Expectations for the Tennessee Volunteers were low in 2010, so low in fact that Vegas books actually had the stricken Vols finishing last in the SEC...even behind Vanderbilt.
But alas, that was not the case. Not only did the Vols not finish last, they tied for third with Georgia in the SEC East, and they went to a bowl game. On the whole, breaking even with six wins and six losses in regular season is always better than losing one. However, 2011 isn't last year. Head coach Derek Dooley says "...this is year one, last year was year zero."
With this mentality it suggests many things that can be construed negatively and positively, the problem is understanding what's feasible and what isn't. Dooley may think this is year one, but a few Vols may see it otherwise. So...what should Vols expect from Coach Dooley in 2011?
It will forever be debated that the players are responsible for themselves, and the coach can only monitor them for so long. I disagree.
It is a free country, but if you are under 21 years of age and being compensated with an education, the coach has a moral and professional obligation to ensure that those athletes are on campus, going to classes and being mentored on citizenship. And they should not be shoplifting, committing robbery, not hiding addictions, driving under the influence, not committing acts of violence or putting themselves or other teammates in situations that would draw any kind of negative publicity or reputation to the university, no matter which team it is.
No more shenanigans of any kind.
There were crucial moments last season when the Vols had multiple opportunities to go after high-profile athletes but decided to stay local and recruit from home.
For the most part, just about any Tennessean would approve of this. After all, who wouldn't want a local kid to make it big and become an in-state hero? Sadly, there are fewer of those heroes locally than there are abroad; this is why the Vols were so successful in years past by signing top-10 recruiting classes year in and year out.
By all means, sign a Cameron Clear, but when a Jadeveon Clowney comes a calling, pick up the phone.
Recruit 24/7, 365 days, coast to coast, then check the backyard.
Scrambling as quick as Dooley did last season amid the chaos and preserving a top-10 recruiting class was nothing short of miraculous. That being said, this year's class could have been better. To rebuild a team, you need top-tier recruits.
You can scream at the top of your lungs that you have the ability to develop these young men, but at the end, you are still starting instruction at a lower level due to the need for advanced training. So you went out and got some reputable jucos and Alabama leftovers, now what? Will you train them up in a month-and-a-half so they become top-tier athletes or will you put them on a shelf and hope they mature like redshirt wine?
Beg borrow or steal, rebuild the team this year.
Losing sucks and it always will, but get up and walk off the field like you own a pair—walk tall.
The Vol-For-Life program is a step in the right direction, although a little mentoring about field ethics wouldn't hurt either. We all know they're human, with emotions and feeling and deserve to vent their frustrations but save it for the ride home.
Players were ridiculed for weeks after the LSU loss for being crybabies. Even tough man Nick Reveiz was seen on one knee with tears rolling down his face. Everyone knew they played their butts off, that should be enough...move on. Don't hang around looking like somebody shot your dog when the other team is doing the Macarena.
Dooley has to set a standard.
Dooley must be more selective when choosing staff. The body language and uncomfortable ranting by former DL coach Chuck Smith spelled out that there was definitely something more than a difference of opinion when it came down to X's and O's.
Growing pains are expected and so are staff changes until you find that perfect formula for cohesion, but this season should be it for now. There is only a couple of staff changes that are left in question. So...this season should be ample time to get the house in order at least where staff changes are needed.
New faces are fine to the coaches, but for the players, it creates confidence issues, not for themselves but the men who lead them.
Dooley should hire who he needs and be done with it.
One of the things Tennessee had going for it heading into last year's game against LSU was the fact that LSU head coach Les Miles had trouble managing the game clock. The irony of this was the exact same thing could have handed Dooley his first major win against an SEC powerhouse.
Unfortunately, Dooley forgot to tell his players how many men were supposed to be on the field and...with seconds left on the clock and... a stupid penalty, time slipped through his fingers and gave the Mad Hatter yet another gimme-win which rightfully belonged in the Volunteers' win column.
Don't wait until the last minute to win the game.
Despite having finished 6-7 on the season the Vols amazingly outscored their opponents on average 27-19. Now this may not seem like much, but when you factor in the improvements of the offensive line, the added reps for sophomores that started last year which were many, and the deconstruction of almost every SEC team save for Alabama and Florida, you will see bigger numbers in the end zone and fewer scores by the opponents. That my friend equals wins.
Maybe Bennie Wylie leaving for Texas was a good thing.
The Vols get some pardon for youth and inexperience, but one thing is never excusable, not having the stamina to go the distance. Last season, the Vols were great in the first half of nearly every game. With rushing, passing and special teams, it seemed they were on the verge of making great strides.
Then after taking a break at the half and maybe consuming concrete-laden Gatorade, the Vols would return to the field and die. Nearly 70 percent of all rushing and passing yards were gained in the first half for the season. Hopefully, Ron McKeefery will inject some of that Southern Florida champion stamina.
The Vols need intensive conditioning now.
Last year, Derek Dooley almost handed a seemingly easy win to the University of Alabama Birmingham by way of not one, but two overtimes. Embarrassingly enough UAB only managed four wins last season against Troy, Utep, Southern Miss and Memphis and lost in convincing fashion to Southern Methodist and UCF. And no, I did not make this up.
So by all means, beat the cupcakes, that is expected period. It's a warm-up right? This season, Dooley will still have to be careful, even with little ole' Montana. The Grizzlies are 58-10 over the last five seasons. In the Big Sky conference, they routinely pass on their opponents for 3,000 yards and rush for 1400 yards each season. Quit giggling, I know it's Big Sky but remember UAB.
Tennessee was 105th overall rushing in the NCAA last season. It's absolutely shameful for a team that went from 6.4 yards a carry to dismal 3.4. For comparison Auburn ranked fifth last season with 6.1 yards.
