The jury is still out on whether new Tennessee head coach Derek Dooley will or won't lead the Volunteers back to a state of grace.
He has already been judged in many cases though. His detractors say he has questionable ability: At Louisiana Tech, he had a less-than-even run, especially against WAC-level competition. For his naysayers, that outweighs his Southern charm and appeal.
Then there is the argument that he was playing cart ponies against Thoroughbreds. He should be heralded for his ability to compete against them, and win a few games in the process.
That dichotomy will be debated by all the sportscasters come September. Is he deserving of Tennessee, or is Tennessee deserving of him?
Either way the wind blows, he seems to be laser-guided.
Salary? No problem. Flighty AD? No problem. Your No. 1 recruit is leaving. No problem—I've got 84 more who want to be here.
It at least seems he isn't afraid to get out of bed everyday, considering the daunting task that lies before him. That's a major success in itself.
His direction isn't alien to the SEC, but the path he's taking with Tennessee is.
I'm not the first to mention this, but it is clear with every passing day that a gag-order has been issued by Dooley. There won't be any loose lips from players or staff. All's quiet on the West—er, Eastern front.
"I know the direction this program has, and just like any major corporation, there is always one voice speaking on behalf of the company...well, that's me."
After much of the recent publicity that shrouded Tennessee, it now seems that, as far as football is concerned, we will all take what Coach Dooley gives us.
The only news I have is what we all got Jan. 15 when Dooley took the reins.
(paraphrased) "I'm glad to be here, I got work to do...Ha, ha, ha, yeah, my mama is something else, isn't she?"
That was it. Nobody has heard much—except for a lunch here and there. He told a few jokes and kept reciting the same lines from Jan. 15.
It's a shoe-in that Steve Spurrier has re-taken the throne as SEC jokester with the departure of Sir-Sticks-Foot-in-Mouth, because Dooley is having none of it.
He has been afforded every media opportunity, and he has taken them all the same way. Anyone with a television, who follows SEC football already knows that. Let's move on.
His record doesn't exactly reflect his personality nor his proclaimed ethics for achievement and progress. But he does remind me of someone else with that quiet swagger. Man, who does he remind me of....? Oh yeah, Nick Saban.
Careful...he is quick to remind anyone that he is not the Crimson Tide's general, but he does credit him for much.
Now, is it fair or warranted to compare Dooley to Saban? Well, it is going on as we speak. After all, Saban was his mentor. Can't we all talk about the 500-pound, crimson gorilla in the room?
Let's face it, Saban is in the groove. Alabama was smart enough to land him. It's only natural for Hamilton to go for the next best thing.
Only it wasn't his idea; it was Texas heir-apparent Will Muschamp. He made the suggestion after informing Hamilton that he too, along with many others, was not interested in the job.
Hamilton has swallowed the poison, and the board of trustees holds the antidote.
Back to Nick Saban.
Arch-nemesis or not, Saban molded some of the clay that makes Coach Dooley do what he does. He shadowed Saban for seven years, longer than any other assistant. In Dooley's own words, he lived with a perfectionist, so inevitably he is guilty by association. Is that a bad thing?
Not necessarily—not if you are rebuilding an imperfect team. Perfect recruiting plus perfect execution equals championships.
It seems that Saban will always look for a way to win, and I don't mean that as a bad thing. When you are coaching football, you aren't on the field to make friends.
Quite the contrary, you are there to babysit 90 young men, and teach them how to play ball. At the same time, you have to satisfy the blood lust of millions of fans. Then you have to appease the staff, the alumni, the board of trustees...the list goes on. Anyway, Saban definitely knows how to do that.
So, does Dooley know how? He was there with Saban for part of it anyway, so he must at least know the organizational parts. We all know the part he played at Louisiana Tech as head coach/AD.
Right now, he seems on track copying, or at least modeling, the re-building process he and Saban did at LSU: Keep your mouths shut, recruit, coach, and play ball.
It worked for LSU, but will that simple formula work for the accident-prone Volunteers?
There are always obstacles in your path. The looming questions remain. Will he match or better his record at Louisiana Tech?
Anything less than consecutive bowl appearances will be marked as a failure. Everyone will focus on the Florida and Alabama games, and it's a mystery whether victory, or even a close loss, will be enough.
After Oregon, Hamilton will either look like the court jester, or Albert Einstein for hiring Dooley. Which explanation will it be? "I hired a lawyer that wanted to coach." or "I hired a coach, that just happens to be a lawyer."
Like everyone else in the cheap seats, I don't know either.
We'll have to approach it the same way we did with Kiffin: Speculate, wait, watch, and listen until September.