Tennessee football seems to be awakening again; it has an air that was similar in the early '90s. Players are acting like they belong in the SEC, the coaches are planning for each game and the future of the program simultaneously. It's what you expect from coaches and players, to build championship programs.
This season is pivotal for Tennessee to keep the momentum, but just who exactly is shouldering the burden?
So who is this skinny guy, right?
He is Jason McVeigh, and he is the director of Tennessee's Sports Medicine Department. This is the guys that keeps players on the field and off the bench.
He started working his physical-therapy mojo in 1999 under Phillip Fulmer. You might not appreciate his name, but you can appreciate his work.
- Arian Foster, knee sprain.
- Jason Witten, elbow and shoulder.
- Eric Ainge, shoulder and knees.
- Nick Reveiz, knee.
- Herman Lathers, ankle.
- Greg King, knee.
When players are injured, or need rehabilitation after surgery McVeigh is the first person they interact with. It might sound trivial but trust me it's not. For the last 12 years the 31 year old UT graduate has been the face of player rehab. Without him these players don't recover in time to be a team factor.
Former member of the 1998 championship team, and four-year letter-man Andre Lott has the weight of the world on his shoulders right now but it's getting lighter everyday.
The Vol-For-Life Coordinator is making great strides in developing Tennessee's football players. I might have teased around the necessity of this in the past, but it is a vital component in the program. Tennessee athletes have had well-publicized issues with the law in past, ranging from assault and battery to battery larceny. And, no program worth anything wants that kind of publicity. Keeping young men out of trouble period is a 24 hour job, but the players must be improving. At this point no news is good news, and that's the silence all the fans and coaches appreciate.
This man wears a lot of hats, no pun intended.
Coming in under Lane Kiffin Lance Thompson assumed the mantle of LB's coach and recruiting coordinator, and he followed that practice until this season. Early in the spring Coach Dooley switched him to DL after Chuck Smith left, and the position became vacant. However, change is nothing new to Thompson.
He has successfully coached or coordinated almost every aspect of the game, and done so successfully. His championship résumé at Georgia Tech, LSU, and Alabama speaks for themselves. He is the coaching staff's pinch hitter, and he contributes to the team on both sides of the ball on and off the field.
Just like Rick Clausen, DL Malik Jackson is the poster child for leaving a top tier program and being successful at Tennessee.
Leaving USC on July 10, 2010 Jackson found himself under the care of the Volunteers, and the defense under his. Starting in every game last season Jackson switched from DE to DT throughout the season, but found he was needed most at the tackle spot and made no complaints.
Coming in sixth in team tackles he established himself and won the favor and respect of his teammates. This season Jackson will prove his worth again and continue to set the example for players like Notre Dame transfer Alex Bullard.
I have to believe that him leaving Lane Kiffin was just an added bonus.
"Bush league" as it might be, I criticize people, coaches, and players when I see deficiencies. However, I also praise them when token is due.
Token is due: Tyler Bray is the leader of the Tennessee offense, and it was thrust upon him when many thought the extent of his duties would be running down the clock in the fourth quarter. Despite criticism and naysayers, Bray has won more than he's lost. He threw for 1849 yards, 125 comp. for 224 att, and 18 TD's, with a final QB rating of 142.72. Not too bad for a kid that that's suppose to "blow away in a mild wind."
He was sacked, knocked down, and brutalized to the point of shaded doubt, but he got back up and played like a QB 50 lbs heavier. Without Bray the depth is much too shallow.
Abandon all hope all ye who enter here.
I know, it sounds dramatic. But, this is why I have two QBs in this article. The SEC is a rough place to live. On any given Saturday you could have any portion of your anatomy snapped in two by a 325-lb. DT. Or, a rogue DE could come in and greet you the way Lawrence Taylor did Joe Theisman.
Worley, will be to Bray the way Tim Tebow was to Chris leak. He is the talent pool behind Bray and will be for the next two seasons. He is probably more important now because of the depth and what he means to the offense should Bray take a fall. Many are just downright giddy for this kid to take field.
Steven Rubio is the man behind the man, behind the man, etc. etc. etc.
When recruiting coordinator Terry Joseph hops in his car for a weekend trip to Baton Rouge, it's because Steven Rubio told him there was a player there he should look at. Rubio is the Director of Player Personnel. In short he is the director of human resources, and the recruiters go sightseeing the countryside to speak to the prospective recruits that he tells them to.
