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October 9, 2012
When Tennessee head coach Derek Dooley felt pain in his hip some two-and-a-half months ago, the third-year head man did what he asks his football team to do. He kept grinding and he kept straining.
Tuesday morning an equipment manager held his crutches as Dooley limped to the podium, and the coach said time would tell if he was "hurt or injured," a designation Dooley has stressed to his players in the past. The coach, however, insisted he is still showing up and going to work as he deals with a "little hip issue." Dooley moments earlier had informed his team on Haslam Field that he would be undergoing surgery to get his hip "cleaned up."
"I know I'm here. I'm working and nothing has changed," Dooley joked after he hobbled up onto the stage that is his standard post-practice interview spot. "I wasn't in red (non-contact injury jersey), but I didn't move like I normally move."
The reality is that Dooley's hip issue is no laughing matter.
The hip ailment is actually a hip fracture that forced Dooley to have surgery Tuesday afternoon. UT doctors performed a procedure where a pin was placed in the left hip after an MRI on Friday revealed that Dooley's hip pain wasn't muscle related at all.
The surgery to install the pin was Dooley's only option other than a full hip replacement. And no option was given by doctors other than to do the procedure immediately. Dooley is fortunate that he didn't have any kind of collision on the sideline or on the practice field the last two months. A collison could have led to a full hip replacement.
Dooley will not be with his team on Wednesday morning as the Vols continue their preparations for Saturday's key SEC game with Mississippi State. Dooley hopes to be back will be with his team on Thursday and will be with them in Starkville, Miss., to take on the Bulldogs. The belief according to those familiar with the situation is that Dooley will fly with his team, but that will be determined by the doctors and the post-op medication that he will require.
However, Dooley will not be seen in his orange pants roaming the sidelines for the Vols' nationally televised showdown against the unbeaten Bulldogs. Instead he will be forced to be upstairs in the coaches box. It's the first time a Vol head coach will not be coaching from the sidelines since Sept. 26, 1992, when then-head coach John Majors, recovering from heart surgery, coached the Cincinnati game from the coaches box at Neyland Stadium.
Dooley told VolQuest Tuesday afternoon that it's the first time he will be back in the box since he was an assistant in the NFL. When asked who would manage the sidelines Saturday in his absence on the field, Dooley only would say was that the coaches had a plan.
Other than Dooley, no one on the Vols' coaching staff has prior head coaching experience. There are several coaches who potentially could fill the role, and it's likely Dooley will opt for one coach to handle defense and one to handle offense. Darin Hinshaw, a former co-offensive coordinator, could be one potential option, and three coaches on staff have previously held the title of assistant or associate head coach. Defensive coordinator Sal Sunseri held the title of assistant head coach the previous three seasons at Alabama while offensive line coach Sam Pittman was promoted to associate head coach for the 2011 season at North Carolina. John Palermo was assistant head coach at Wisconsin from 1991-2005. Both offensive coordinator Jim Chaney and safeties coach Josh Conklin would not appear to be options for the sidelines as both are designated to be in the coaches box each week.