Derek Dooley: Kentucky loss 'will bother me for the rest of my life'

Turning negative into positive is goal

Tennessee head coach Derek Dooley returns to the sidelines during an NCAA college football game against Kentucky, Saturday, Nov. 26, 2011, in Lexington, Ky. (AP Photo/The Knoxville News Sentinel, Amy Smotherman Burgess)

Tennessee head coach Derek Dooley returns to the sidelines during an NCAA college football game against Kentucky, Saturday, Nov. 26, 2011, in Lexington, Ky. (AP Photo/The Knoxville News Sentinel, Amy Smotherman Burgess)

Opening comments from Coach Derek Dooley on National Signing Day

Signing day celebration at Neyland Stadium

Reminders aren't necessary, but they're everywhere.

In the weight room, it's fuel for a returning roster of players who didn't get to make a bowl trip.

On the recruiting trail, it required answers as other schools turned a season that ended in disappointment into a doubt-inducing weapon against Tennessee.

Upstairs in the coaching offices, the six new faces that have moved in the past two months provide another example that college football is a business — and the Vols weren't a thriving one a year ago.

That was all summed up neatly on one November afternoon in Kentucky as a 26-year run of dominance and Derek Dooley's second season leading UT came to an unexpected end.

And while those other reminders might fade with time, there's a chance the memory of that 10-7 loss to the Wildcats never will for Dooley.

"That game will bother me for the rest of my life," Dooley said Thursday during an end of the season meeting with the News Sentinel. "It eats me alive. I didn't sleep for a week after that game.

"I'm not sure how long I will go in time without thinking about that game at some point in the day."

The trick for Dooley now, though, is turning those thoughts into something positive as the foundation is set for his third year with the Vols.

He could make excuses, both for the loss at Kentucky or the entire season. And given the youth he had to work with, the critical injuries that ravaged what once appeared to be an explosive offense and the brutal schedule UT faced, perhaps that could provide an easy way to rationalize a 5-7 record and allow him to move on more easily.

But starting with a well-documented, post-game press conference in a barren room at Commonwealth Stadium in which

Dooley first referenced the possible benefits of missing a bowl game, he's focused his energy on identifying everything that went wrong, searching for answers to fix the issues — and then wasting no time acting on them.

That meant evaluating his assistants, for starters. And while losing six of them might have been something of a surprise, even had the Vols ended the regular season with a win, Dooley recently indicated "a significant amount of change" would have come anyway.

Given the rift that became painfully clear during the finger-pointing from the upperclassmen to the younger Vols after the loss, a plan to promote more teamwork and leadership was formulated in December and implemented into workouts and off-the-field functions like video-game tournaments.

And while doing both of those things, Dooley, the holdovers on his staff and the new guys also had to fend off the bullets UT had personally supplied in guns around the SEC during the closing recruiting stretch.

Obviously there wasn't much time in there for the Vols to feel sorry about themselves.

"I believe this in my heart — going through that will make us better for next year," Dooley said. "I do, I believe that in my heart. Did it hurt us in December? Of course it did. Did it hurt us to the point where we can't overcome? Absolutely not. I think it's going to make us better.

"I watch those workouts out there, I don't believe that team would be in the place they're in right now had we beaten Kentucky. I don't believe it, because they're in a different place right now. And I'm in a different place as a coach. That game has allowed us to sharpen our focus. It's allowed us to not live in an illusion that everything is great, which it wasn't. That's why I said what I said, that we needed this to happen."

Needing something that might prompt change shouldn't be confused with wanting to lose at Kentucky, which Dooley made clear as he relived the memory yet again while sitting in a chair in his office one day after finishing off his latest signing class.

But there's nothing UT can do about how its arrived in its current situation. All it can do is get to work on improving it.

"That game, when I say we needed that to happen to make us better, people assume that I wanted it to happen," Dooley said. "And people assume that I didn't care that it happened, and that's not the case. But if I just sit there and sulk over that game, the whole organization won't go forward."

