Happier times ahead for Tennessee?

Take a deep breath. Don't panic. There's actually reason for optimism.

That's the message from Tennessee coach Derek Dooley.

Dooley had long been preaching as much even after the Vols lost six assistant coaches, often to similar positions at other schools, following a disappointing 5-7 season. Before the hires, Dooley's sermon rang hollow. Now, after recently hiring Sal Sunseri from Alabama and Sam Pittman from North Carolina to go along with the earlier addition of Jay Graham from South Carolina, there's reason to believe.

The trio have great reputations on the recruiting trail and are well known in key areas the Vols need to recruit. While it's not the main reason they were hired, it is a big part of what they bring to the table.

“It is very important because if you can't get the guys, it doesn't matter how good a coach you are,” Dooley said of considering recruiting when hiring new coaches. “There were some great coaches in that national championship game, but it wasn't short of great players. You have to be able to do both. ... The guys that we hired have a long history and track record of signing some really quality talent."

To rewind, Dooley went public earlier this month in an impromptu press conference saying his program was better off now than when he arrived in 2010. Fans had trouble believing that then, but after another press conference on Friday, there's reason to have faith -- at least from a recruiting perspective.

Time will tell if Sunseri can be an effective defensive coordinator. No time will be needed to determine that Sunseri is already a productive recruiter.

The former linebackers coach has proven that, especially in Washington D.C., Baltimore, Pennsylvania and northern Virginia area. Sunseri has been productive there for years, recently helping Bama land four-star prospect Cyrus Jones from Baltimore Gilman.

That could prove to be a perfect fit for the Vols after they lost former linebacker coach Peter Sirmon to Washington earlier this month. Talk to prospects and coaches from the talent-rich area surrounding our nation's capital and two names came up regularly: Sirmon and Sunseri.

As a young coach, Sirmon established himself with hustle, especially with 2013 prospects. Sunseri's name recognition came from time. He played and coached at Pittsburgh and recruited the surrounding area throughout his career.

Sunseri should be able to help salvage Sirmon's lost work in that area. First, he'll try to save Tennessee's 2012 class by assuring prospects that Tennessee is on the rise and not in dire shape as many had concluded among all the recent turmoil.

“Right now, Sal is going to hit the guys we have committed,” Dooley said. “He needs to go meet the defensive players and help recruit some of the others. Once we get to signing day, we will evaluate what areas all of our coaches will go to"

Sunseri already helped reel in one commitment: 6-foot-6, 375-pound defensive tackle Daniel McCullers from Raleigh, N.C. Having played in junior college at Georgia Military, there's reason to believe McCullers could have an immediate impact.

Pittman, who will coach the offensive line, knows the areas in and around North Carolina well, which has been a fertile recruiting area when Tennessee has been at a championship level.

Currently, Tennessee has no players from North Carolina on its roster.

“It has always been a focus area,” Dooley said of the neighboring state. “We haven't done as good of a job as we probably could have. We've done a good job in some areas and haven't done as good a job in others, but certainly given how close it is and the history of the great players from those states, yeah, we need to do a little better job in there.”

Graham, who was hired last month as running backs coach, can help shore up the Carolinas as well.

"I think a lot of the running backs I've recruited can identify with me,” Graham said. “I played in the NFL. I played in the SEC. I think a lot of the guys want to identify with that.”

Having starred for Tennessee in the 1990s is proof enough that Graham believes in what he's pitching to prospects. With so many changes since 2008, that core belief system in his alma mater should carry some weight.

“When I am sitting on a young man's couch, I am a product of what I am selling,” Graham said. “I think that's very important. For his parents to see that if you play well and can get to the NFL it is possible. Some of these young men might want to go off and coach too.

“I am able to talk about all of those things. I think that parents are able to see that this is what they want for their young man to end up doing."

Maybe the negative publicity emanating from Knoxville is finally over. The Vols have been burdened with reports of disgruntled coaches leaving to avoid a sinking ship, disgruntled players not giving their all in the season-ending loss to Kentucky and prospects voicing their concerns with the Vols publicly to the media.

Now -- and somewhat suddenly -- the Vols have enough coaches to effectively recruit, which was something they couldn't say before the recent hires.

They also have three proven recruiters -- reason enough to think brighter days may be ahead.