Tennessee's Derek Dooley: Seen, Heard, and Observed

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Tennessee's Derek Dooley: Seen, Heard, and Observed

Like P.T. Barnum said, "...leave em' smiling." Derek Dooley is doing just that on the Big- Orange Caravan coach's tour.

"Hello, how y'all doing?" A large crowd stands up applauding, they all smile as he encourages them to take their seats. As Coach Dooley launches into short quips and euphemisms, the exuberant reaction of the crowd makes it apparently clear that he was bred for this.

It is actually quite effortless for him, due to Coach Dooley's huge toothy grin and warm charm. If he doesn't make it as a coach, he certainly has a future in politics.

Fans seem as if they gravitate towards Dooley much like his players and coaches, it can actually be un-nerving to witness, as people crowd and push their way towards him for autographs and a personal word or two.

The coaches nod their noggins up and down like bobble-head dolls, not so much in agreement, but acknowledging they hear every word, followed by furious scribbling on notepads or clutching mini-recorders to their chest just out of sight.

At practice, players take their direction and run off quickly without a word, following his commands like the Third Army did from Patton. In response to poor performance, he will swiftly shake his head from side to side grimacing, only to extol bountiful praise when execution improves.

If there are any negative opinions, the coaches or players are remaining tight-lipped along with most of the fans. At least when there aren't any other SEC opponents' fans around.

A friend of mine was standing next to an old man sporting bib overalls and a Tennessee ballcap when the old man faced him and said "it always starts out like this ," motioning towards the throng of reporters and fans wiping his forehead with an old red bandanna, "hand-shaking and kissing babies, then the first time he loses by 20, we all   line up to call him a son-of-..." well, you get the picture.

For now though, every orange-blooded Volunteer is ready to bear arms to protect Derek Dooley's honor. To his credit, it is still unblemished as the day he read Neyland's Maxims.

He hasn't even won a game and everybody loves him; if he were to beat Florida and Alabama this year the fans would pay for a statue out of their own pockets.

It's crazy the way people swoon over him, but wait until that flashy smile blinds you, and that strong lanky fist pumps your hand up and down like a long-lost brother, then see if you don't get a little Dooley drunk yourself.

Trust me, though, Dooley is still Mr. Business when it comes to football. As he rides away, you can see him extract a black Sharpie and start checking through a phone book-sized binder emblazoned only with the orange power "T." I think it's a fair bet it isn't his travel plans.

As his car disappears down the road, all are still smiling. The orange clad walk away, dispersing into crowds of two and three, all guessing at the outcome of different games.

One of the three crowds sauntering away, pile into a gray SUV adorned with Tennessee vanity plates, front and back.

The car starts up and a window slides down as I hear an agitated voice exclaim "I don't care, he reminds me of Clark Kent. " Enough said.

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