Derek Dooley talks to reporters before SEC spring meetings
DESTIN, Fla. — In his four years as a head coach, Derek Dooley has never grayshirted a player.
It’s not because the Tennessee coach is against it. It’s just because he’s never had the opportunity.
“We were begging people to come at Tech,” Dooley said, referring to his three-year stint at Louisiana Tech.
“To get 28 was a real feat. I was nervous we weren’t going to get 10.”
Getting 10 at UT hasn’t been a problem for Dooley, as his past two signing classes have been 27 and 28 players deep.
But because of widespread attrition caused by back-to-back years of coaching changes, Dooley, in his first two years with the Vols, has never had the chance to “oversign,” the practice of bringing in more players on National Signing Day than there are available scholarships.
With proposed legislation on the table to potentially curb this practice with a number of limitations, including a cap of 25 players per signing class — down three from the current 28 — Dooley has largely sided with his coaching brethren on the hot-button topic at this week’s SEC spring meetings.
Dooley said he is against messing with the current cap of 28, which is three above the NCAA maximum of 25 that can actually be on scholarship for the following season, because it’s only been in place for two years. On Wednesday, after a meeting commissioner Mike Slive described as “spirited,” the league’s coaches unanimously voted against changing the current cap.
The league’s presidents and chancellors, though, get the final say and will vote on the issue Friday.
“You’re trying to find two or three difference makers on both sides of the ball and you generally never know who those guys are,” Dooley said.
“It might be that one guy you didn’t get because you’re full. If those two or three players were Cam Newton and Nick Fairley, then yeah, I will say it hurts your competitive level.”
Dooley is, however, in favor of “closing the loopholes” that have led to an increased number of cases where players have been unexpectedly grayshirted or forced off the team to free up a scholarship for someone else.
“I thought we had some good ideas that we presented,” said Georgia coach Mark Richt, who had previously been at the perceived forefront of the anti-oversigning movement, but has since backed off a bit from that platform.
“There’s more conversation and more process before things get spewed out over the airwaves. We’ll just see where it goes.”
Though it’s clear some ADs, presidents and coaches aren’t on the same page, Dooley and UT athletic director Mike Hamilton appear to have their philosophies in line.
Hamilton said there are cases where grayshirting a player is a win-win situation for everybody. And though football scholarships are technically granted on a year-to-year basis, Hamilton conceded that it’s difficult to run a kid off the program because it’s “a hard place to be, frankly, when you’ve committed to a kid.”
UT athletic director Mike Hamilton said he would sit down with David Blackburn, UT’s top football administrator, and go over all the details of the proposed legislation late Wednesday. On Friday, Hamilton said he will meet with chancellor Jimmy Cheek to discuss where the institution will stand on the issue.
“The coaches,” Hamilton said, “gave us some good things to think about.”