There have been endless jokes and insults since Mike Hamilton hired Derek Dooley, and with the completion of this year's 2010 recruiting class, the laughing has stopped and the insults have turned to apologies.
When Derek Dooley took office, he was so eager to get started he didn't even finalize his contract or worry about the small print; instead, he rolled up his sleeves and went to work.
One of the first things Dooley did was evaluate a depleted staff whose loyalties were uncertain, as many assistants began to book flights for California while Lane Kiffin picked window treatments for their new offices. His next concern was getting help he could trust. He had to act quickly, but who could he turn to?
The next item on his agenda was damage control; unsigned freshman were heading for the hills faster than bootleggers with rabid revenuers on their tails, and the current roster was scratching their heads when Dooley asked them all for a small measure of patience and assured them he would unpack his suitcase quickly.
I can only speculate at this point that most of the team was relieved after he spoke, but it wasn't hard to notice that some players and prior commits began to hit their speed-dials, some numbers more treasonous than others.
Lane Kiffin had lured in countless blue chips with the promises of a four-year NFL clinic and preparation for a quick departure come junior or senior season. Much to the team's dismay, arrogant ghosts began to appear on the television, announcing their school just wasn't good enough. "It wasn't one of the top five jobs in the country." Future seniors most likely exclaimed, "...here we go again," but a strong number were actually enthusiastic for the promise of returning tradition back to its previous condition.
Dooley won me over at the press conference when he turned as he stood at the podium and stared reverently at Neyland's axioms; it was a display of respect and humility.
We all stopped holding our breath, but Dooley was chomping at the bit. You could see his body language screaming "I got work to do boys, are we through with the media?"
With the highest paid coaching staff a distant memory, Coach Dooley had to act quickly to keep a respectful 2010 class from going down in flames and killing the transfers, but as I asked earlier, who could he turn to? Lance Thompson.
Dooley and Thompson already know how to recruit; just go look at the LSU roster from 2001 to 2005, they were loaded. They already have history that involves a crystal football. There really is no other choice.
However, Jim Chaney would have made me a little nervous considering his previous allegiance. After all, there really isn't much of a reason to want to trust him, but, much to Dooley's credit, he isn't quick to judge. It's a good thing, too, because he proved to be very instrumental in keeping and influencing offensive players.
Lance Thompson, though, I believe really is the one wearing the "S" on his chest at this moment. Even though Ambles decided not to honor his declaration of commitment, it wasn't because Coach Thompson was sleeping on the job, it was because Kiffin promised him his own brand of fame and celebrity that Dooley couldn't, and wouldn't, match.
"Snow? Who cares?" "Where are you? I'll get you here, because we want you here." That is the attitude of Thompson, not his words. He jumped in a car and drove to Atlanta when Ambles had transportation problems for his last visit.
Sadly, I think in the final days, Ambles chose to visit not out of decision making, but out of selfish entertainment. It's evident in his hormone-fueled behavior around the opposite sex. A friend of mine is a student on campus, and she noted that, and I quote "he acts like a freshman at a slumber party." Maybe it was strategic thinking letting this one slip away. Oh, and thanks to Suze for that morsel.
I won't try to explain how each recruit is going to help, because the speculation is far too broad when you factor in determined young men anxious to prove themselves. I will happily admit, however, that I like our quarterback problems right now, and it's anybody's guess who will be hurling the pigskin come September.
Either way, Tennessee still landed and retained a cornucopia of talent, some that are recognizable, some not. The success, however, is Dooley and his ability to weather a potentially catastrophic event and come out smiling.
I would also like to add that remarks, suggestions, and criticism about Dooley's ability are becoming fewer as each day passes. I watched Fulmer on CBS' sport page welcome him with emotional words (http://www.cbssports.com/video/player/play/collegefootball/PTWjOrAeyU3c0hX6wV_WTh1kmhcrX5L_?source=videobox_collegefootball). It's been Mike Hamilton's biggest success thus far.
He found a young, passionate coach, but this one is different. He is actually happy and humbled to call Tennessee his new home and family, but for Heaven's sake, let's be careful with him.
Dooley is "down home." Tennesseans, come Sunday while you're sitting in church, look to the left and right of you. That young, clean-cut guy there with his family is the spitting image of our new coach. I hope that we all remember that when we don't beat the Alabamas and Floridas; the law of averages just won't allow it otherwise. When the wrong play flops and one of the Gators' five phenoms breaks a kickoff for a touchdown, be mindful when you write on your blog at least until his kids are older.
I sincerely hope for unbeaten seasons every year, but, like Dad said, "You can crap in one hand and wish in the other and see which one gets fullest the quickest."
Remember this, as well: Dooley respects and admires Coach Fulmer, so don't think for one minute he will forget how we all called for the ax for one of our own and then danced in the street as a humble man was tearfully carried off the field on the shoulders of players that loved him. We should remember honor and loyalty when Coach Dooley delivers and when he doesn't.
Now, where did I put this year's schedule?