"I've looked back enough and I have a good sense of where we were, where we are and what we need to do to get it right — so it never happens again."

Austin Ward covers Tennessee football. Follow him at http://twitter.com/Vols_Beat and http://blogs.knoxnews.com/ward.

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Comments » 318

SevenT writes:

Double D is such a Drama Queen

tensie2004 writes:

By gosh it should bother him and keep him up at night. Our team was not motivated to play and our coaches did very little to help out that day. We were defeated by one of the worst Kentucky teams of "all time" and by a man that had not played quarterback in four years. No excuses for that loss. I was there and it was awful to watch in person and take the personal jabs from the Kentucky fans after the game. At least Dooley got to run to the locker room and didn't have to endure the insults from the Wildcat fans like alot of us had to that day. Hopefully nothing like that will ever happen again or Dooley will have to go. He should have spoke to the fans and media after this horrible, horrible game.

kevin151 writes:

The seat is hot Dooley.... If you don't get 8 wins next year your days may be numbered.

THEKIDWISCONSIN writes:

What's he going to say?

This is a make or break year for Dooley so he's got to start to say the right things. The days of "we're too young" "we have no depth" "we don't have enough talent" are over...it's win or be replaced.

While after last season he has a long, long way to go to win me back...I sure hope he is a changed coach and can succeed this year. I can't take another season like the last two.

asleep#212036 writes:

Nobody is making excuses for that game and it wouldn't matter if they did. It's done and either they will move on with a better, more determined attitude, or they won't. If they pull together because of it, both as players and coaches, it was worth it. Because like DD said, even beating that sorry team and playing in the WhoCares.com bowl, win or lose, would have made us all think things were still cruising along - which they were not. Wilcox and Sirmon were short-timing outsiders and acted like it. We had no running backs coach, uh, big mistake. Our O-line couldn't block the cheerleaders on third and short and Dooley had some prima donnas on the team that were really pulling us down, yes, including Bray and Rogers. And he is still making the expected mistakes a new coach in the SEC makes. A new defense, a healthy and rejuvenated offense, an O-line coach who not only knows what it takes to run in the SEC but is capable of teaching it, another year with the same strength coach, better running backs, etc..., coupled with the shame of that loss and the pressure to put it all together - I think they will definitely be more focused and it will show on the field. Dooley is right - that KY loss could be one of the best things to happen to UT football in a long time. It forced a much-needed reality check that everybody can see. Let's hope so anyway. Go Vols!!!

RichmondKyVol writes:

The 2011 Kentucky game will bother me for the rest of my life, too. The players didn't seem to want a victory. I hope that wasn't their way of saying they don't want Dooley as their coach.

bjrhodes01 writes:

I wouldn't be able to sleep at all if I was in a job that I knew I wasn't capable of being successful. You are right, buddy. It won't happen again...at least without you getting canned afterwards!

volnvette03 writes:

I remember being in the stands watching Peyton's last team getting their azzez whooped by Nebraska. After that, I believe they were humbled and the team focused and worked harder only to become NC the next year. I am not saying we will be champs next year. But if they only learn the lesson of the KY game of being prepared and fired up for every game, then we will improve! Too many times I see the competition run into Neyland fired up and take it to us. It would be nice to get the killer instinct back on the field!

Vol69 writes:

Welcome to how the rest of us feel. It was the most disgusting effort put forth by a vol team that i can remember. The only way i will forget it, just for one day,is a total crushing slaughter this year of the cats. PS i may still change my mind..........

LJS1984 writes:

It will bother me for the rest of my life too. Thanks, but you have no idea Derek.

GoVols1974 writes:

The Kentucky loss will bother all of us the rest of our lives coach.

sly_stone99#434111 writes:

Let it motivate you coach, more than anything.

underthehill writes:

in response to SevenT:

Double D is such a Drama Queen

and has no idea when to just keep his mouth shut..what possible good does this do..if it bothers you that much take action don't run your mouth..

