Dooley at the annual Welcome Back BBQ
Know your Vols: The D-line choir
A year ago today, things weren't so comfortable.
That didn't mean Tennessee coach Derek Dooley wasn't saying all the right things.
"We wouldn't have all we have without you and I remind my players of that every day," he said the at the 2011 UT Football Welcome Back BBQ at Thompson-Boling Arena. "It's our job to earn it and we look forward to doing that."
The next day Dooley booted Janzen Jackson, an All-SEC Second Team selection at safety in 2010, out of the program. The Vols had five returning starters and 17 question marks, most of which were freshmen and sophomores.
This time around, Dooley has 10 returning starters on offense and seven on defense. Whereas the past saw confidence and positivity preached on uneasy footing, there's now a foundation when optimism is extolled.
At Wednesday night's 2012 UT Football Welcome Back BBQ, an annual event sponsored by Knox County Chapter of the UT Alumni Association, Dooley again stood before a sea of smiling orange faces.
"More than anything, I think our team is in a real confident state and I don't think it's false," he said. "They know what lies ahead and feel good about the commitment and work level they've put in over the last eight months. I think they're just anxious to go out and prove that we're going to be a real fun team to watch."
Following a 14-minute question and answer with emcee Bob Kesling, Dooley left the stage to a round of applause.
Moments later, outside Thompson-Boling Arena, he was asked the difference between hyping up
the UT faithful in 2011 versus 2012.
"It's a genuine confidence that we haven't had in the last couple of years," Dooley said. "The confidence stems from a lot of experience and the investment they've put in."
But confidence was preached last season as well. Just as it was in 2010. Those two years produced 11 victories and 14 losses.
The distinction in 2012, Dooley said, is the shift from believing it as opposed to simply saying it.
"If you've never been in the wars, then you don't really know what's coming ahead," he said. "Otherwise, it's just youthful exuberance."
Back inside, UT alumni began pouring out toward their cars. The ceremonies included a question and answer session with senior linebacker Herman Lathers and junior wide receiver Justin Hunter and speeches from UT Chancellor Jimmy Cheek and an alumni association representative.
The real fun was had before the formalities, though. UT players posed with grandmothers and grandchildren. They autographed helmets, footballs, posters, shirts and anything else a Sharpie marker could sign. Vols chatted casually with diehards soaking up every word.
"The unconditional support the fans give you is unbelievable," Dooley said. "Whether you're 5-7, 8-5 or 12-0, it doesn't matter. It's really incredible."
Brendan F. Quinn covers Tennessee men's basketball. Follow him at http://twitter.com/BFQuinn