I’m Going to Miss the Dooley Pressers
This week in the Vol Nation, apart from being a Jon Gruden Worship Marathon, there was featured quite the weekly press conference hosted by Derek Dooley.
Tyler Bray and Justin Hunter were the subject of some lengthy appendices to answers from the head coach at the Monday presser.
There was a question about Bray’s turnovers (interceptions) against Alabama as well as against SEC opponents. Dooley didn’t leave us guessing about how he felt:
If he is loose with the ball, he is coming out of the game, and we’re gonna play Worley, and I told him that… He’s too loose with the football and he’s been too loose. And, that’s the way it is. We can’t win, we can’t beat these teams turning the ball over. And, there’s gonna be inevitable turnovers in the game, so when there is one, make them have made a great play to get it, not serve it up to them, which is what we do.
A followup question explored the issue and questioned if Dooley was after perfection from Bray:
I don’t think you have to play perfect at all. So, being loose with the football doesn’t necessarily mean you gotta play perfect. But you can’t make game-changing plays — throw it away, drop it down when you’re not comfortable. There’s a lot of things you can do when you’re not comfortable in the pocket to not hurt the team. And Tyler knows that, so it’s part of being quarterback.
Then the questioning turned to the character issue regarding Tyler Bray, specifically his decision after the Bama game to not take questions at the post-game press conference:
I was very disappointed, and I told him that. And, I have no defense for that kind of behavior. He’s the quarterback and there is a level of responsibility that you have to the team, and to the fans and to the media. And if you don’t like it, don’t play quarterback. That is how it is and I told him that. So, that is the first time we’ve ever had a guy, I think, do that, and that’s not acceptable in our program. So, man up. That’s what you have to do. That is life. You can’t have it both ways. I told the team that. You can’t get upset at the fans ’cause they’re angry. What do ya want them to be, happy?… They all want to get cheered, but nobody wants the criticism when you don’t perform. I mean that’s not how life is. So, nothing wrong with the fans.
Dooley was also asked about Justin Hunter’s performance in conference games. If you thought the head coach was brutally honest about Bray, get a load of this answer when it came to the wide receiver:
Hunter. A lot of drops. Yeah. Right. Well, … First of all it’s got to be done in practice, with a lot more consistency… Justin’s got to understand that playing receiver is not always clean and easy — that there is a little grit you have to do to get open. You’re gonna have to get hit, and good receivers are able to make those kind of plays no matter what the circumstance. He’s not there yet. You know, we all want to talk about how he’s this first round pick, the number one pick in the draft… He can be that. But, he’s never performed to that standard in my opinion. And, he knows that. So, he needs to focus on his development on what does he do well, what are some things that we gotta keep building on, and how do we get there… He’s got great character, it’s important to him, and he’s got a lot of special qualities for a wideout. But being able to go produce out there week after week is what matters.
Just another day at the office.
To say the least, these answers were the talk of Knoxville on Monday afternoon and Tuesday. Dooley came under intense criticism as well received some praise for his frankness.
The criticisms — examples included comments from Jason Swain, ex-Vol wide receiver and present radio talk show co-host — seemed to indicate that this was just another example of how Dooley’s constant negativity causes his players to disrespect him, which may be the core of performance problems. Swain went as far to say in effect that players should stand up to Dooley and question his authority because Dooley hasn’t proven anything as a head coach — at Tennessee, Louisiana Tech, or anywhere else. Swain seemed to ask why players at Tennessee should want to perform for an unqualified head coach.
Some of the praise — and there isn’t much room for praise directed at Dooley these days — came from Erik Ainge, ex-Vol quarterback and also present radio talk show host. Ainge indicated that both Bray and Hunter have underperformed when considering the immense amount of praise heaped upon them by most Vol fans over the past couple of years. He agreed with Dooley’s stance on both players, and used the word “entitled” when describing the mindset of Bray and Hunter as connected to each player’s performances and inability/unwillingness to accept criticism.
During the early portion of Derek Dooley’s tenure as head coach, I always enjoyed Dooley’s direct and honest approach to his press conferences. This approach was unusual within the coaching fraternity, and to me at least, refreshing. But as last season was unravelling, I got the feeling that Dooley’s squad were performing badly because they were repeatedly characterized by their coach as a bad football team, and thus were not instilled with any belief that they could rise above their poor performances.
Early this season, Dooley took a different approach. It was much more positive one — his naked criticisms were more nuanced.
Now, as another winless October appears to be inevitable, Dooley seems to have met the last straw of his frustrations with his team, particularly the biggest star players. However, this frustration may be more a response to his own predicament. This comes at a time when Dooley himself surely realizes that his days as Tennessee’s head coach may be coming to an end sooner than later.
Personally, I tend to favor the Erik Ainge view than the Jason Swain interpretation. Ainge seems to be a much more analytical character when it comes to this football team. Swain seems to carry around a huge distaste for Dooley, not only as a coach but also as a person, and has for some time.
I harbor many doubts about Dooley’s abilities as a head coach, particularly as a motivator. But I also view this squad as lacking leadership within its own ranks, particularly the quarterback who is immensely talented, but is one who strikes me as one who would rather rely on those talents instead of developing his understanding of the game through hard study.
Football is a relatively simple game. But the operation of a football program is a complicated endeavor, taking many talents by many people. And these people, and their talents, must come together with a sense of family and nurturing. That seems to be missing in Knoxville. The only thing that can turn this program around is the universal cure-all: winning.
To come together as a functional family, perchance to win.
Aye, there’s the rub.