BR_549 writes:

Sure bothers a lot of fans on here

Witch_Doctors writes:

in response to BR_549:

Sure bothers a lot of fans on here

Witch Doctor say you for to put "fans" around fans. Witch Doctor say they sound like a sour bunch of KNS employees working on a rainy Sat. lol
Bones never lie.

Colliervol writes:

Doesn't bother me because I refuse to dwell on the past. Didn't like it at the time but you learn from the mistakes and move on. Don't dwell on it forever. As with anything in life, I prefer to look to the future and figure out what I can do better.

It was, however, a critical loss for Derek Dooley as it was the first time at UT that he lost to a team that he wasn't supposed to lose to. And it eliminated one year of the cushion he had. I fully believe if UT had won that game, he would have gotten the two more years. As it is, I believe he has to win 8 games this fall or it's lights out. Just my opinion and we shall see how it plays out. I know one thing. If he's going to win 8, the opener and the Florida game are critical. Lose those and the inevitability of the situation may take over. It will be a deep hole to climb out of if they lose both of those games.

tennrich1 writes:

in response to Vol69:

Welcome to how the rest of us feel. It was the most disgusting effort put forth by a vol team that i can remember. The only way i will forget it, just for one day,is a total crushing slaughter this year of the cats. PS i may still change my mind..........

Just guessing here but you weren't at the Wyoming game I think its safe to say....

GerryOP writes:

I see the ETTPT crowd is out in full force. Two years into a 4-5 year rebuilding project and the natives are head hunting. Fulmer and Kiffin left Dooley with basically nothing to build on. He was/is man enough to take on the challenge, time for the Volunteer Nation to give him a chance to see what he can do.

Coach Dooley's motto ... "The difficult I can do right away, the impossible will take a little bit of longer."

And you trolls? Enjoy it while you can. In the next couple of years you're going to eat a lot of Tennessee dirt ... in all sports. Little Billy D is already suckin' on a 67-56 loss. That's just the beginning.

Rich_Is_Re-born writes:

in response to RichmondKyVol:

The 2011 Kentucky game will bother me for the rest of my life, too. The players didn't seem to want a victory. I hope that wasn't their way of saying they don't want Dooley as their coach.

DING DING DING....We have a winner! See, Dooley still doesn't seem to understand that he had completely lost his team, this coming from a starting D-Lineman from the team. You see, Da'Rick missed workouts to leave town a day early before semester break while the rest of the team was working, only to suffer ZERO punishment from Dooley. Taking a swing at and CONTINUALLY badmouthing and cursing Coach Baggett without punishment from Dooley. Heck, Dooley wouldn't let Baggett handle the situation either. And while all of this was going on, Dooley had the balls to release four less productive players while he turned a blind eye to Da'Rick's antics. Those 4 players might not have been the most productive, but they were friends of many of the players and didn't do the things Da'Rick did. So the players got fed up of Da'Rick getting coddled by Dooley while they were held FULLY accountable. Add to that Da'Rick and Bray saying they don't wanna play in a "lesser" bowl game, and there you have it. And with all of the "I can't sleep" talk from Dooley, he STILL has yet to hold any accountability for the teams performance.

DalTexVol writes:

Too many sportwriters and too little to write about--that's KNS.

jwparker311 writes:

I really think its pathetic how easy it is to be an armchair QB. It takes time to rebuild a major college football program, especially a UT squad that was put into shambles by the lying little troll that was in charge before. Coach DD seems to not just be tring to get quality athletes but also quality young men and quality coaches to guide them. Year in and year out the Vols play one of the hardest schedules IN THE COUNTRY and despite the final record I saw a young squad that had the talent to really compete with anyone. Firing the coach every three or four years is NOT going to improve anything. All any of us can do as fans is support our coach, our players, and our school. So stop complaining about things that you cant control and support Coach DD. And be thankful your not a USCal or Miami fan (lol).

