Derek Dooley has been a generally level-headed man since arriving in Knoxville. Sure he has thrown an occasional sound bite to the media but I get the impression it is nothing more than just the master throwing his dogs a bone.
If asked about what this bowl game means to his program, I'm sure his answer would be fairly common rhetoric.
He would probably say something like, "It's just another game to win."
"We could really use the extra month of practice."
Well that's ok because that is what the head man is suppose to do. Keep the expectations down and keep his team calm, cool, and collected.
However, I'm beginning to think that even Derek Dooley knows that it means an awful lot more than that, especially in referencing what it means for the future of Derek Dooley's program.
The second hypothetical Dooley answer does actually have a little to do with it.
The Vols are an extremely young football team as we all know. The Vols at times have looked like an SEC football nursery with countless true freshman and redshirt freshman at positions of major importance, which is often not very indicative of winning football game.
Who would you rather face in the Music City Bowl?
So getting these youngsters, who have really begun hitting their stride at a point in the season when they truly cease to be freshman anymore, is extremely important. That is why that month of practice will be crucial for the Vols going forward into 2011 and even 2012.
Another huge factor to playing in a bowl game is exposure.
Yes, I know that the Music City Bowl (which I all but assume to be our destination) is not exactly the Sugar Bowl. It's not even the Chik-Fil-A Bowl to be perfectly honest with you, but Dooley and company have a little over two full months to fill out what may be the most important recruiting class of the last decade.
Being able to go into a recruit's home, since it is in-home visit season, and laying out your recruiting pitch and being able to say, "Oh, by the way don't forget to watch us on Dec. 30th," is obviously a major advantage over being 5-7 and having to make promises about how great it will be next year.
Most importantly, it solidifies what most of Dooley's players already know.
Dooley has got your back.
The seniors in this Tennessee Volunteer Football program have seen more troubled times and hardship than arguably any group in the history of Tennessee football.
At 2-6, Dooley could have justifiably packed it up and said let's just start fresh next season when we can add some depth and help. Instead, he decided to fight tooth and nail to send these young men out with the opportunity to win on an elevated stage.
Yes, he did play a lot of younger players along the way, but there really wasn't an option there when you consider Tennessee's overall lack of depth.
But to the kids that are already in this program and to the kids on their way into the program what better way is there to prove that you will have their back then by going to war for a group of seniors that you have no real vested interest in?
That's the kind of coach that Derek Dooley is, and I honestly believe that's the kind of man Derek Dooley is.
Dooley may try to play it cool and minimize the importance this game has going forward, but in all honesty it is a huge deal to both his legacy and this program moving towards the future.