Five Things Derek Dooley Must Do To Be Successful at Tennessee
New Tennessee football coach Derek Dooley comes to the Vols as a branch off the Nick Saban coaching tree. Saban runs a tight and well-organized ship, so it's safe to assume that Dooley has a plan in place for gaining success in Knoxville.
Having said that, here are five things I believe Dooley must do to have a long and fruitful career at Tennessee.
1. Channel His Inner Nick Saban
Watching Dooley at his opening press conference, you could hear a slight Saban accent. His mannerisms resembled the Alabama head coach, and he talked at length about the experience he gained under Saban at multiple stops.
There is little you can say to argue the notion that Saban is the best recruiter in the game today, so Dooley must be able to let the Saban in him come out.
Dooley has less than three weeks on the job before National Signing Day and is at a gross disadvantage. In order for him to salvage a recruiting class regarded as one of the nation's best, Dooley must find a way to create the excitement Saban seems to bring out in these recruits.
So far, Dooley has done a great job of getting on the early enrollees and getting them on board. Many of those players are highly rated and regarded, but Dooley was able to convince the ones who doubted that Tennessee is still the place they needed to be.
2. Take Ownership of the Team
One of the early things you heard coming from the Tennessee players when Lane Kiffin took over was that they felt Lane was "one of them." Boy, were they clueless or what?
Anyway, Kiffin sold the new team on him being a part of it and not the head of it. It seemed the players had felt some detachment from the prior coaching staff, and the feeling Kiffin gave them seemed to inspire team unity.
Now, this team has lost its second coach in as many years, and many of the freshmen are wrestling with unfulfilled promises from the last staff. Dooley and his staff must step in and do what Kiffin actually did well—unify the team—but Dooley must follow through.
3. Repair In-State Relationships
Tennessee doesn't have the luxury of pulling more than half its class from inside its state every year, like Florida, Alabama, and Georgia. Some seasons, sure, but most there aren't going to be a high number of kids that UT can justify taking if they are recruiting well nationally.
The problem is—and has been—that there are so many damaged relationships between UT and the state's high schools that when there are players good enough, they are sliding out of state. Alabama basically has a pipeline running up I-65 to Nashville, and other schools poach out of Memphis all the time.
With the overall number of Division I prospects low in the state of Tennessee, the Vols just can't afford to have them sliding out of state at the rate they are.
Dooley is going to have to do what others have been unable or unwilling to do—and that's show kids in the state that when they perform at a high level, the hometown school will not slow-play them or dance around an offer.
Right now, there are several kids in the state of Tennessee going to respectable BCS programs, and only one of those is committed to the Vols for 2010. This number is completely unacceptable, and Dooley and his staff must find a way to correct this soon.
4. Embrace the Tennessee Family
Early on, it appeared as though Lane Kiffin was open to having former players and coaches around the program. As a matter of fact, Kiffin reached out his hand to former coach Johnny Majors, which proved a very favorable move in the eyes of most fans.
However, upon Kiffin's departure, I think the "family" is more united than it's ever been. From Phillip Fulmer to Fred White, all Vols—young and old—were angered by the disrespect and lack of loyalty Kiffin showed.
Dooley stands a chance to hit a home run by embracing the entire Tennessee family. There are so many ex-players and coaches around Knoxville that could offer Dooley a helping hand—even if he doesn't need it.
Whether it's advice, stories of experience, or simply the company of like-minded people when he's now in a strange place, Dooley has put himself in a situation in which he could have as many friends as he wants. He only has to say the word.
5. Understand and Embrace the Job
With all due respect to Louisiana Tech, Dooley is stepping into a situation he cannot imagine. This isn't a job where you lose on Saturday and everything is back to normal on Sunday.
No, this is the SEC. Dooley has experience as an assistant, but being a head coach is a different world. The job doesn't stop when he leaves the office or stops recruiting.
In Tennessee, the head football coach is the face of Tennessee—the school, the state and the culture. His job description doesn't stop at coaching football; it includes kissing babies and turning water to wine upon request as well.
Dooley must embrace all of the above—something Kiffin never did. The people of the state and the fans can see through it if you don't, and they will know it's in your heart if you do.
I think most reasonable people expect Dooley to struggle in year one, maybe even two because he's been left with an undermanned roster and a late start on 2010 and 2011 recruiting. So executing No. 5 would help people have patience.
Derek Dooley has the chance of a lifetime in front of him, and I think he knows that. The man I saw at his press conference spoke of the Tennessee job as one he wanted to be associated with for a long time.
The people of Tennessee looked at Dooley's demeanor in that presser and saw a man who seemed to be of the highest integrity, class, and intelligence. It's almost as though, at the end of it, the entire state said in unison, "the class is back."
We all know that there are so many things that go into a successful program, and I am certain Dooley has it under control, But these are five things I believe are essential to Derek Dooley becoming the football coach at Tennessee everyone wants him to be.
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