2010 looks like a tough year at Tennessee

 Knoxville—On January 11 Tennessee tight end Luke Stocker decided that he would stay in school and not enter the NFL Draft.

“I thought it would do me a lot of good to play one more year under coach (Lane) Kiffin,” said the 6-6, 240-pound native of Berea, Ky.

The next day Stocker and the rest of the Tennessee players got a big slap in the face. Kiffin, after just one season, was bolting for USC.

“My mother saw it on TV and she called,” Stocker said. “She was so upset that she was almost crying. I had to calm her down. It was a tough day. A very, very tough day.”

College football players like stability. When they go to a place like Tennessee they certainly expect it. Under the worst of circumstances, they expect no more than one change at head coach in their 3-5 years on campus.

But two changes in two years? From Phillip Fulmer (the definition of stability), to Lane Kiffin (the definition of instability) to Derek Dooley (a stable but unknown quantity at this level) in the space of 24 months?

“Amazing,” said senior defensive end Chris Walker. “None of us could have expected anything like this. But now the seniors on this team have to make the best of it.”

If there is a theme to Dooley’s first few months on the job, it is “Looking Ahead.” There is simply nothing to be gained, said Dooley, to look back at the turmoil the Tennessee program has gone through.

“We have one of the great traditions in college football and our job is to take what we have at Tennessee—which is a lot—and build a program that will be successful for the long haul,” said Dooley, a former attorney (UGA law school) who couldn’t shake the coaching bug. “That is what we’re going to do.”

The styles could not be more different. While Kiffin was like an overexposed politician constantly throwing red meat to this base, Dooley is quiet and measured. Where Kiffin never saw a TV camera or a media interview he didn’t like, Dooley believes you talk to the media when you have something to say or report. The rest of the time you keep your mouth shut and go to work. While the whole world was welcomed at Kiffin’s practices, Dooley wants to restrict access on all levels. Earlier this year he inadvertently had some former players removed from spring practice because, quite frankly, they were part of a huge crowd that just showed up.  It caused a little media dust up but now all former players are welcomed and are asked just to let the football office know they are coming.

The contrast is simple. Kiffin’s role model is Pete Carroll. Dooley’s is his father (Vince) and Nick Saban. Both styles work.

The former Louisiana Tech head coach and athletics director knows what a good football team is supposed to look like. He came of age in the 1980s watching his father field some of the best teams in Georgia history. He played at Virginia when George Welsh, one of the best fundamental coaches in the history of the game, lifted the Cavaliers to the No. 1 ranking in the land. He worked for Saban at LSU and was recruiting coordinator when the Tigers accumulated the talent that would go on to win national championships in 2003 and 2007. Saban and Dooley weren’t around for the 2007 national championship. But their players were.

“Coach Dooley knows his stuff and so does this staff,” Stocker said. “He’s got a plan.”

Dooley’s plan, however, could include some short-term pain in order to achieve some long-term gain. The instability of the past 24 months has led to some pretty serious gaps in personnel. It was already a given that two freshmen were going to have to play on the offensive line. That was before Thursday when Aaron Douglas, a freshman All-America tackle last season, asked for and was granted his release. If we are to believe the recruiting services, running back Bryce Brown was the top prospect in the nation in 2009. He has indicated that he wants to transfer but the book has not been closed on that yet. Brown may yet return to the team.

It remains to be seen if any of the quarterbacks can play consistently at the SEC level. Nick Stephens played a good bit in 2008 but Kiffin and his staff barely used him in 2009.

And gone are three future NFL players: Safety Eric Berry, defensive tackle Dan Williams, and running back Montario Hardesty.

Put it all together with a schedule that includes Oregon, Florida, LSU, Georgia, and Alabama in a six-week stretch and it’s hard not to conclude that 2010 will be a tough year for Tennessee. The only question is whether or not the Tennessee fans and the powers that be will be patient while Dooley and his staff rebuild a program in dire need of stability.

“We’ve heard a lot of people say that we’re going to struggle this year,” Walker said. “I just think we can prove those people wrong. This team has been through a lot. There is a lot of pride here.”

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114 comments Add your comment

Mike

March 26th, 2010
9:16 am

Tennessee will be fortunate to win 4 games this fall. They have no choice but to be patient with Dooley because the fact of the matter is this program is not what it used to be. So much so that none of UT’s first 5 choices for head coach turned them down. It’s going to take 3 or 4 years of solid recruiting to be able to bring this program back to respectability in a tough conference.

