Maybe it was just a bit of football gravity.
I spent the holiday weekend on a Lake Erie island surrounded by Big Ten fans. When it would be revealed I was a sportswriter from Knoxville, three questions invariably followed.
First question: What did you think of Lane Kiffin?
He was interesting, I would reply.
Second question: Who did Tennessee hire to replace him?
Pause. Third question: Where was he from?
My point is about the perception of Tennessee football from afar.
Everyone knows who the former coach was, never mind that he was here barely long enough to do laundry.
Six months into the job, meanwhile, Kiffin's successor isn't a household name.
Dooley told us in his introductory press conference in January that he wasn't into sound bites. And, frankly, after some of Kiffin's sound bites, that wasn't unwelcome news.
So, you're thinking, why should UT fans care whether a bunch of Buckeyes and Badgers know who Derek Dooley is?
Because there was a time when any college football fan from Richmond to Redondo Beach could name the coach at Tennessee.
But when you bunch together 5-6, 5-7 and 7-6 and start changing coaches right and left, well, details do get fuzzy.
However, a couple of details about UT football have rung out loud and clear in the past 48 hours. A brawl. Some arrests. A dismissal of a promising young player.
Yep, the Vols were back in the headlines. But in this case, no news would have been better than bad news.
UT's unwanted publicity was welcome in some quarters. I heard a Georgia fan call a Nashville radio show Friday and gloat, "At least we're not talking about red panties today.''
(No, they're talking about the arrests of two Bulldogs, Dontavius Jackson and Tavarres King.)
But back to Dooley. While he's been studiously avoiding sound bites, he's been quietly working to change the culture of the program.
Make that two cultures. On the field and off.
The culture on the field is daunting enough. Chief rivals Alabama and Florida are living large. Even at the lower end, the SEC is as competitive as its ever been. Overtime is required to beat Kentucky these days.
Off the field, UT hasn't been plagued by an inordinate amount of incidents. But when they happen, they're doozies.
Big Ten fans remember the parking-lot stick-em-up in November. The Jan. 1 basketball arrests resonated from the Sun Belt to the Mountain West. Is every Vol packing a gun or what?
Now, the Bar Knoxville brawl that sent an off-duty police officer to the hospital.
Dooley has talked at length about his desire to change the culture off the field. He was asked Friday where that culture is.
"I don't know how you define it,'' he said. "I just know it's not where it needs to be.
"We have some great young men who want to do right and are doing right,'' he continued. "But there have been enough incidents to know we can't stick our head in the sand and say, 'Oh, we're really OK. Just one or two guys did this.'
"I don't ever stick my head in the sand.''
In dispensing the first disciplinary penalties associated with Friday's brawl, Dooley reiterated his pledge:
Build a program that won't just win games, but will also represent the school in a way to make the fans proud.
He's clearly got his work cut out on both fronts.
Winning games is the quickest way to enhance his name recognition, whether it's on an island in Lake Erie or a high-school stadium in Texas. Nothing wrong with that.
Building character off the field is worthy work, too. And if it doesn't generate any headlines, isn't that the point?
Mike Strange may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 865-342-6276.