Tennessee football is in the midst of its quiet season.
That's not a reference to the Vols sitting out what is known in mainstream college football as bowl season. Nor am I referring to UT's recruiting, which recently has made noise, both good and bad.
There's hardly a peep emanating from the UT football office.
The silence is not a new development. When coach Derek Dooley was hired in January of 2010 to replace Lane Kiffin, he had an introductory media conference, then — in the eyes of some fans — fell off the planet.
The coach figured he had more pressing concerns than reassuring a traumatized fan base through a media conduit. He was intent on salvaging what was left of the recruiting class Kiffin abruptly left behind on his sudden dash to Southern California.
Last December might have been similarly silent if the Music City Bowl hadn't come calling. The game postponed UT's quiet season to January, as Dooley and his staff again immersed themselves in recruiting.
Fans didn't need as much soothing between the bowl game and national signing day a year ago. The team had finished the regular season on a four-game winning streak. The bowl game ended with an agonizing and controversial loss but didn't detract from the progress the program had made in the second half of Dooley's first season.
The current silence is more unsettling. Fans are still sifting through the rubble of a 5-7 season, still wondering how UT could lose to a Kentucky team that on its bleakest 2011 Saturdays drew comparisons to the worst teams in recent SEC history and was so impaired by injury against UT that it had to entrust its offense to a wide receiver who hadn't played quarterback since high school.
The end of a 26-game winning streak against a long-accommodating rival was jolting enough. Then came the follow-up Tennessee player quotes, which suggested this wasn't one big happy family. Two assistant coaches have left, one without a job and another for a similar position at Washington State.
But since the postgame Kentucky news conference, Dooley has had little interaction with the media, other than to say that — despite one local television report and rampant rumors — star wide receiver Da'Rick Rogers was still on the team.
Dooley can't address every rumor. His point of emphasis should be on recruiting, not pacifying agitated fans. But he shouldn't ignore the Big Orange elephant in the room, either.
UT fans are terribly disenchanted. The Vols will return the large majority of their starters in 2012. The schedule will be easier. Those factors normally foster optimism. Not now.
Dooley can't overturn the result in Lexington. He can't restore the confidence of every fan.
He could elevate the general mood, though. He could help himself in the process.
I've always thought coaches should sum up a season beyond an immediate postgame assessment. They should give their take on what went right, what went wrong and how those rights and wrongs might apply to the next season.
That would play to Dooley's strengths. As a rule, he's candid, informative and entertaining in media settings. He could address the state of his program and sell it at the same time.
As important as recruits are, they aren't the only ones who need to be sold.