Derek Dooley isn’t in hiding.
The new Tennessee football coach also doesn’t want to be known as a recluse.
Dooley just needs some time to get settled and accomplish a few things before he really starts talking. When he does appear in public though, like he did during a lengthy chat at Big Orange TipOff Club on Wednesday, it can be hard to slow him down.
“There’s this perception that I’m hunkered down avoiding the media,” said Dooley, who was hired Jan. 15 to replace Lane Kiffin. “I told (UT sports information officials Bud Ford and John Painter) that I hadn’t done anything. Nothing has happened.
“I know everybody wants to know, ‘What are we doing over there?’ ”
Dooley spent nearly 45 minutes trying to answer that question and many more from the audience during one of his few appearances since taking over the Vols last month.
He addressed everything from personnel issues on the offensive line to his family, cracked jokes about his mother’s affinity for public speaking and made clear that he wouldn’t be wearing any orange blazers on the sidelines. Dooley even fielded a couple questions about his media policy and the availability of his assistants.
That was about the only issue that wasn’t definitively answered, but considering how many areas he’s had to address during his short tenure, it’s also probably not the top priority at this point.
“Everybody says, ‘Well, what have you been working on?’ ” Dooley said. “It’s the same thing they’re doing at every other school.
“No. 1, we’re doing our offseason program, and what we do is we’re working four days a week — Monday and Thursday is speed improvement, Tuesday and Friday is more agility and football movements. No. 2, we’re doing a lot of junior recruiting, which means evaluating and identifying the high school players, who we want to get to know better, putting out offers. No. 3, of course, we’re putting in our new systems — offense, defense and special teams — so there’s a lot of meetings, getting to know the coaches, ideas popping.
“Then, No. 4 is what I’ve really been putting a lot of energy in, getting that support around all this.”
That might not leave much time for Dooley to get out to meet with fans or generate attention for the program, and at least until UT’s Media Day on March 17, that works just fine for him.
By comparison, it’s possible that his predecessor might have been guilty of overexposure while beginning to shape the Vols, and Dooley’s preference for the shadows instead of the spotlight at least provides another clear difference between the two.
“I think it really starts with, we’re putting together a lot of teams,” Dooley said. “It’s one big team, but it’s a lot of little teams — starting with a coaching staff, starting with the players, starting with the administrative support. And to do that at a place with the amount of resources as Tennessee, the number of people at Tennessee, it takes a little time.
“But I do think it starts with developing a mission of who we are, what we stand for, what we’re doing, and that’s what I’ve been trying to put my energy on the last few weeks. Really it’s about defining and creating a culture around our student athletes. We’ve got about 120 football players on a team, 85 on a scholarship, so that right there is our market.”
That’s the one Dooley’s really been selling himself to so far. But when he turns his attention elsewhere, he doesn’t appear to be in any hurry to stop.