Derek Dooley calls it the one-word test.
Even with five months remaining until the Tennessee coach and his assistants move into the top floor of the new, $45 million football practice facility, Dooley considers it a failure if he doesn't hear it whenever he leads tours through the 145,000 square-foot shell of a building.
"If they don't go wow, then we hadn't done our job," Dooley said. "There should be no other comment except wow. That was the only standard I had."
Dooley led the News Sentinel on exclusive tour Thursday through the new facility, which could become the new standard in the SEC recruiting arms race. Noises of all sorts hummed through the air as Dooley strode through the building, level by level, as if it were a house he'd inhabited for decades.
Although the original plans for the facility — which is really an addition to the building that hosts both the Brenda Lawson Athletic Center and Neyland-Thompson Sports Center — were drafted two coaches ago in 2008, Dooley's fingerprints are all over it. Upon his hiring in 2010, Dooley brought in his own consultant and made a number of changes that initially rubbed prominent donor Charles Anderson, who pledged $8 million toward the project, the wrong way.
The air has long since cleared and production, at least from a visible perspective, has picked up dramatically. The first move-in is set for July. The Stokely Center must be vacated by the end of the year. Employees currently housed at Stokely will move into offices now housing the UT football staff.
"This building will impact our program more than the stadium," Dooley said. "This is where the players live."
He means that figuratively, but he wants it to be close to literal. That's why, along with all of the areas dedicated exclusively to football, there are massive spaces reserved for a players' lounge and an academic center.
"If they're over here, then two things are going on," Dooley said. "They're not getting in any trouble and they're probably doing something productive as it relates to football, eating, school or building a team."
The new building will have four areas that Dooley considers to be recruiting showpieces: the weight room, the grand team meeting room, the hydro therapy room and an eating area that Dooley will refer to only as a "restaurant."
Players will be able to walk straight from the 120-yard practice field into the new weight room — a 22,000 square foot "multilevel thunderdome of power," as it's called in UT's promotional video for the facility. Along with the standard free weights, machines, cardiovascular training equipment — which will be situated on a deck that overlooks the weight room — and a nutrition bar, it will feature a mixed martial arts cage "so we can go in and fight and all that stuff," Dooley said.
"There won't be one (a weight room) nicer in the country than this and it's got the high ceilings," Dooley said. "It gives you that feeling 'this place is enormous.'"
The weight room leads straight into the 7,000 square foot locker room, which will feature 125 lockers equipped to charge iPods and cellphones. The area is spacious compared to UT's current changing area and more secluded from other male and female student-athletes.
"When you have 120 guys in a room and half the time they're not dressed, you need a little room so you're not bumping into each other," Dooley said.
The 3,600 square foot hydro therapy center, which Dooley calls a "real showpiece" because of the friendly-on-the-eyes appeal of flowing water, will have access to and from the training center and will house two underwater treadmills, two hot-cold tubs and a 40-foot lap pool.
The grand meeting room is built like a true amphitheater with a slanted ceiling, room for 165 Vols who will sit in custom-designed chairs and a massive space on the wall for a high-definition projection screen.
"This," Dooley said, "is my baby here."
Dooley and his assistant coaches will move into offices that overlook the south end zone of the indoor practice facility. They will have close access to a slew of meeting rooms that had their size increased throughout the construction process — "a midstream, halftime adjustment," Dooley said.
The current main entrance to the Brenda Lawson Center will serve as the revamped, grand opening to the new football facility. Prospective student-athletes will see the indoor practice field through glass on the right and can either be whisked into a wing devoted exclusively to recruiting or can browse through a UT sports museum of sorts that will feature a "Peyton Manning Room."
"We don't have anywhere that celebrates our tradition in winning. Anywhere," Dooley said, who added that the museum was not in the original design. "When I got here, I'm like, 'Where's all the stuff?'"
Nearly 25 years since it was built, the Neyland-Thompson Sports Center remains one of the preeminent indoor football facilities in the country. It was one of the first, though, and there has been plenty of time — ages by the new, win-now standards of the SEC — for the competition to make up ground.
"Tennessee got behind," Dooley said. "We did some great things with our stadium, but where the players live ... we didn't have what we needed."