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HOOVER, Ala.— The program didn't match the buildup.
Derek Dooley was in uniform — black suit, orange tie — and a marathon of interviews awaited Thursday morning. Tennessee was tabbed for the early-morning session of the third and final day of SEC Media Days.
The anticipated theme was self-defense.
"How y'all doing?" Dooley said after scribbling a few autographs on his way into the Wynfrey Hotel lobby. He shuffled past into an elevator, a collection of media relations representatives clearing his path. The coach was headed to a third-floor suite.
Two hours later, Dooley, who holds a 4-12 record in SEC games at Tennessee, would line up behind an SEC-crested podium and declare, "It's been a tough four years in Tennessee. I know, of course, the SEC has enjoyed taking advantage of our tough times."
Then came the line that will be repeated all fall.
"There's a nice mood on our team right now — you're not going to have Tennessee to kick around anymore."
Thursday wasn't seen as a small chore for Dooley.
The third-year UT coach is on every preseason "hot seat" list. His coaching capabilities have been publicized, analyzed and scrutinized. He was labeled as a coach potentially making his final SEC Media Days appearance.
The day, though, brought relatively smooth seas.
Before grinding through three hours of scheduled interview sessions, Dooley met with a collection of 25 to 30 Knoxville-based media members. He was asked what his gameplan and sales pitch was.
"I'm not here to sell," he said, an infliction point in his voice underlining sell. "It's like that old song, 'A Little Less Conversation, A Little More Action.' That's about where we are. Selling ain't going to do me any good. We've got to go out and win."
The Vols tumbled to a 1-7 league record in 2011. Injuries overlapped injuries, deficiencies gave way to losing.
That's now all in the past, Dooley preached. He gushed over having a "settled roster" for the first time in his tenure and said
the offensive line, which enters the 2012 season with 106 combined starts, is "a microcosm" of where the program is and where it's been.
So can the 2012 Vols compete for the SEC East title?
"Absolutely we can," Dooley said.
Tennessee returns 10 starters on offense and seven on defense. Depth and experience, missing notions in recent history, seem to have returned.
"Most guys who handle adversity, when they go through it the first time, they don't know how to react," Dooley said. "Our guys have been through it."
As has Dooley. His 62-game coaching record stands at 28-34, including an 11-14 mark at Tennessee. Fans in Knoxville are still awaiting a signature win. A signature loss, however, came last year at Kentucky.
"What have I proven?" Dooley asked rhetorically in response to the same question. "I don't think that's my place to say because really all we're judged on ultimately is what the record is. So until we change that, it's pointless for me to tell y'all all the things I think we've accomplished."
And with that, Dooley bounded off for radio, internet and television interviews.
One hour later, he emerged from the ballroom's side door.
"Appreciate you guys coming," Dooley started off, soon adding, "I feel better today about where we are as a program than at any point since I've been in Knoxville, and I mean that."
Fifteen minutes and 10 questions later, it was over.
Dooley's news conference, perceived as an impending storm, barely shook his leaves. No member of the national media asked the dreaded "hot seat" question. No scribe questioned his job status.
Dooley faced an array of questions on the new BCS playoff setup, the Vols' potent receiving corps, the maturation of quarterback Tyler Bray and the program's meeting with N.C. State in the season opener.
That was it.
Following a long, awkward silence, the moderator asked, "Any more questions?"
With a quick, "Appreciate you guys," Dooley strolled off the stage. His press conference was far and away the shortest of any SEC coach during the league's three-day media blitz.
From there, Dooley handled his responsibilities with ESPN.
In one of the day's final interviews, ESPN.com's Ivan Maisel joked that Dooley delivered a Richard Nixon impression by saying the Vols aren't going to be kicked around anymore.
Laughing, Dooley responded, "Except I'm still here. When he said it he was on his way out. So I hope that's not the case."
Brendan F. Quinn covers Tennessee men's basketball. Follow him at http://twitter.com/BFQuinn