The wait was long.
With no bowl practices or a postseason game to prepare for and one of the latest starting dates for spring camp in the league, Derek Dooley hasn't been on the field in exactly four months.
But the Tennessee coach has kept himself plenty busy leading up to the first of 15 official workouts this morning, passing the time during an offseason that had more than its share of challenges doing everything from evaluating what went wrong a year ago to hiring seven new assistants heading into his third year leading the program.
"It flew by," Dooley said during a news conference Sunday afternoon. "Obviously, recruiting always goes fast, a sprint to signing day. And all that time in December where you would have spent some energy on bowl (preparations), we put a lot of time into sort of redefining our offseason and taking a hard look at some of the things we needed to do differently going into next season — and of course, hiring some new coaches.
"That ate up the bulk of the time, and then after recruiting because we essentially had a whole new staff, we had to kind of start over. So I'm glad we had the time."
The Vols apparently maximized it in the weight room with Dooley stressing improvements made by every player on the team on several occasions.
And the coaching staff has already used that time to tinker with the roster before even leading a practice, particularly on defense where a new scheme has created new positions and led to a handful of changes on the "organizational" chart released by Dooley.
There will be plenty of attention paid to those moves as UT experiments over the next month with its personnel, particularly with four freshly converted linebackers in Jacques Smith, Willie Bohannon, Brent Brewer and Channing Fugate. But at least at this early stage, Dooley was clearly more focused on big-picture issues than individual battles for playing time down the road.
On offense, that means running the ball better after a disastrous season on the ground. Defensively, the emphasis will be learning and adapting to a different approach. In the kicking game, the Vols are looking for improved consistency from their specialists.
But all of that ties into a much broader theme at this point, one that seemingly required a bit of soul-searching during the long break since the season-ending loss at Kentucky.
"Now that we hit practice, it's time to re-shift our goals," Dooley said. "No. 1, of course, is another renewed commitment of our core values. I'm going to keep emphasizing that, and I told the team this, the intangible values that we play with are more important than any play we can put in. If we commit to it every day and perform like that on Saturday, it will mean a lot more to winning and losing than the other stuff.
"I think that when you kind of define what your program stands for, it doesn't mean anything if you're not reinforcing it every day."
The Vols have had chances to do that over the last few months, applying it to everything from conditioning drills to video-game tournaments.
Now they'll finally get another chance to take it to the practice field.
"I'm really pleased with this offseason, as proud as I've ever been of a team," Dooley said. "One of the best offseasons I've ever been around. But on Monday afternoon, I'm going to be miserable, and I'm going to tell you how awful we are.
"We're going to go out there, it's Day One install, we're not in pads and we're going to throw a lot at them. So, all you can do is go out there and do the best you can and try to get better the next day."