Coach Dooley's comments on Bryce Brown
The first practice was meant to announce an arrival.
A departure overshadowed it.
The former No. 1 recruit in the country was a no-show as UT took the field under Dooley for the first time on Thursday afternoon, just one day after rumors of Brown's possible departure were seemingly put to bed. Officially the door is not closed for Brown, but UT is moving on without him either way.
"Bryce Brown came to me today and indicated he's dealing with a lot of personal and family problems right now," Dooley said. "Concerns that I believe stem from, and what he told me stem from, No. 1, some of the reasons why he came here, and No. 2, his experience over the first six months when he was here.
"As of right now, he's not a part of the team. It doesn't mean we've kicked him off by any means. We want Bryce here, and he's going to be here through the rest of the semester. But our focus really is on the 85 guys who are here."
There are still a handful of talented tailbacks among them, and Tauren Poole, David Oku and Toney Williams certainly soften the blow delivered in the backfield. The Vols also have talented signee Rajion Neal on the way this fall, but none of the others come with nearly as much hype or promise as Brown.
His delayed decision on National Signing Day in 2009 and eventual pledge to UT made national headlines and was frequently pointed to by former coach Lane Kiffin as evidence of his impact on the roster. Brown struggled through injuries and played a complementary role behind Montario Hardesty, but even after the coaching change he made clear he planned to stick around through spring practice before making a decision about his future.
After going through offseason conditioning with the team though, apparently Brown had a change of heart just before it started.
"I was a little surprised, but you can only control what you can control," Dooley said. "He went through the entire offseason, but I also think this wasn't something from the last three weeks.
"This was probably something for six months, and I'm not sure what the pressures are, but I'm not here to recruit (players already in the program). I'm here to coach. He's dealing with a lot of issues."
Dooley obviously has some concerns as well, starting with a thin group of defensive tackles, a handful of injured linebackers and a quarterback battle to oversee - which he started to address during a roughly two-and-a-half hour practice.
Those storylines were expected to be the focus of Dooley's first workout with the Vols, but that changed when they opened it with one less option at running back.
"Everybody makes their own decisions and things like that," Oku said. "All we can do is just hope that he doesn't (leave), but we can't control what somebody else does. You know, coach Dooley says we're just worried about everybody taking care of themselves and getting team chemistry going.
"I think it caught a lot of people (by surprise), it really did, it's one of those things that you never think something is going to happen, but then it does. It's kind of crazy."