We’re Doin’ Fine, Thanks

National Signing Day was a huge media event nationwide. Schools like Florida and USC stole the headlines. Derrick Dooley quietly went about his business, not making a spectacle of himself or of our football program. So what picture did the San Francisco Chronicle publish in their story about NSD with all the big national stories? This one! Imagine that. Photo by Saul Young.

Armageddon didn’t come to the Tennessee Volunteer football program as some predicted when Lane Kiffin skipped town in his oversized jeans and jacket. Instead, a relatively unknown son-of-a-legend came to town and (1) calmed the restless natives by delivering a spot-on speech and Q&A session; and then (2) stopped talking, hit the road, and got down to the everyday business of hard work—hiring a staff of coaches and recruiting kids in advance of the biggest day in Tennessee before the O&W game: National Signing Day.

A Steady Stream of Coaches Come to Knoxville

On Saturday 16 January 2010—day one of Dooleyworld—Kippy Brown saw the writing on the wall and skipped town for (literally) greener pastures in the Great Northwest. David Reaves and James Cregg found themselves no longer members of UT’s coaching staff. On Sunday, Coach Dooley (sounds good, doesn’t it?) hired Terry Joseph from LaTech and Eric Russell from Texas Tech.

Monday the 17th saw another Dooley hire—Charlie Baggett from the St. Louis Rams, a WR coach with 33 years of experience, 11 in the NFL (he was with Dooley in Miami). He had coached Randy Moss. Later in the day, Dooley saw fit to retain UT Offensive Coordinator Jim Chaney, former OC at Purdue when Drew Brees was hummin’ the tater in West Lafayette. No word on LB coach Lance Thompson or DB coach Willie Mack Garza. Lance would later be welcomed to stay; Garza would not and would leave in the dark of night for USC.

Tuesday the 18th was a swirl of rumor that Dooley was about to hire former Vol Kevin Steele from Clemson as the Vols’ new Defensive Coordinator. Later, it became known that even though Steele could double his salary by coming back to Neyland Stadium, he would stay with the Tigers reportedly to remain faithful to players.

By the end of Dooley’s first week, a 37-year old Darin Hirsh was hired as a coach from Memphis, leaving only a defensive coordinator, a secondary coach, an OL coach, and a RB coach to be filled.

Dooley’s second week began with rumors about former UT defensive lineman (1990-91) Chuck Smith (D-Line coach with the NY Jets) joining the UT staff. The reports remained rumors, but the week ended with news of confirmed hirings: Bennie Wylie replaced Aaron Ausmus, UT’s strength and conditioning coach who left to join Kiffin at USC. Wylie comes to Knoxville from Texas Tech and spent time with the Dallas Cowboys rehabbing injured players. Then, Dooley hired Harry Hiestand, the Chicago Bears OL coach for the past 5 seasons.

This past week, Dooley made a bit of a splash/surprise when he hired 33-year old Justin Wilcox from Boise State as the Defensive Coordinator. That leaves one vacancy to fill on the Big Orange coaching staff, and the word is that the NY Jets’ Chuck Smith and Derrick Dooley will be/are having conversations about the job.

Nearing three weeks on the job, Coach Dooley has basically kept to the task at hand of hiring coaches to fill vacancies that were available when he came and filling more vacancies that became available after he arrived. He did all of that without saying very much. (See the roster of coaches here at UTSports.com) No need for bringing any attention to himself by saying shiners like “I will bring the finest staff” or any such self-aggrandizements.

He knows better. Because I think he plans on staying here awhile. And you know what happens when you plan on staying in a place for a while—you have to reap what you sow; lie in the bed that you make; live with the wife that you married…

Yes, Recruits Did Sign

At the same time, Coach Dooley hit the recruiting trail, and you barely heard a peep out of his mouth, until Wednesday’s news conference. The Vols finished the day with 25 signees (see them here at UTSports.com), ranking 9th, 11th and 15th nationally by Rivals.com, ESPN and Scout.com, respectively. Pretty good when you consider the doomsday expectations some predicted when Kiffin and Co. left town at just about the worst moment possible considering the recruiting schedule.

Problem is that our recruiting class ranking has us just 6th in the SEC according to Scout and ESPN and 4th in the conference according to Rivals.

If you want to brag about being in the best conference in the country, you have to be in the best conference in the country. We’ll live with it.

But you can’t be disappointed: 17 signees on Wednesday combined with 8 mid-term enrollees gives us 25 signees overall. A big pickup was Da’Rick Rogers, a Five-Star WR from Georgia who had verbally committed to the Bulldogs for months. We signed three Four-Star recruits, including probably the best PK in the nation (Lord don’t we need one) out of Florida. And we ended up with five NSD signees out of Georgia added to the one we already had as a Mid-Term enrollee. That’s not bad considering the Peach State was a target state before Dooley got here, and we hung on (the name didn’t hurt I’m sure).

High Marks—To All of Us

So, Dooley get’s high marks from coming into a tense situation, immediately calming the restless nation, hitting the road and doing two jobs at once.

All while giving our program its dignity back by not firing missiles over bows of enemy ships and by not making an ass of himself or the program in any other way.

Now if he can only coach.

I think I’ll worry about that on another day.

Meanwhile, I’m tired. I think we all deserve a little time away from the madness that we’ve experienced over the past 14 months or so—and you could even extend that back to the 2008 opener at UCLA if you really wanted to beat yourself to a pulp.

So let’s take a break. We deserve it.

Take a moment and fully appreciate our new head coach. Derrick Dooley is like a cool breeze coming in through the window after the heat wave we’ve experienced over the last 14 months. I’m glad that last, short chapter of Vol history is over. And I look forward to yet another new chapter in the glorious history of Tennessee Volunteer football.

If nothing else, it will taste different.

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One response to “We’re Doin’ Fine, Thanks”

  1. Adam says :

    It’s nice to have a more stable atmosphere around the football program if nothing else. Like you said, we’ll worry about whether or not he can coach this fall.

    For now, though, Coach Dooley has done a fantastic job of rallying the troops and pulling in a great recruiting class. Not only that, the staff looks promising as well.

    Looking forward to less Vol football in the news for awhile after all of the chaos of the past year or so.

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