Jim Chaney on prepping for Montana
Justin Wilcox on defending against an uptempo offense
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The messy divorce papers between a championship coach and the program were filed nearly three years ago.
The smoldering mattresses when his replacement bolted have been extinguished for almost 20 months.
The house hasn't entirely been put back together just yet, which from a physical standpoint is easy to see when Derek Dooley is standing on Haslam Field facing the ongoing construction of Tennessee's new indoor facility. The work rebuilding a roster decimated by those turbulent seasons leading up to Dooley's hiring doesn't appear to be complete yet either, particularly with so few veterans to work with this fall.
But one year later, UT will have the same coach on the sideline at Neyland Stadium on Saturday (TV: Pay-per-view, 6 p.m.) against Montana. That man will have his starting quarterback back for another season, and he's also got two full recruiting classes that only know the way he wants things done. And with a great deal of effort putting his imprint on the program already in the rearview, Dooley is starting to have the chance to do what he really wants - focus on football.
"At this time last year, I had a lot on my mind outside of the game," Dooley said. "That's not necessarily unique to Tennessee, because I think any time you're in your first year and you're going into your first game, just to make the game weekend itinerary and all the details that go into the last 24 hours, there's a lot to it.
"Because we've done it now, it makes it a lot easier."
Since Dooley started putting his stamp on UT, he's clearly installed much more than a travel plan for getting to the stadium.
The Vol for Life program designed to educate more well-rounded players has taken root and become a staple of his effort to change the culture around the team. The structure of practices has changed dramatically with Dooley moving the workouts to the morning this fall. He's even been active in the redecorating around the locker rooms, including the addition of the "Opportunity is NOWHERE" sign on a set of double-doors -- a motivational ploy designed to get the Vols to read the slogan as four words instead of three.
For all the changes, it is what has remained the same that is really most important for Dooley and the Vols moving forward. Aside from parting ways with defensive line coach Chuck Smith and promoting Peter Sirmon to a full-time role, the staff returns intact for a second season to mold a team with a large majority of underclassmen who signed up to play for them and restore some glory to UT.
"It's good seeing the same guys in here everyday, especially seeing the young guys, guys our age that we know we're going to be here four years with," sophomore tackle Ja'Wuan James said. "Me and (quarterback) Tyler (Bray) were talking about when we got here in January (of 2010) together, it just feels like we're almost seniors now about to play our last season -- even though we've got a long way to go, lot of time to get better.
"We all talk to each other every day about staying together and working hard, because we know we can do something pretty big at this institution."
In another loaded season in the SEC and with a difficult road slate, something as big as a championship might not happen for the Vols this year.
The 2011 season might end up being a bridge to brighter days as UT puts more time between it and former coaches Phillip Fulmer and Lane Kiffin. Then again, surprises happen all the time in the unpredictable world of college football -- which is why one other thing for Dooley hasn't changed as he prepares for the Grizzlies.
"The first game every year, it's like elephants in your stomach -- not butterflies," he said. "I don't care who it is and I don't care how established you are, the first game is the first game. You venture into the unknown every year, and anybody who thinks it's not that way hasn't been around long enough. I had elephants in my stomach last year, and I've still got them this year.
"That's a sign that it's time to kick it off."