SOUTH GA DAWG FAN

March 26th, 2010
9:18 am

he will win in tenn if they give him time

P-Man

March 26th, 2010
9:19 am

While I am no Tennessee fan, I think Tennessee will surprise a lot of people. Dooley is a quality coach who will achieve success every year, even in down years. I see a 7 win season.

SOUTH GA DAWG FAN

March 26th, 2010
9:21 am

I didn’t see the first post til now but I agree with Mike, but I don’t believe any SEC team other than Vandy will give a coach 3 years maybe they will. He id keep a great class together this year after lame bolted.

Otto

March 26th, 2010
9:33 am

I am no UT fan and rather neutral on Dooley but their season could very well be equal to last year with a solid foundation in place for a successful future.

Nachos Fan

March 26th, 2010
9:34 am

Saban will spank him come October in Neyland.

Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

March 26th, 2010
9:35 am

any more updates on the NCAA sanctions? Tenn will definetly struggle this year..but should be back on track in 2011 or 2012

Dink

March 26th, 2010
9:36 am

Never liked Tennessee but I always respected them. But how could you respect the Vols with a HC like Kiffin, who had no respect for anyone? Good riddance to Kiffin and good luck UT.

Jax Dawg

March 26th, 2010
9:40 am

I sure am going to miss Kiffin during SEC media days this year.

GeneralNeyland96

March 26th, 2010
9:46 am

I am a UT fan, and I think Dooley will do well in the long run, and it’s nice to see other teams’ fans show respect for him as well….that’s something we’d never get with that ‘last guy’. I have to admit, I bought into his shock and flash plan, and I believe that if he’d stayed, UT would have won…but at the cost of our school’s integrity and tradition.

SimpleDawg

March 26th, 2010
9:51 am

Unfortunately for the rest of the SEC, Derek Dooly will do just fine….he has all he needs to recruit talent – nice college campus, great social life, big stadium, rabid fans, and plenty of beautiful coeds. He is definitely an upgrade over Lame Kitten.

The bar continues to be raised…..This aint a Limbo contest, it’s a high jump.

The winners will be the high jumpers.

5IML

March 26th, 2010
9:59 am

I hate UT’s football program, but I respect their coach. I haven’t felt this way since Majors.

All programs are cyclical. Unfortunately, one day, UT will rise again.

RAMBLE ON!!!

March 26th, 2010
10:02 am

It’s about time Mr. COLLEGE football gave press to a SEC team.

skram30082

March 26th, 2010
10:03 am

@Mike

You said:

So much so that none of UT’s first 5 choices for head coach turned them down.

I think you mean:

So much so that ALL of UT’s first 5 choices for head coach turned them down.

#2 BAMA FAN

March 26th, 2010
10:04 am

Going from Fulmer who is the most hated UT coach from Bama fans to Boy Blunder the media darling to Dooley a Saban man. Karma is a bitch, but I really wish Dooley good luck in the SEC!! RTR

JB

March 26th, 2010
10:16 am

No, Derek won’t get a chance to build something…….here’s why. Let’s say a coach just walked off on Georgia, a coach that had half cheering for him and half embarrassed about him and Damon introduces our new coach Charlie Fulmer from Arkansas State ( not the Razorback team, but State).
Damon tells us he’s a fine young coach with a hellva pedigree and we are all excited about having Charlie at the University of Georgia. The cupboard is bare and ole Charlie goes 5-7 first year. Paint a picture for me in Athens because that’s exactly what’s going to happen in Knoxville this year.

McDawg

March 26th, 2010
10:23 am

i’m just hoping we are not one their 4 wins-for some reason we don’t seem to come to play against the Vols

GatorFan96

March 26th, 2010
10:25 am

I actually see Dooley winning big in his first year. When Lane left UT, the one coach I didn’t want them to hire was Dooley because he is the only guy out there who could compete with Meyer

bigdawg01

March 26th, 2010
10:27 am

It is a shame what happened to such a powerful, tradition rich program.

This year will be painful to watch for TN fans. Cant say I wont like it, but Kiffin gave the school and the SEC a black eye and there is ONE person to blame. Mike Hamilton.

RxDawg

March 26th, 2010
10:28 am

Nice post TB. It gives good insight into what’s going on at UT for those of us mostly in the dark. The Vols still have good atheletes, they may not win the SEC this year but they will be no pushover and will probably jump up and knock off someone they aren’t supposed to. Lord knows they have had my Dawgs number the past few years.