Pastorvol writes:

I think our coach needs to be able to express himself without people responding with threats of his job. I say this for two reasons. First, he knows he must win. Secondly, non of us on here can fire anyone in the Athletic Dept. What this staff and team needs is the support of a mature, positive fan base. I believe we will win more games next season.

volinlm writes:

Someone said it here recently. When it's slow football news time, let's bring up the Kentucky game. It's no different than bringing up Fulmer for two years after he was fired. It would be nice to move on, but the KNS will not let that happen until Spring practice..and maybe not even then.

RashaadSalabeb writes:

The Kentucky game? Come on guys...surely you can come up with something else to write about. Really? The Kentucky game? Really? It made us all sick. What else is new? How about some articles on our promising recruits? Wait....that would take some research. My Bad.

Go Vols Now and Forever!!!!!!!

GerryOP writes:

in response to SevenT:

Double D is such a Drama Queen

If anyone asks where you went to school you probably toss out the name of your elementary school.

7T is probably your IQ ... on a good day.

RashaadSalabeb writes:

in response to Pastorvol:

I think our coach needs to be able to express himself without people responding with threats of his job. I say this for two reasons. First, he knows he must win. Secondly, non of us on here can fire anyone in the Athletic Dept. What this staff and team needs is the support of a mature, positive fan base. I believe we will win more games next season.

I'm with you!!!!!

WhislinDixie writes:

That game kinda reminded me of the pro bowl a couple of weeks ago.

Razor784 writes:

Dooley always talks a good game and about playing with heart and conviction, but I don't think i've ever seen one of his teams play with heart.

FLVOL_79 writes:

Good

VolNBham writes:

in response to Rich_Is_Re-born:

DING DING DING....We have a winner! See, Dooley still doesn't seem to understand that he had completely lost his team, this coming from a starting D-Lineman from the team. You see, Da'Rick missed workouts to leave town a day early before semester break while the rest of the team was working, only to suffer ZERO punishment from Dooley. Taking a swing at and CONTINUALLY badmouthing and cursing Coach Baggett without punishment from Dooley. Heck, Dooley wouldn't let Baggett handle the situation either. And while all of this was going on, Dooley had the balls to release four less productive players while he turned a blind eye to Da'Rick's antics. Those 4 players might not have been the most productive, but they were friends of many of the players and didn't do the things Da'Rick did. So the players got fed up of Da'Rick getting coddled by Dooley while they were held FULLY accountable. Add to that Da'Rick and Bray saying they don't wanna play in a "lesser" bowl game, and there you have it. And with all of the "I can't sleep" talk from Dooley, he STILL has yet to hold any accountability for the teams performance.

Could you be anymore of an assclown?

GloryDays writes:

I think it bothered all of the real Tennessee fans. The effort the coaches and players put forth, the lack of heart really bothered me. It should bother Dooly, he is paid a lot of money. This lost turned many fans against him and really questioned if he has the ability to be the head coach at Tennessee.

MidTennVol writes:

Before I even read the story, the headline is what Coach should have said immediately after the game. We don't tolerate performances like that at Tennessee. My guess is he's learned that.

GerryOP writes:

in response to Rich_Is_Re-born:

DING DING DING....We have a winner! See, Dooley still doesn't seem to understand that he had completely lost his team, this coming from a starting D-Lineman from the team. You see, Da'Rick missed workouts to leave town a day early before semester break while the rest of the team was working, only to suffer ZERO punishment from Dooley. Taking a swing at and CONTINUALLY badmouthing and cursing Coach Baggett without punishment from Dooley. Heck, Dooley wouldn't let Baggett handle the situation either. And while all of this was going on, Dooley had the balls to release four less productive players while he turned a blind eye to Da'Rick's antics. Those 4 players might not have been the most productive, but they were friends of many of the players and didn't do the things Da'Rick did. So the players got fed up of Da'Rick getting coddled by Dooley while they were held FULLY accountable. Add to that Da'Rick and Bray saying they don't wanna play in a "lesser" bowl game, and there you have it. And with all of the "I can't sleep" talk from Dooley, he STILL has yet to hold any accountability for the teams performance.

