Opening comments from Coach Derek Dooley on National Signing Day
- Signing day celebration at Neyland Stadium
- Derek Dooley addresses the question of athletic scholarships
- Derek Dooley talks about DB LaDarrell McNeil
- Coach Dooley talks about some of the players from the 2012 signing class
- How the 25-man rule impacted the Vols' 2012 signing class
- Derek Dooley addresses Deion Bonner's 2011 arrest
- Vols faced challenges on the road to National Signing Day
There wasn't much about Tennessee's situation that qualified as ideal.
It was coming off a losing football season, one that was capped off by a streak-busting defeat at Kentucky.
The Vols were forced to deal with turnover on a coaching staff that will eventually feature six new faces.
Even as it neared the finish line with much of its recruiting class intact, a pair of valuable commitments spurned the program just before their signatures were due.
And that was just in the past two months.
Not much has come easily for coach Derek Dooley as he heads into the third year of his rebuilding job at UT. But after dealing with everything from the possibility of NCAA sanctions to a seeming lack of momentum in the summer, Dooley, a handful of holdovers and his new assistants still assembled a group that ranked 19th in the country according to 247sports.com on National Signing Day after officially landing 14 new players to go with seven early enrollees.
"All in all, if you look at all that's happened, all that's transpired, it's hard to feel better than I do today," Dooley said during his press conference Wednesday. "I made the comment to our coaching staff, this is the best I've felt as far as the future of our program, where we're headed, in the 24 months that I've been on the job.
"It's a good day, man. It's a happy day and I'm looking forward to celebrating it with our staff."
The Vols kicked off the celebration by landing the top-rated junior college prospect in the country, with wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson giving the class a marquee, five-star talent at the top of the list.
The addition of Patterson, along with three more four-star wideouts in Alton Howard, Jason Croom and Drae Bowles, adds significant depth to a position in need of it and could give quarterback Tyler Bray a wealth of options with juniors Justin Hunter and Da'Rick Rogers already in the fold.
And while the defensive side of the ball was hit hard by the late defections of linebackers Dalton Santos and Otha Peters, UT was able to hang onto a pair of four-star signees with safety LaDarrell McNeil and defensive tackle Danny O'Brien helping it weather what appeared to be a storm of negative recruiting aimed at the program.
"Certainly on the social media landscape, which I call the National Barbershop, it was nonstop, a lot of haircuts being given," Dooley said. "(It) creates a fear and paranoia that the other schools love to highlight — and you end up having to defend things that are not only baseless, but there's absolutely nothing to it.
"We created a lot of it. I'm not complaining about it. If we do our shop a little bit better at the end of the year, we don't have a lot of that."
The Vols dealt with recruiting issues even before the end of the season, though the two months that followed provided plenty of adversity.
UT had five coaches leave for other jobs and one more won't be returning to the program, putting a strain on the remaining three assistants as Terry Joseph, Darin Hinshaw and Jim Chaney worked to keep the pieces together.
The focus on the NCAA investigation by opposing recruiters eventually was replaced by the disappointing end of the season and the coaching transition, which also forced the Vols into a defensive role.
Then there was the new rule that limited teams to a class of 25 players, which threw one more challenge at them.
And while Dooley doesn't appear to be done working yet thanks to the flexibility afforded by finishing Wednesday with 21 new additions, that didn't deter him from taking a bit of time to enjoy the end of a challenging year.
"I will say this is probably as tough a recruiting climate in the last 12 months as I've been through," he said. "We gave a lot of ammunition to our competitors, and in this league it's hard enough when you don't give them ammunition.
"We gave them plenty."