As far as the fan base being patient, I don’t think you have much to worry about. Those fans have been on one heck of a roller coaster the past 2 years with very little to celebrate about. As long as Dooley shows some level of being able to compete, I think the fan base will give him ample time (2 years at least).

That said, if UT puts up 2 losing seasons or something like that then the natives will probably get restless.

JB

March 26th, 2010
10:29 am

I to Gatorfan96 , if they give him 3 – 4 years, he will be tough. he is very smart.

bigdawg01

March 26th, 2010
10:30 am

RAMBLE ON!!!
The reason its about the SEC is because you and Tech are irrelevant. That has to sting….

zombiewoof

March 26th, 2010
10:32 am

I hate orange!

GT

March 26th, 2010
10:36 am

Dooley is too politically correct. He left being a lawyer not because he has a burning desire to coach but he could make more money. Unlike an unknown doing the same thing giving up what might be a career for the unknown this guy knew exactly what he was doing and keeping his mouth shut was part of the execution. Now he comes to Tennessee in a dust storm. Now particularly successful at La. Tech. If you do everything politically correct while the rest of the world is acting out reality things fall to you for just not wrecking the car. Every great football coach except for Steve Spurrier puts it right up to the line of not cheating. Just tending the sheep and being a Bill Curry pointing out the faults all around you while you are losing football games will not get the job done. In the long run America likes winning first and righteousness way on down that list. Looks good on Sunday for one half day the rest is back to being a Vol or a Dawg.

Jake

March 26th, 2010
10:43 am

No they won’t have a Neyland team this year, but the new coach is providing a path for them to play on future levels they have enjoyed in the past. You have to give it to the Vols, they must go outside the state and get kids from all over the country, which they do well, much like ND.

SOGADOG

March 26th, 2010
10:44 am

The Vols were predicted to be down last year but they had the talent to spank the Dawgs and give National Champion Alabama a scare. That talent matched with Dooley’s coaching may be stronger than we think. Vols go 7-6 or 8-5 and I am hoping for pay back this year in Athens.

JB

March 26th, 2010
10:44 am

GT, I don’t think money had anything to do with him getting in to coaching. He hated being a lawyer.

HardTruth Soldier....

March 26th, 2010
10:50 am

Dooley was a “winner” before he got to UT, I’ve known him since he was a kid, we won a national championship in H.S. Ball together at Clarke Central in Athens Ga. Tough, gritty, determined, and real hard worker. UT stick with this guy and you’ll see in 3 years. But unfortunantly the Hillbillies will get inpatient and want his head after two years. That will be your mistake!

JB

March 26th, 2010
10:55 am

Gt ,you are right about righteousness, you only have to look at Meyer and Saban, both very successful.
and both spiritual I’m told, but they don’t let that get in the way AT ALL when it comes to doing whatever it take to win big.

5IML

March 26th, 2010
11:00 am

Yes, Meyer is quite spiritual. Earlier this week, he blessed a reporter (and added a physical threat, for good measure).

Monvol

March 26th, 2010
11:02 am

Dooley gets three years, but folks will know before then that UT is on the way back. Fulmer so screwed recruiting on his way out that we have no, repeat no, starting OL returning with Douglas’ departure. That should never have happened. Seeing that, it’s hard to put too much pressure on Dooley.

Gators!

March 26th, 2010
11:05 am

They definitely needed a stabilizer and they got one with Dooley. Unfortunately, hiring Kiffin in the first place set that program back 4-5 years. An inexperienced QB behind an inexperienced line spells disaster for this year and if Tenn fans think otherwise then they must still be riding the “Lane Train”. I think that if there is not progress within 3 years (8+ wins min) Dooley will be done Dooley.

TommyJack

March 26th, 2010
11:06 am

As a Vols fan, be it known that all Vol fans did NOT like the temp coach we had last year. There was nothing to do but keep you mouth shut and pull for the orange. I like CDD. Like his approach. Keeps his mouth shut and works. Things will be ok in time. See 6-6 in 2010. Plus, I thinks it’s comforting to have all the Dawg support….GBO

droopydawg

March 26th, 2010
11:07 am

As much as I would like them to be, I do not think UT will be terrible this year. They certainly have some rebuilding, but I think Dooley will be viewed as a very solid hire within 2-4 years.