It's assumed that everyone appreciates that Tauren Poole waited behind two of Kiffins recruits that failed to deliver, but if you are inconsistent, it is also assumed that you should find someone who can run consistently.
This season, Dooley will have five runners to choose from with an improved offensive line there shouldn't be any excuses about depth.
The writer at this point must admit that he's a bit of an advocate for Matt Simms.
It's not that Bray is any less talented than Simms or is any less of a person. It's simply that Simms has given more but received less. It was Matt Simms that started against Florida, and Alabama, and LSU and did so against insurmountable odds. His head was rang so many times during those games his helmet might as well have been a bell. But like just a paratrooper, he jumped out of the plane every time, not because he likes the view, but because it's his responsibility.
Yes, those games were losses, but the leadership he displayed during those times should have given him the edge to play the games he could've won. Bray will have great success in his collegiate career, but before Simms is sent off to pasture, Dooley should allow him another moment to shine.
Okay, so let me get this straight. You take a veteran QB with about 150 plays on his menu, and you trade him for a stud QB with maybe 12 plays tops. Okay, you're the coach that's why you get paid the big bucks, but could we at least have that stud learn maybe 20 more plays?
Dooley needs to sit down with Darin Hinshaw and come up with a plan to add a few more plays to Bray's playbook. Short routes and the long ball will only take you so far, despite your PPG.
Develop the pass option so it's second nature and wait until next season to develop that fancy spread option you've been hearing so much about.
Easier said than done, right?
This is Dooley's year to beat Florida. The Gator team is just as young as the Volunteers. With new staffing changes, arrests, dismissals and only a handful of returning veterans, Dooley will pad his season with a quality win that will shut up many of his critics. The Gators have had their way with the Vols for the last six years, and besides Alabama, no other team has had so much success beating Tennessee at home or away.
Make Wil Muschamp sorry for turning down the Vols.
This is no small order, not only do you face a team that is motivated by home pride, but now, they have to push through the catastrophe of a destroyed city. The tornado will give this team more purpose than ever before. Factor in that they are playing at home and happen to be the No. 2 team in the country before the snap and it could be a very long day. Oh yeah Trent Richardson is projected to be a Heisman contender. Does it get any harder?
Oh yeah, remember Saban taught Dooley how to be a coach, and he definitely didn't teach him all his tricks.
Dooley must find a way to beat Bama.
If Derek Dooley was running for office, he would already have the conservative vote nailed shut. Lots of vague promises and smiles...then what?
Southern charm is awesome, and that's why the Vols have been won over thus far, but after that, there is only that "...wait and see approach."
Tennessee fans want something tangible they can taste. At least say something like "We're gonna win this game!" nothing fancy but encouraging. He doesn't have to get Kiffinesque, but a sound byte or two actually wouldn't be so bad.
Give the press something to write about and the fans to read.
I've often thought that head coaches were the highest paid micromanagers in the world. People are forever asking them what to do and they continually ask them how they would like it to be handled.
How do we know Dooley is a micro-manager? He learned from the best in the business in Nick Saban. The bad part about that is Dooley is not in fact a micromanager, but he behaves as one.
Derek Dooley is a person who commands and expects his orders to be followed. You don't run an entire athletic program, recruit and coach with knowing how to be a leader. He should reel in some of that authority that he has loosely dispersed among the coaches. There are far too many captains and not nearly enough privates. There were times against Florida and Alabama when he relied too heavily on OC Chaney and DC Wilcox. It gave implications of indecisiveness—cut it out.
During the first half against then, No. 7 Oregon, the Vols were having their way with the Pac-10 champions. DC Justin Wilcox seemed to know exactly where to put his chess pieces, and OC Jim Chaney seemed to know just the right play for Tauren Poole. Then it rained. Before finishing the half, Oregon returned from the locker room with a renewed vigor, and the Ducks began to simply outplay and outrun every part Volunteer football.
Oregon head coach Chip Kelly taught Dooley a very hard lesson quickly. Size and speed won't do you a lick of good if you don't have the gas to finish the race.
Don't get caught with your pants down when facing no-huddle offenses ever again.
Last season's 41-14 loss to Georgia wasn't even close, as the Bulldog defense dismantled everything that Dooley threw at them. It was clear that Mark Richt could have run up the score but didn't . The weird thing about it all was the behavior of the Bulldog fans.
There were no hedges being torn asunder, nor was there a goal post being carried through the streets on the shoulders of students. For them, it was more akin to beating your sister in arm wrestling. Like..ha! I won! And then it was time say a field prayer and head back to Knoxville.
Yes, we all know that there will always be a place in the hearts of Georgians for the Dooley family, but Derek Dooley has to start winning against Georgia. And whenever he goes home to visit, they shouldn't roll out the welcome mat.
A loss is a still a loss no matter how you paint it.
The freshman QB choked, the line couldn't hold our TB couldn't get by the secondary; they're not good. It's fine really, we all want the coaches analysis, but after a while, you just have to own up to your own mistakes. Even a head coach screws up. I mean look at Les Miles for God's sake. The difference is just realizing fans like an apology ever so often.
No more finger pointing.
And one more thing...
Whether it was out of spite for the death threats or just the general nastiness of it; after arriving at the USC campus only nine days later, Lane Kiffin issued a challenge for the Trojans to face the Volunteers having just abandoned them. It was the most vindictive thing he could have done.
Unfortunately, Tennessee was so decimated by it's recruiting losses and the transfer of close to a dozen veterans there really wasn't an option. And silence echoed across the state.
This season, Dooley should return the challenge and make plans accordingly.
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