February 2, 2012
Dooley talks state of program in Q-A
The moment, the day for which Derek Dooley long had been pointing, had finally arrived.
As transitions unfolded on his coaching staff and the year-round recruiting calendar entered its two-month stretch run, Dooley simply wanted to get to Wednesday --- national signing day.
Once Tennessee's coach not only survived but in many areas thrived on that day, how did he celebrate? By meeting with some national and local reporters, then conducting a state of the signing class press conference and then fulfilling yet other obligations.
Most importantly, Dooley continued his work on the Vols' 2013 signing class. It already has four commitments. Dooley senses momentum. And in between talks with potential future pledges, Dooley found time to sit down with VolQuest.com for this candid, two-part question-and-answer session.
VOLQUEST: Pros and cons, positive or negative, what do you feel like you learned from last year?
DEREK DOOLEY: Let me start by saying this. I feel better today about our program, where we are headed, our future than I have ever felt since I got here 24 months ago. And I mean that because I knew we were going to have some tough times ahead of us given the state of our roster. The state of our structures and I knew it was going to be a tough road. I look at this team now, we have had two full recruiting classes, three total that's going to form our team. We have for the first time depth and experience at most positions and I think it's going to be a great team dynamic. I feel good. I feel like we have the tools to compete. We are not where we want to be. We certainly aren't where some other teams are in the league, but I feel like we have enough to go out there and compete every game. The fact of the matter is it's hard to say I felt that way the last two years. I would be lying if I did. I felt like we where going into a lot of games in a challenged position.
VQ: In hindsight, given those comments particularly you talked openly in the pre-season last year about not only restoring the standard at Tennessee but also challenging in the SEC East. Do you think that maybe there was a mistake in doing that or that it was necessary at the time to instill some belief in your players?
DD: I think things had to go perfectly for us for that to be true and they didn't. Starting in the pre-season when lost our safety. We lost our linebacker. Then the Florida game (losing Justin Hunter). Did I believe that going into the season last year? I did and I believe it again this year. And I also made the comment that upset a lot of people that we needed to lose that Kentucky game for the long term health of the program. People didn't like to hear that. That didn't mean that I wanted to lose. And that doesn't mean I didn't work my tail off to prevent something like that from happening, but I knew we weren't right in a lot of areas. I knew that had we won and gone to a bowl and everyone feels like we are still on track that it would have been harder to correct a lot of issues that I felt needed to be addressed to get this thing right. When you lose a game like that, it allows you to sharpen your focus. It brings a group together. You find out who's really ready to roll up their sleeves and get this thing going. And I have seen a total attitude change in our football team in a positive way and that excites me. Sometimes you have to get knocked on your face before you can get to the top.
VQ: Were you in any way surprised by the fallout, the criticism and negativity from losing the Kentucky game?
DD: You can't have it both ways. I told the team that. You can't go out there and have 102,000 cheering for you and 35,000 at the Vol Walk and not expect them to get upset when you go out there and don't compete the way you are expected to compete. Because I know this and I've known this my whole life, fans don't always know the Xs and Os, but they do know when a team is laying it on the line and when you don't go out there and lay it on the line for this program they are going to criticize you and they should. All you can do is take it like a man and take responsible to make sure it doesn't happen again and hopefully it won't.
VQ: You mentioned the transformation of this team's attitude and I know you don't want to get specific about things in your locker room, but was there as much internal issues at the end of the year as have been speculated?
DD: I think it was a very challenging team dynamic. It was like that from the beginning. It was challenging because you had a number of seniors and upperclassmen who weren't playing and that's a hard thing. You had a number of underclassmen who were playing but probably didn't have enough maturity to take ownership of the football team. And then you had a number of true freshmen who were just trying to survive. And so, those three factions made it difficult to forge into a team played for each other, that worked for each other and that laid it on the line for each other. That was challenging. Was it as bad as people say? I don't know what people say. I don't think it was something that was a day to day problem, but I just feel like the dynamic wasn't right. The synergy wasn't there and that showed up on gameday.
VQ: You're a detailed guy, you did your homework before coming here, eyes wide open, but has the last 24 months been more difficult in any aspect? You talk about the battles you have had to wage from the NCAA hallways, to the negative recruiting, to the player dynamics. Has it been a little tougher than you anticipated?
DD: I don't get myself lost in all of that. I try to keep that saying, keep the main thing the main thing. Things are never as bad as people think they are. Things are never as good as people think they are. It's important that the guy who is in charge have a good understanding of what's real. And I know what we've done the last 24 months. We have made a lot of progress. We have a young team that now has some experience and is going to be a lot more mature than they have ever been. I know the structures that we have put in place to help support them and develop them. I believe in the structures we have in place and I know what Tennessee has to sell from a national branding perspective. It's a great place. It still sells. The atmosphere we have. The facilities we have. Knoxville. So I kept my focus on that. I made the comment that we have been watering bamboo for two years. And it's hard. It's hard when you are in a results business and you are a fan to say 'OK, that's OK.' And I understand that. But that's not going to change how I do my business. So I'm going to stay focused on what matters and I believe by doing that we will come out of it.
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