JB

March 26th, 2010
11:07 am

No OL line is tough Monvol…….last year we had 5-6 experienced players back and were told we would have the best line in the SEC and for the first 7-8 games we couldn’t open a hole to save our lives. They finally jelled some at the end of the year. Even if you recruit big 4 stars guys, it takes a couple of years to get them ready for the SEC. Good luck to ya, except you know when.

Otto

March 26th, 2010
11:08 am

JB, Dooley was turning around a terrible La Tech program playing in a conf that has decent teams (won more BCS bowls than the ACC) not to mention he was Recruiting Coord for Saban at LSU. IMO he is a fine hire and if UGA were in the market for a coach I would not be upset with him in Athens.

Dooley understands the UT fan base far better than boy wonder. They may actually sing Rocky Top rather than play Eric Barry rap videos. I was in Knoxville for Auburn last year and it was a shame compared to what I saw in Rocky Top under Fulmer watching UGA.

I don’t think money had anything to do with Dooley going into coaching either. He may not have hated being a lawyer but he loves being around Football.

JB

March 26th, 2010
11:14 am

And we all hate it for ‘em!!!

They made their beds and now they gotta lie in it.

HBTD!!!

Andy

March 26th, 2010
11:16 am

First off, I’m no Pete Carroll fan, but he always seemed much classier than Lane Kiffin, so it seems kind of insulting to Carroll to say that Kiffin is emulating him. Second, Dooley is a smart guy and, like his father, will try to keep expectations low, and then do his best to exceed them. He may have to work on lowering expectations a little more, though….

The Real Story

March 26th, 2010
11:17 am

The Real Story

March 26th, 2010
11:23 am

Sorry, click on to Gator logo at top and go to Urban Meyer story. What, why and how.

Otto

March 26th, 2010
11:28 am

Did anyone notice the AJC front page has this story linked as

Dating: 2010 looks like a tough year at Tennessee

Guess Lane did screw UT.

Otto

March 26th, 2010
11:29 am

Sorry it is:

Dating: 2010 tough for Vols
Insider: Reward for n-word proof
Bargain: Worst company in America?

Mark Thomas

March 26th, 2010
11:32 am

I think Coach Dooley has put a great coaching staff in place…College football is about coaching…

Gen Neyland

March 26th, 2010
11:35 am

OL Aaron Douglas (T) has decided to leave Tennessee. Reasons being of a personal nature. He also has had a nagging ankle that has cut him down a notch or two…I think this kid was a Freshman All American…

Like CDD says (partial quote), ” Aaron Douglas and I met today, and he’s decided that he no longer is a part of our football team,” Dooley said. “It’s unfortunate that we never got a chance to coach him, but as I’ve told (the media) and I’ve told the team, our concern is not what we don’t have — it’s who we have.”

2010 is yet another year of growth under a new guy. A good recruiting class by CDD and some of LK’s early-ins stayed. I’ll withhold any other sentiments at this time…GBO and whip the Schmuckeyes tonight…

Mad Mardigan

March 26th, 2010
11:35 am

UT beat UGA 3 out of the past 4 years, and they were all complete beatdowns, all this when UT is at the lowest point it has been in football for a really long time. Sorry UGA fans, get used to being in 3rd place in the SEC East for a long while. VB

redneckbluedog

March 26th, 2010
11:37 am

UT alum here…Dating at UT was one thing that was never tough…especially if you stayed away from the sorority girls…:-)….Football may not be so easy this year, but at least there’s hope, especially after the depression that was Phil Fulmer and the weirdness that was Lane Kiffin.

Steve Spurrier

March 26th, 2010
11:47 am

You can’t spell defeated without DD.

Steve Spurrier

March 26th, 2010
11:48 am

Oh,sorry. You can’t spell doomsday at Tennessee without DD.

UGADAWG 98

March 26th, 2010
11:50 am

why the heck is everyone thinking that CDD is going to win at UT?? I am not saying he won’t, he may or may not, but he did nothing at Louisiana Tech? If he can’t win there, how can he win in the SEC. Being a good coordinator for someone like Saban does not mean you will win just ’cause. He may be a great assistant coach, but I am not convinced that is is going to win at UT, again he may or may not. I don’t get the certainty that some have on this board for him winning no doubt…

The General Feeling

March 26th, 2010
11:53 am

This same article was written a few years ago. I remember reading it. Kids were leaving the program as the new head coach was demanding a higher level of dedication, character, and hard work. I do remember reading about this same scenario at another SEC school/football program.

Derek Dooley is doing all the right things. He’ll be fine. Maybe not next year but the program will be back.

VB