Tennessee players don't fear the cowbell
Tennessee coach Derek Dooley underwent surgery on his fractured right hip Tuesday, but will direct the Vols from the coaches booth in the press box during Saturday's game at Mississippi State.
Dooley will miss today's practice and could miss Thursday's as well, the university said. He hopes to return to normal coaching duties next week if the move is approved by his doctors.
The surgery comes as Dooley approaches one of the biggest games of his tenure. The Vols (3-2, 0-2 SEC) play at No. 19 Mississippi State (5-0, 2-0) on Saturday (TV: ESPN2, 9 p.m.)
Dooley first revealed the hip injury at practice earlier Tuesday, but the pain had been bothering him for several months. An MRI last Friday revealed a fracture that required immediate surgery, Tennessee officials said.
The surgery was conducted after Tuesday's practice by Dr. Russell Betcher and Dr. Greg Mathien of the Knoxville Orthopedic Clinic at the UT Medical Center.
Tennessee hasn't announced who will direct the team in Dooley's absence or who will be the on-field point man. No staff member currently has the title of assistant or associate head coach.
Offensive coordinator Jim Chaney and safeties coach Josh Conklin work from the box and will likely remain there.
For an offensive perspective, receivers coach Darin Hinshaw, who coached the quarterbacks in 2010 and 2011, might be one option.
Offensive line coach Sam Pittman was associate head coach at North Carolina before joining Dooley's staff this season, while defensive coordinator Sal Sunseri was assistant head coach at Alabama under Nick Saban.
The most relevant experience likely belongs to defensive line coach John Palermo, a longtime assistant head coach at Wisconsin. In 1999, when Wisconsin coach Barry Alavarez was forced into the box after knee surgery, Palermo guided the team on the field for eight games.
Dooley walked gingerly during Tuesday's practice, but gave no indication of the seriousness of his injury. He told reporters he had only "a little hip issue."
"I'm working and nothing has changed," Dooley said after practice. "I wasn't moving like I normally do."
The last Tennessee coach to guide the team from the press box was Johnny Majors, who returned from a three-game absence after preseason heart surgery to lead the Vols to a victory over Cincinnati on Sept. 26, 1992.
Injuries have pushed other coaches off the sidelines in the past. Last year, New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton tore his MCL and broke his leg, forcing him to coach some games from upstairs. Former Penn State coach Joe Paterno's ill health sometimes forced him to coach from the box.
Tennessee plays No. 1 Alabama on Oct. 20 in Knoxville. Dooley hopes to return to the field for that game.
The Vols are in the midst of their toughest stretch of the season with their next three games coming against teams currently ranked in the top 20 and two ranked in the top 5. Dooley hasn't beaten a ranked team during his time at Tennessee.
Evan Woodbery covers Tennessee football. Follow him at www.Twitter.com/TennesseeBeat.