I can tell you this — everything that we’re going to do is going to be with a foundation of integrity in every aspect of the program. We’re going to represent this institution with class, on and off the field.
Derek Dooley, UT head football coach
Introducing UT's new head coach Derek Dooley
Louisiana Tech stats
Both come from famous coaching fathers.
Each is a limb of an impressive professional tree.
The emphasis on recruiting is virtually identical.
But for all the similarities the new Tennessee coach might share with the old one, the differences were what stood out most after former Louisiana Tech coach Derek Dooley was formally introduced on Friday night to cap a wild, three-day search to take over the program.
“Look guys, if you’re going to look for soundbites and things from me that are going to attack other programs and disparage people, that’s just not how I am,” Dooley said. “I’m worried about Tennessee. I’m worried about what we need to get our program going, and I’m going to always keep my focus on that.
“I think when you worry about somebody else or what other people are doing then you’re not taking care of your own house. We’ve got plenty to be feeling good about in this program, and that’s what we should keep our focus on. The times of worrying about what happened are over.”
The Vols obviously didn’t spend much time dwelling on the Lane Kiffin era, and they replaced him almost as quickly as he disappeared this week to take the Southern California job.
UT athletic director Mike Hamilton seemingly cast a wide net over the last few days and came away with a handful of public rejections to prove it. Texas defensive coordinator Will Muschamp, Air Force coach Troy Calhoun, TCU’s Gary Patterson and former Vols offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe all released public statements essentially turning down the job, and according to reports Utah coach Kyle Whittingham privately did the same on Friday morning.
But no matter how difficult or tiring the rapid hiring process may have been, Hamilton wrapped it up with a coach clearly excited to pick up where Kiffin left off, though perhaps not in the exact same way.
“I’m not going to sell this program and what we’re about to do in soundbite,” Dooley said. “It’s impossible. But I can tell you this — everything that we’re going to do is going to be with a foundation of intergrity in every aspect of the program. We’re going to represent this institution with class, on and off the field and we’re going to be a fun team to watch by how we compete, by the effort that we give, by the togetherness and the spirit that we play with.
“There’s going to be bumps along the way, there always is. But I can assure you that we’re going to continue to forge ahead, we’ll always be developing and growing as a program and I’m excited about what the future holds at Tennessee.”
Perhaps most important to the crowd in the Peyton Manning Locker Room Complex, Dooley plans on moving forward by embracing the past.
He reminisced about watching Johnny Majors on his coach’s show and professed his respect for former coach Phillip Fulmer. He spoke fondly of running through the ‘T,’ the checkerboard end zones and the sound of Rocky Top.
And at one point Dooley looked over his shoulder during his introductory press conference and breathed a sigh of relief that he believed in all the Maxims. That certainly doesn’t make him the anti-Kiffin and that wasn’t necessarily what Hamilton was looking for, but in more than a few ways he seemed to have found him.
“His organizational skills, when we sat down for the first time, it was clear,” Hamilton said. “He gave me this book about how he goes about his business, how the football program would be organized, how we’ll accomplish things.
“The time went very quickly, so much so that we got to a point where I said, ‘Hey, Coach, we’ve only got about 20 minutes.’ And we hadn’t really even got started. It was obvious from that. Great conversation, and I have respect for the people that he’s worked with, and I know that he’s been trained well for this moment.”
That training started in the family from his legendary father, former Georgia coach Vince Dooley. It continued with a five-year run by Nick Saban’s side at LSU and with the Miami Dolphins, and then he picked up a few things himself while serving as both coach and athletic director at Louisiana Tech.
All that experience and his ties to the SEC helped him stand out when the job came open, but it also made the UT job appealing enough for him to make what was clearly a difficult decision to leave the Bulldogs. And Dooley did his best to assure a fanbase that might be wary of trusting of him that he doesn’t plan on leaving them anytime soon.
“Quite frankly, there’s not one thing I could tell you right now that’s going to convince every fan,” Dooley said. “But I’ve never been more excited about the future than I am right now. This football program has a ridiculous tradition of winning for a long time. We’re going to win here, and it’s going to win a long time after.
“So it’s the (players’) program. It’s not my program. It’s not the prior coach’s program. It’s their program. They can do with it however they want, and I think it’s a great lesson in life what happened (with Kiffin). Was it an unfortunate situation for them? Of course it is. They’ve gone through two tough years, and I sympathize for them. But if you think this is as hard as it gets in life, look out. Life is tough, you’re going to get knocked down a bunch, and the quicker you learn to deal with how you react to it and dust your britches off and move forward, then the quicker you’re going to lead to happiness.
“We’re going to move forward and not dwell on what happened.”
The Vols all took the first step on Friday, but it’s clear the new leader isn’t doing it by filling somebody else’s shoes.