It was there. Unmistakeable, obvious --- and judging by an overt attempt to accentuate as many positives as possible, there was a change by Derek Dooley Monday as he greeted the media.
Oh, sure the Tweetheads might have gotten hung up on Dooley's hilarious rant to my question about junior center Cody Pope's ever-lingering "stinger." For all of Dooley's oft-hilarious comments to date, those might conceivably garner the most national attention; surely some overzealous P.E.T.A. Pit wants to publicly dispute Dooley's assertion that "red meat" could cure what ails Pope.
Alas, I digress. My point is this: kudos, again, to Dooley for sensing a team on the tipping point and taking a page out of his history book -- and throwing it out.
By nature, Dooley is a workaholic. He's old-school, believes anything can be fixed with hard work -- and lots of it. So the instinctive reaction for Dooley this week would have been to begin drilling the Vols on Monday in preparation for their Saturday trip to Georgia, particularly working coaches and players alike on better executing, if possible, frenetic substitution sequences.
Instead, the Vols took Monday off. Again. Instead, Dooley helped the team flush a most-galling loss through film and instruction on Sunday afternoon.
"There's arguments both ways. I just know what I've done. It's what we did for five years at LSU and it was very successful. We felt like we got better late in the season because we had more practice, more hitting and our bodies adjusted," Dooley said of the shortened practice-week debate. "But we had deep squads. I know that's what Bama's doing now and they haven't lost a regular season game in quite some time. Our circumstances are very different."
But the Vols who met the press on Monday sounded relieved at the change to the status quo for a second consecutive week.
"It was good to have (Sunday), watch the film and not really string it out any longer than it needed to be, address the issues and really watch the last plays on film and just have that kind of (sick feeling) watching those and just getting over it," senior Nick Reveiz said. "Today's a good day, we can recover physically and also mentally we can prepare ourselves for another battle Saturday against Georgia.
"The last two weeks it's been good. I feel like, especially we had a pretty hard game last week, and this week at LSU we had a hard game, so it was good that for our recovery, especially since we have guys banged up. Personally, I feel good about it."
Exactly what Dooley had in mind when he decided to gather his team on Sunday afternoon.
"I thought it was important to bring them in yesterday given what happened," Dooley explained. "I didn't want them to have a day off and have all the fans and their parents and family talking about how they got screwed because that's not the case. I brought them in because we needed to talk about it and be accountable for it because that's what people do. I thought it was important to get them in there yesterday and shape the message. So today they can refocus and when people come up to them today they say no, it's our fault."
Dooley, who ached Saturday, found plenty Monday to feel encouraged about from the Vols' performance. Though he took time to hold Tennessee accountable for its loss, Dooley likewise noted a foundation had been established on the field.
"One lesson is that we set a standard for the first time this season of how we need to compete in a game for 60 minutes against a good football team. We had a great week of preparation. We had a good 48 hours prior to kickoff in getting our minds right. Then we competed hard for 60 minutes with a lot of adversity and kept swinging," Dooley explained. "That should be the standard and that standard should never be compromised. If we don't meet that standard then we should never say it's OK."
There, Dooley is walking a fine line. He's making clear that losing isn't acceptable but similarly lauding the precedent for competing that Tennessee produced.
It's impossible to know before Saturday how Tennessee's players are responding to the loss -- Dooley himself said as much on Monday, but it seems they're attempting to learn from both the positives and negatives that both film study and coaches outlined.
"We don't have a choice. We have to bounce back. This is a long season and we have to play against a lot of other good teams and a lot of other good defenses. It was a tough loss. But I can't lie, as soon as we got off of that plane back in Knoxville I moved on," quarterback Matt Simms said. "I watched the film on the way back. I was disappointed, but you can't dwell on things like that. You can't let it build up on you and tear you down especially how early it is in the season.
"There was some good things to look at and some bad things to look at. We just really need to focus on a Georgia team that's really hungry for a win."
That focus, for everyone, must come from within, Dooley said. From the top all the way down.
"When you look up and you didn't get the outcome you wanted, there's only one thing you do and that is you look in the mirror and see is there anything that we could of done, that I could of done, that anyone in the organization could have done to change the outcome of the game. To do something that wouldn't have allowed that result," Dooley said. "There were certainly a lot of things that we could have done to change the outcome. There were a lot of things prior to the end. There were a couple of 4th downs on both sides of the ball that we didn't get done. And at the end of the game, regardless of the other teams administration. Regardless of the administration of the game by the officials, we could have done our part better. And a championship football team does that. It's poised. Everyone on the field recognizes what's happening and we could have avoided what happened at the end had we been more poised and aware as a team.
"I think the important thing to know is that it's not OK. And I told our team this. It's not OK to lose. When you lose you have to look in the mirror and say what could we have done better to prevent it. And there was certainly a lot of that. We can't whine. We can't complain and we can't make excuses because you can never do that till you look yourself in the mirror first and that's just part of being a man and a part of life. When life doesn't go your way, you look in the mirror and say maybe I could have done something to change the outcome. That's what we are going to do."
Dooley admitted his first move was to look in the mirror at himself, and his staff has done the same.
"We all have accountability as coaches. I am going to tell you there's a lot of hurt and there's a lot of burden that so many people have put on themselves for the outcome of the game. And you know what, we all should. It's our responsibility. If it doesn't hurt then there's something wrong with you."
Monday, Dooley showed he's willing to seek more than one way to help his Vols repair that hurt. It was just another case in point that in nine months on the job, Dooley has done a nice job in developing a sense for the pulse of his team. He made it clear on Monday that no one was exempt of some fault. The responsibility of 13 men on the field lies within the entire program, starting with him. A message he sent his team in a emotional, cleansing meeting on Sunday as the focus moved to Georgia and building off the positive steps taken in a most difficult loss.