Parting shots

Darin Hinshaw

If you think you can find better coverage of Vol sports than here at InsideTennessee, good luck. Check out this article on the football assistants:

Bad seasons tend to create bad memories. Even with a 5-7 record and a fired head coach, however, several Tennessee assistants believe their most enduring memory of this season will be positive.

Foremost among these is safeties coach Josh Conklin. Representing Tennessee has been the fulfillment of a dream for him because he avidly followed the Vols in his late teens.

"I did," he said. "I grew up watching the Vols. This was like 1997 and '98, when I was in high school and they were rolling. I absolutely did. That power-T stood for something."

Asked why a kid growing up in Wyoming would gravitate to the Vols, Conklin replied: "You don't have a lot of Division I options there if you're not a University of Wyoming fan."

Like most of Tennessee's nine assistants, Conklin is unlikely to be retained for the 2013 season. Should the 2012 season prove to be his first and last on The Hill, however, he believes his strongest memory will be a pleasant one.

"It will probably be the opportunity to coach at the University of Tennessee and all of the tradition it stands for and what it is — what it still is — regardless of the situation it's in right now," he said. "I really believe in Tennessee. You want to see it be what it's supposed to be, and it can be a national power. That's what I'll take with me: I've been a part of it. Maybe not a great part of it, but a part of it."

Darin Hinshaw, who coached quarterbacks in 2010 and 2011, then coached wide receivers in 2012, also views his time in Big Orange Country as a blessing.

"I'll look back on this Tennessee experience as an unbelievable experience; I really will," he said. "I hope I get to stay and be a part of the new head coach's staff and get to continue to fight for Tennessee. But it's been a great experience here, and if it's not my time to be here and I'm to move on, I'll take it with me and move on to my next job."

That's a surprisingly positive reaction to such a decidedly negative season.

"It was a situation where we competed so hard and games could've gone our way so many different times," Hinshaw said. "I've learned so much. What doesn't kill you makes you stronger. It's just making me stronger and stronger and stronger."

Offensive line coach Sam Pittman is given a good chance to return in 2013 because his blockers were the most productive unit on this season's squad. Whether he is retained or not, though, he will look back fondly on the 2012 season.

First-year safeties coach Josh Conklin told IT he grew up admiring Tennessee.
(Danny Parker/InsideTennessee.com)
"I'll think just how much we improved upfront," he said prior to the Kentucky game. "We've been pretty good on offense, and I think we have a chance to be the No. 1 offense in yards ever here.

"There will be some things that, as a coach, you can look back and be proud of. And, on a personal note, I'll always be fond of this group of O-linemen. They're pretty special."

Rather than focus on the 5-7 record that led to the recent firing of head coach Derek Dooley, tight ends/special teams coach Charlie Coiner says his most enduring memory of the 2012 season will be the players he mentored.

"The tight end room has been great," he said. "I'm sitting there with (Mychal) Rivera and Bart (Ben Bartholomew) and (Brendan) Downs and Justin King and Greg King and Joe Ayers and Justin Meredith, and these are kids that come in and get it. They get it.

"It's been fun to come to work. If you don't enjoy working with the kids, that's the core (question) of whether you want to get out or not. I can honestly say that that group has been professional. They come to work every day, they take the good times with the bad times, they shrug it off and go on."

Like Pittman's offensive linemen, Coiner's tight ends performed admirably, even in the midst of a disastrous season.

"They've played pretty well this year," he said. "I'm proud of the way Mike and Bart have played. I'm proud of the way Justin King has a chance to be and Downs has a chance to be. I wish 'em all the best. I wish the best for the seniors if they get a chance to play at the next level, and I think the young guys are going to be really good players."

Given that Tennessee's defense was arguably the worst in program history, it's no surprise that some of the defensive assistants expect to look back on this fall in negative terms. Asked prior to the finale what he'll remember most about the 2012 season, defensive line coach John Palermo deadpanned: "A lot of first halves.

"The Florida first half. The last two games (Missouri and Vanderbilt) the first half. A lot of first halves. I don't know that there's a hell of a lot more to remember. Beating N.C. State in the opener was a nice deal for our football team and our kids. Other than that, I don't think there was a whole lot to cherish throughout the year."

Cornerbacks coach Derrick Ansley also struggled to find a silver lining amid the dark cloud that was 2012.

"We left a lot of plays on the field; that's the No. 1 thing," he said. "We had some opportunities to close some games out, and we didn't take advantage of the opportunities."

Running backs coach Jay Graham, the staff's ace recruiter, is a good bet to be retained for 2013. When asked prior to the finale what he'll remember best about 2012, he shrugged.

"I haven't looked back on it, and I can't look back on it until after we finish this (Kentucky) game," he said. "I'm just trying to focus on the practice and getting these kids ready for the Kentucky game."

See what interim head coach Jim Chaney said after the 20-point victory over Kentucky:

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