KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - Tennessee defensive coordinator Bob Shoop doesn't expect a lawsuit filed against him by his former employer to be a distraction as the Volunteers' defense attempts to bounce back from a disappointing season.
Penn State sued Shoop for breach of contract over the circumstances of his January 2016 departure. Shoop has filed a counterclaim indicating he was forced out rather than leaving Penn State on his own.
''It's not a distraction at all,'' Shoop said. ''The only time it's any distraction is when you guys bring it up.''
The lawsuit filed by Penn State earlier this year says Shoop was required to pay the university half his base salary for the remaining term of his contract if he decided to leave early. Shoop was Penn State defensive coordinator from 2014-15 before leaving for Tennessee .
According to the complaint, Shoop wouldn't have to pay the buyout only if he received a head coaching job within one year of his exit date. Penn State is seeking nearly $900,000 from him.
In a counterclaim filed last month, Shoop's lawyers said he was forced out of Penn State after encountering ''intolerable'' working conditions. The counterclaim said Shoop ''was constructively discharged/terminated from, or forced or compelled to leave'' Penn State.
Shoop declined to go into detail on the lawsuit Friday during a press conference to preview preseason practice, which begins July 29.
''I appreciate the fact that a lot of you are interested in the situation with regard to me and Penn State,'' Shoop said. ''I can't comment on it at this time. I promise you it's just a matter of a contract. We have a number that we feel we owe them and they have a number that they feel we owe them, and people who know a lot more about this stuff than I do are handling it. ... It's really nothing that I even think about it on a daily basis unless I read about it in the paper or you guys tell me about it or call me about it.''
The lawsuit represents another obstacle for Shoop, who already has his hands full trying to rebuild the Vols' defense. Tennessee went 9-4 last season but allowed 37.1 points per game in its final seven matchups against Football Bowl Subdivision opponents.
Shoop has the Vols' support - on and off the field.
Tennessee head coach Butch Jones said at Southeastern Conference Media Days earlier this month that he has ''no concerns whatsoever'' about Shoop in the wake of this lawsuit.
Senior safety Todd Kelly Jr. says he believes Shoop is more comfortable now that he's had a year to get used to being with a new program.
''I think he's confident,'' Kelly said. ''I think he's the man for the plan, no question.''
Shoop's defenses had ranked among the nation's top 25 programs in yards allowed each of the five years before his arrival at Tennessee, but the Volunteers didn't come close to reaching that benchmark last year. Tennessee ranked 95th in total defense and tied for 68th in scoring defense.
''I've been coaching a long time,'' Shoop said. ''I don't think I've seen a group of guys with a bigger chip on their shoulder and more determined.''
Tennessee now must replace Philadelphia Eagles first-round draft pick Derek Barnett - the school's all-time sack leader - as well as Pittsburgh Steelers third-round pick Cam Sutton and Detroit Lions fourth-round selection Jalen Reeves-Maybin.
Injuries limited Sutton to seven games and Reeves-Maybin to four games last season. The extended absences of Sutton and Reeves-Maybin exemplified the way injuries hampered Shoop's defense throughout the 2016 campaign.
Shoop sees plenty of cause for optimism.
He says defensive end Jonathan Kongbo is ''on a mission'' one year after the heralded junior-college transfer failed to deliver any sacks. He praises the senior leadership of defensive tackle Kendal Vickers. He emphasizes the importance of linebacker Darrin Kirkland Jr.
Shoop's mission is to build a stronger and deeper defense that can withstand any injuries that might arise this fall.
''The lessons I learned personally is you can never have enough guys,'' Shoop said. ''We've got to continue to develop depth.... because you never know. This league is such a physical league, and there's so much attrition.''
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