Now, there is a lot to go with this job as Derek Dooley himself works hand in hand with Rubio to evaluate potential athletes for the program. Right now this job is critical to the success of Tennessee Football. With two commitments signed the Vols are currently bringing up the rear in SEC recruiting. It is a bit nerve racking if you are a fan; but you can only hope it's because of quality control.
Tauren Poole is the herald for Tennessee's running game. If not for Poole there wouldn't be a running game. The Toccoa, GA native has been the answer for one third of Tennessee's offense, and a beacon that calls out to other recruits; telling them that the Vols still like to run the ball.
Poole leads by example and continues to be a workhorse in the Vol's stable, with one season left of collegiate play we should see a renewed and driven Poole that other SEC teams may not recognize. I think it's safe to say that the Vols might want to clear a space in their record books this season.
Derek Dooley is lucky that America's Biggest Loser didn't snatch McKeefery up, because Bob and Jillian don't have nothing on this guy.
Most of you guys already know his story: strength and conditioning coach at USF helping develop their squad into conference contenders over a decade of athletic excellence. He then found himself instructing U.S. Army Special Forces, and that's when Dooley found him and brought him home.
Bennie Wylie might have made the Vols sweat for a season, but McKeefery will turn them into gladiators.
From here on the Vols will never be out of shape.
He is the reason the Vols go right instead of left.
For whatever bad Kiffin did, he does recognize talent. Offensive coordinator Jim Chaney will finally have a decent opportunity to turn things around for the Vol offense this season.
Urban Meyer trusted his expertise enough to lobby him for help, so there must be something to the man;'s offensive schemes. We saw a good demonstration last year against Memphis, and even managed to get Spurrier rattled. So, with an improved line, experienced receivers, a battle-hardened TB in Poole, and a returning-healthy gunslinger in Bray should arm him with the tools that he needs. Without him this next guy would have to break out his clip-board...
Wide receivers coach Charlie Baggett isn't simply another hands-man. He is also the assistant head coach. He and Coach Dooley rubbed elbows in the same waters under Nick Saban at Miami. After Saban left for Bama they all parted ways, and Dooley of course went on to coach at LO Tech, and Baggett stopped for a brief tenure with the St. Louis Rams where he would continue an already pro thick resume. In fact, Baggett probably has the most respected resume on the Tennessee staff, you can check that out here.
Baggett offers more than just a receivers coach, he is the second in command and council to the king's ear. Coach Dooley depends on Wilcox and Chaney, but when he needs advice on the right and wrongs of daily coaching challenges, it's Baggett that he listens to. And if Dooley needs a sounding board on the performance of his coaches it's Baggett's job to keep it honest.
Prentiss Waggner is a DB that has become the keystone for Tennessee's secondary.
Without Waggner the backfield is not nearly as ominous, and shows substantially less speed and coverage regardless of who is placed in his stead.
What he offers is a diversion that QBs don't want. He breaks up passes, squeezes receivers out of their routes, and is a hard hitting speedster that offers run protection, giving LB's an extra second to move in for the kill. Justin Wilcox will push LB's into passing lanes that will give Waggner an extra chance to invade those slant routes.
The defense is even shaped away from Waggner because he can close so fast. Irreplaceable.
Tennessee's DC is detail-oriented kind of guy. You can hear him in his interviews and press releases where he will forever expand on how this play was busted, or this tackle was missed, yet for all of his analysis he complains collectively. "We" must do this, and "We" have to work on tackling. It is a team thing for him and blame is just a label to point fingers. He wants to fix the defense and not complain about it.
Staff issues aside there has to be one boss on defense, and that has to be him. For the moment he still has mountains to move to prove his system and methods work, yet with anyone else at the helm it seems the Vols would be struggling much worse than before.
Call it guts or simple fondness, but I believe Wilcox has a great future in store for the Vols.
Dooley, Dooley, Dooley.
Coach Dooley is simply one of the most candid and forthright people I have ever come across.
He has the ability to calm people with charisma, that in itself is a powerful tool when you deal with the public. Can he coach though? I believe so. Even Robert Neyland had a few down years, a 5-5 and a 4-4-2 if I remember correctly. You could say that he earned those down years, but Phillip Fulmer got fired for his.
The point is Derek Dooley is rebuilding the program, stone by stone...or player by player if you will. However you might decide to judge the man I think it is important to wear the whistle for a minute and ask yourself if another coach could have done any better?
If you have the time I recommend watching the video, that is if you have never had the opportunity to listen to Coach Dooley answer questions from the press.
Like or don't like you've read? Let me know.