Quit making up stories and telling lies. You weren't in the UTAD complex and you have no idea what was said or went on. Another fine example of ETTPT.

tdvol1989 writes:

I can appreciate Dooley coming forward to acknowledge the disappointment of that loss. But, he continues to get an 'F' in the press war.

I posted several times before that game that he did not want to live in a world where we lose to Kentucky. The fans were already getting restless and the avalanche of negativity will not stop until he does something special. Progress is no longer good enough after that humiliation. Fair or not, that is the reality. And, now he is living in that world.

So, he still keeps fumbling over saying it was a good thing. I mean it was a bad thing, but it was a good thing. You just DON'T go to an interview not knowing what you will say. He KNOWS that he was a bit underqualified on paper to get this job whether he succeeded or not. Why does he continue to put his foot in his mouth.

The point about it maybe being a good thing is so everyone would know everything wasn't right. At one point, we were 3-6 after getting absolutely DESTROYED against SEC Rivals. Did it really take losing to Kentucky to realize things were not good.

Then, you have the other article about how the limits contributed to us signing 21. Are you kidding me? We lost 2 players and would up 4 short. And, he says he did not feel good about those for a few months. Other coaches in the SEC had extra ones they at least were working on. I know what people will say to defend that, but he should have said "we held a few open for any late options". Voila, works like a charm. But don't say it for him.

So, I know he is taking a beating, but he needs to hire Romney's debate coach.

snuffysmiff writes:

in response to SmokeyontheWater:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Fulmer's loss to Vandy in the waning minutes of that game was also the first loss to Vandy in Neyland in 30 years.

Vol69 writes:

We have not had to much to cheer about the last five years in football, except the streak against Ky. 26 teams prior keep this going. They were let down, the fans were let down,and this team of 2011 didn't want play, didn't want to be there, and made no secret of it.

jjsteel writes:

in response to BR_549:

Sure bothers a lot of fans on here

if it bothers em that bad, their not a fan.

MidTennVol writes:

And now, having read the story, it appears Coach has gotten the message. Why not post the final scores of all the losses in the weight room? The locker room? How about the Arkansas score?

Would this be motivation enough? Maybe we'd need to bring in Al Wilson to help interpret the meanings of the scores.

GerryOP writes:

Half of you guys think that Dooley should perform a miracle and change the scraps of a football team he was left with into a winner over night. Many of the rest of you are sitting by the door waiting for Pillip Fulmer to walk in. Niether one is going to happen.

Rich_Is_Re-born writes:

in response to GerryOP:

Quit making up stories and telling lies. You weren't in the UTAD complex and you have no idea what was said or went on. Another fine example of ETTPT.

So a STARTING D-LINEMAN wouldn't know what went on over there? You are right...I wasn't over there. I'm sure you were....I'm sure you are more of an "insider" than a STARTING D-LINEMAN. This wasn't told to 5 people before it was told to me. These were direct comments from a player.

Vol69 writes:

We have not had to much to cheer about the last five years in football, except the streak against Ky. 26 teams prior kept this going. They were let down, the fans were let down,and this team of 2011 didn't want play, didn't want to be there, and made no secret of it.
It would ended the year with victory,keep the streak alive,had a bowl game to maybe end a season with a winning record not to much ask really..

Rich_Is_Re-born writes:

in response to VolNBham:

Could you be anymore of an assclown?

That decision is yours to be made.

wigmeister writes:

in response to Pastorvol:

I think our coach needs to be able to express himself without people responding with threats of his job. I say this for two reasons. First, he knows he must win. Secondly, non of us on here can fire anyone in the Athletic Dept. What this staff and team needs is the support of a mature, positive fan base. I believe we will win more games next season.

