After spending his first season as a coach in the NFL, former Tallassee football star Derrick Ansley is returning to the Southeastern Conference for his first gig as a defensive coordinator. Ansley, who was a first-team all-state defensive back for the Tigers in 1999, is leaving the Oakland Raiders to work under former colleague Jeremy Pruitt as the defensive coordinator at the University of Tennessee.
“It was about having a clear understanding of who I was going to be working for,” Ansley said. “With (Pruitt) being a defensive guy and us working together two times before was the main reason. The second reason was about opportunity and responsibility.”
While the NFL provides the opportunity to work with the most talented football players in the world, Ansley will stretch his duties to the entire defense instead of working at a specific position as he did in Oakland as the defensive backs coach. Despite making the decision to leave, Ansley said it was a unique experience and he will not forget his time working with the Raiders.
“It was a great experience and I’m forever indebted to Jon Gruden who gave me the opportunity to go from the college game,” Ansley said. “The NFL is the highest level so you’re going to be talking football all of the time so it was really good for me to get in there and learn on the coaching side.”
Prior to going to the Bay Area, Ansley was the defensive backs coach at Alabama and worked closely with then-defensive coordinator Pruitt and head coach Nick Saban. The Crimson Tide had the nation’s top scoring defense and total defense in both seasons Ansley was there and won the national championship in 2017.
During his time at Alabama, Ansley coached five players selected in the NFL Draft, including first-rounders Marlon Humphrey and Minkah Fitzpatrick. Ansley’s secondary led the SEC in interceptions during both seasons he was in Tuscaloosa.
“I learned a lot working under coach Pruitt and coach Saban,” Ansley said. “It was a great learning experience to get to bounce ideas of those guys as a young coach and learn how they saw things. It really shaped me and ready me for what I’m about to do this year.”
For the third time in his coaching career, Ansley is switching sides in the Third Saturday in October rivalry as he joins Pruitt’s staff in Knoxville. The Volunteers finished the 2018 season with a 5-7 record and were 60th in the country in passing defense but Ansley said he is excited to get things turned around while working with Pruitt once again.
“It’s going to be great for us,” Ansley said. “He taught me a lot early in my career and we really speak the same language. We want to develop these guys the best we can so we can put a great product on the field.”
Despite continuing to have success as a coach throughout the rest of the country, Ansley said he does not forget what it was like to grow up in Tallassee where he was taught so much about the game of football. Ansley said he loved how much the sport meant to the community but there was also more to take away from the experience other than just wins and losses.
“Playing in a town where football matters like Tallassee can give you a different perspective on what the game can do for you,” Ansley said. “Everyone in the community there is involved and we had a good following on the road. It makes you appreciate as a coach that everyone matters.”
After spending seven seasons as a defensive backs coach at four different stops, Ansley has taken over as a coordinator but he does not want it to stop there.
“I want to run my program and be a head coach,” Ansley said. “That’s the ultimate responsibility in the coaching profession outside of being an (athletic director), (general manager) or owner so being a head coach is what I have my sights on in the next couple of years.”