blessed up and come to Tennessee. So, it was a blessing for me.”
On impressions of Deangelo Gibbs and campaigning for him on offense:
“Oh yeah, I’m going to campaign. First off, he was with us for nine or ten practices, and I thought the young man displayed speed, he has good hands, he has big hands, strong hands, athletic ability, he can stretch the field and he made some big catches at times. He was physical, blocking, so there was a good skill set there for an offensive player. But, at the end of the day, we have to do what’s best for our overall football team, and if there’s help needed in the secondary, you know they pulled him over to the secondary and he went and made an interception in the scrimmage with one hand. So, who knows? But I’m going to always fight for the receiver room and try to get the best players in there, and if he stays on defense we’ll go out and recruit and try to fill that void in recruiting.”
On what the first day was like back in Knoxville as a coach:
“It was surreal. There was nervousness there, just because it’s the first time coming back in this role. You’ve got to remember, the last time I lived here and spent every day here, I was 21 years old. And now, you return with four kids, a wife and a dog. You’re a totally different person. But, to see Angela and Kim and Max, Fraz, Condredge, people who were here when I was a young man and helped me grow to be the man that I am today, they were still around giving me hugs and high-fives. That gave me a sense of being back at home again. Then there’s embracing the new. It is a better place that it was when we left it. You just look around and you can tell. The buildings are nice and things of that nature, and it’s great having Coach Fulmer back. It really hit me when we were in an academic meeting and I was paying attention to them talk and I look to my left and Coach is sitting right there. It’s a little different then being a player, but it was surreal. It took me a couple of weeks to actually get used to being back here as a coach in a different role.”