Good post!

sunglaspro#374094 writes:

in response to volnvette03:

I remember being in the stands watching Peyton's last team getting their azzez whooped by Nebraska. After that, I believe they were humbled and the team focused and worked harder only to become NC the next year. I am not saying we will be champs next year. But if they only learn the lesson of the KY game of being prepared and fired up for every game, then we will improve! Too many times I see the competition run into Neyland fired up and take it to us. It would be nice to get the killer instinct back on the field!

I saw one of the leaders from the 1989-90 teams on tv after the Ky game and he said the 1988 0-6 start and not making a bowl embarrassed the team and motivated them the whole offseason to never miss a bowl game again. He said he expects the same reaction from this team. he said for this to happen it has to come from the few upperclassmen we have and not just the coaches. We will see what kind of leadership we have.

GerryOP writes:

in response to Rich_Is_Re-born:

So a STARTING D-LINEMAN wouldn't know what went on over there? You are right...I wasn't over there. I'm sure you were....I'm sure you are more of an "insider" than a STARTING D-LINEMAN. This wasn't told to 5 people before it was told to me. These were direct comments from a player.

I checked the roster. No one on there by the name of ... taa-daa ... a STARTING D-LINEMAN. Quit making up stories. ETTPT fur shore.

snuffysmiff writes:

in response to tdvol1989:

I can appreciate Dooley coming forward to acknowledge the disappointment of that loss. But, he continues to get an 'F' in the press war.

I posted several times before that game that he did not want to live in a world where we lose to Kentucky. The fans were already getting restless and the avalanche of negativity will not stop until he does something special. Progress is no longer good enough after that humiliation. Fair or not, that is the reality. And, now he is living in that world.

So, he still keeps fumbling over saying it was a good thing. I mean it was a bad thing, but it was a good thing. You just DON'T go to an interview not knowing what you will say. He KNOWS that he was a bit underqualified on paper to get this job whether he succeeded or not. Why does he continue to put his foot in his mouth.

The point about it maybe being a good thing is so everyone would know everything wasn't right. At one point, we were 3-6 after getting absolutely DESTROYED against SEC Rivals. Did it really take losing to Kentucky to realize things were not good.

Then, you have the other article about how the limits contributed to us signing 21. Are you kidding me? We lost 2 players and would up 4 short. And, he says he did not feel good about those for a few months. Other coaches in the SEC had extra ones they at least were working on. I know what people will say to defend that, but he should have said "we held a few open for any late options". Voila, works like a charm. But don't say it for him.

So, I know he is taking a beating, but he needs to hire Romney's debate coach.

He needs to start talking like a football coach and quit trying to spin like a lawyer.

jdt24boxer writes:

it should being embaraassed,it should have gotten him fired. 9 wins or gone next year

GerryOP writes:

in response to Rich_Is_Re-born:

So a STARTING D-LINEMAN wouldn't know what went on over there? You are right...I wasn't over there. I'm sure you were....I'm sure you are more of an "insider" than a STARTING D-LINEMAN. This wasn't told to 5 people before it was told to me. These were direct comments from a player.

FWIW, I never claimed ANY inside knowledge. All I claimed was that you're making up stories and telling lies. Post a link or STFU.

Rich_Is_Re-born writes:

in response to GerryOP:

I checked the roster. No one on there by the name of ... taa-daa ... a STARTING D-LINEMAN. Quit making up stories. ETTPT fur shore.

You know what a starting D-lineman is , no need to name him. If you don't think what I'm saying is true then leave it at that. But in reality, you have no clue what you are talking about. You are saying I don't, and that's fine big guy. I know what I was told and who said it. That's all I need to know.

By the way, I checked the UTAD staff list and didn't see a GerryOP on the list. But I'm sure I overlooked it. I'm sure if you were a big dog over there you would have time to be on here.

GerryOP writes:

Woof, woof!

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