Tennessee Volunteers Coach Derek Dooley: He's One Of Us!
A little over a year ago, Tennessee Athletic Director Mike Hamilton hired a flashy, left-coast dude based on star potential to run the Tennessee football program.
Thirteen months, 11 ticked off SEC coaches, three arrested players, two NCAA inquiries, and one football program with a lot less class later, that dude left the Vols high and dry.
Three weeks before National Signing Day, no less.
In the feverishly quick coaching search that ensued, there were many, many candidates. The Vols' athletic director criss-crossed the nation in search of the next Tennessee coach.
He went to Texas, Utah, Colorado, North Carolina, and Louisiana—at the very least. I'm sure there were more, but these are the places we know of.
At the top of Hamilton's list was a former SEC player and assistant coach who also happens to be the "coach-in-waiting" at one of the premier programs in all of college football.
When that didn't work, Hamilton tried to go outside again, the Air Force and Utah coaches turned him down, and the embattled athletic director went after someone more familiar.
When that familiar candidate, David Cutcliffe, ultimately decided to stay at Duke, there was one more coach whose pedigree and demeanor could make Vols fans forget the dude from Cali.
Enter Derek Dooley.
Dooley is a revered name in the SEC. I'm sure you all know it by now, but Vince Dooley happens to be the greatest head coach in the history of the Georgia Bulldogs. That's what we call name recognition.
Derek grew up out of his father's shadow, however.
The younger Dooley decided to walk on at Virginia rather than attempt to become a Georgia fan-favorite under his father in Athens.
Still, the Southern drawl and hospitable nature of Derek Dooley is hard to miss.
In his introductory press conference, Dooley reminded me of a Southern Baptist preacher.
Whether your religious persuasion is represented by that remark or not, just compare that perception to the silver-spoon-fed, surfer dude who Hamilton hired 13 months ago.
Dooley's talk of returning class to this program and doing things the right way is a remarkable contrast from "singing Rocky Top all night long after beating Florida" (reigning national champion, preseason No. 1, playing at the Swamp) that the last guy remarked about.
That guy told recruits "you'll be pumping gas" if they didn't choose Tennessee. This guy says words like britches.
That guy could not seem to get his attention off of everyone else in the SEC. This guy says, "Look, I'm worried about Tennessee. When you worry about somebody else and what other people are doing, then you are not taking care of your own house."
That guy continually referenced Tennessee as the "USC of the East." Apparently he was also willing to eschew every Tennessee tradition in favor of his refried dreams of Southern California.
According to a story written by Clay Travis of fanhouse.com, Kiffin told players that "What you (Tennessee) were doing was not working." So he replaced videos of the 1998 National Championship team with clips of Reggie Bush.
He ripped off cheers that were used to entertain potential USC recruits and changed some of the wording to use it at Tennessee. He wouldn't even recite General Neyland's Game Maxims before games (a tradition dating back to the '50s).
Dooley, however, mentioned the maxims in his press conference. "I'm glad to see I believed in everything up there. Thank God the General knew what he's doing. He was something special."
So not only did Dooley embrace the maxim's from the get-go, he also complimented the greatest figure in the history of Tennessee Vols athletics. He also embraced the Vols' history under Johnny Majors and Phillip Fulmer.
"I'm looking forward to meeting and spending a lot of time with Coach Fulmer and all the Tennessee lettermen," said Coach Dooley.
The coach then remarked, "I said from the beginning, this isn't my program. It's been here a long time. It's going to be here long after I am. The worst thing you can do is come do a canned setup anywhere you go."
The more I see and hear from Coach Dooley, the more I realize he has much more in common with me than he has with the dude from the Left Coast. Dooley grew up on SEC football. He understands life in the SEC.
The last guy probably didn't realize the "SEC dream" until he was literally being chased out of Knoxville by an angry mob of Tennessee fans.
Football is different down here. Coach Dooley knows all about that.
I think that's one reason he will continue to be embraced in Vol-ville.
He gets rid of every stereotype and negative thing that the last regime brought to Tennessee.
This guy is SEC football. He doesn't come in and make his presence known by berating past, present, or future legends—he embraces them.
He says britches and sounds like a preacher. His persona fits SEC football perfectly.
There's no doubt that Coach Dooley wins the perception battle by a country mile. Of course, that still leaves a couple of questions.
Will he win the battles on the field? Will he win the battles in recruiting?
If Dooley's attitude and respectful nature are any indication, he'll do just fine.
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