DESTIN, Fla. — Midway through his interview session with reporters Tuesday, Derek Dooley reached into his briefcase and pulled out a chart.
Dooley didn’t want to get any of his self-compiled facts and figures wrong because, as the Tennessee coach repeatedly said before the first day of SEC spring meetings, he doesn’t know “how you can argue against the data.”
While many coaches spent the day debating the pluses and minuses of “roster management,” the hot-button topic of this year’s annual gathering of conference coaches and athletic directors, Dooley came to the Hilton beach resort looking for answers about the limits he and the rest of the coaches in college football have on their roster of coaches.
“The point I raise is ‘Who said nine is the right number? Why are we assuming nine is the right number?’ ” Dooley said, referring to the NCAA standard that prevents schools from hiring more than nine, on-field assistant coaches.
“We don’t have enough coaches to manage as many players and to be accountable for all their actions.”
Dooley admitted that some of his colleagues might think he’s “out of his mind” for sticking his neck out about the issue, especially when the direction of recent NCAA legislation appears headed in the opposite direction.
This past year, the NCAA passed a proposal that limits Division I schools to no more than five “weight and strength” coaches who work with a football program in any capacity, including all workouts (required or voluntary), practices and game-related activities. Also on the table is legislation that would create a cap of four for non-coaching staff members. By definition, non-coaching staff members include directors of operations, quality control assistants and video coordinators.
Starting in 2012-13, coaches will be able to add two more graduate assistants to their staffs, bringing the total from two to four.
In an ideal world, Dooley would love to add to every facet of his staff. By doing that, there wouldn’t be this proliferation of excessive non-coaching assistants.
“The data is so blinding to me,” Dooley said. “I just would like to know why. What’s the answer?
“We’ve got a sport here that every department depends on financially. We’ve got a sport here that is the front porch of our marketing arm for our university. We’ve got a sport that is scrutinized, analyzed, covered more than any other sport out there. And yet we have less coaches who are mentoring, motivating, guiding our players than any other sport. All I’m asking is why?”
It doesn’t appear Dooley was able to do that during Tuesday’s meeting.
After spending the afternoon with the league’s football coaches, SEC commissioner Mike Slive said he wasn’t aware of Dooley’s opinion.
Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino said he would be fine with the move to limit staffs to four non-coaching assistants because “we’d be right at that now.”
UT currently has five members of its football program who would likely qualify as non-coaching staff members.
Looking exclusively at scholarship players and full-time assistant coaches, there is an 8.5 to 1 player-to-coach ratio on college football teams, according to Dooley’s findings. When walk-ons and other staff members are factored, the ratio jumps to 10.5-12:1, which is easily the largest gap in all college sports, Dooley said.
In the NFL, where Dooley worked for two seasons as a tight ends coach for the Miami Dolphins, the ratio is 3:1.
The numbers don’t tell the whole story, either, Dooley said.
“They have half the number of people on their team, they’re not responsible for their academics, they don’t have to recruit, they don’t have to evaluate and they’re not responsible for them off the field like we are,” he said. “I don’t see the fairness from what we have in our sport relative to all other college sports and then when you compare our sport to the NFL, it’s eye-popping.”
Dooley even had counter-points ready for potential questions to his proposal.
UT and most of its SEC colleagues, of course, could afford to hire more coaches if the limits were lifted. The majority of schools, which are cash-strapped and dependent on student fees, would probably be at a disadvantage.
Dooley’s solution to that problem would involve another NCAA rule being torn to shreds. He said he is in favor of allowing teams to hire volunteer coaches.
Under current NCAA rules, football, men’s basketball and women’s basketball are the only sports where volunteer assistants are prohibited.
“There’s plenty of football coaches that would come out and work for free,” Dooley said.
If Dooley had his way, there would simply be more coaches working, free and fully-funded.
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Andrew Gribble may be reached at 865-342-6327. Follow him at http://twitter.com/Andrew_Gribble and http://blogs.knoxnews.com/gribble