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Daniel Hood would have faced a tough decision if Tennessee hadn’t made a coaching change after last season.
The fifth-year senior defensive tackle finished the fall semester three hours short of a degree in business management. He could have taken his last required course this spring and bid adieu to college football.
If coach Derek Dooley had stayed, Hood might have done just that.
“I don’t know,” he said when asked the hypothetical question after Thursday’s practice.
New coach Butch Jones and his staff of football zealots made Hood’s decision easier.
“I just need football too much,” he decided. “Especially with the new coaching staff.
“With the passion (the players) have for football, (the coaches) just intensify it that much more.”
From a player’s perspective, Hood probably articulates the difference between the previous and current coach as well as anyone.
“With Coach Dooley, it was: ‘This is your job. Do your job, then go home and eat,’ ’’ he said.
“With Coach Jones, it’s: ‘This is your life. It’s everything to you.’ ”
Different approaches work for different coaches and teams. But more passionate coaching might serve this one better.
It’s not as though the Vols can methodically take care of business against the SEC’s finest. They need every intangible asset they can muster.
Tennessee seemingly was lacking in neither incentive nor passion at the start of last season. In almost every preseason interview, players emphasized how dearly they wanted to end their losing ways.
But when the season headed south in the fourth quarter against Florida, UT couldn’t mount a comeback. After that mid-September loss, it kept falling, all the way to a third consecutive losing season.
A new coach — no matter how passionate — doesn’t assure the Vols of a winning season. But a stronger player-coach bond might foster just enough extra effort in one game, or on one play, that could transform the narrowest of defeats into a bowl-eligible victory.
Jones is not short on motivational ploys. Some are gimmicky. Some are cliches. But his fervor for the game might be his most enduring form of inspiration.
It’s not as though he is preaching to an indifferent crowd.
“Show us the way,” is basically all the victory-starved veterans have asked of their various coaches. They have adjusted and adapted accordingly, perhaps none more than Hood.
He signed with coach Lane Kiffin as a 245-pound tight end, then obligingly moved to center when asked. Next stop: offensive tackle. He later learned guard duty as well.
And finally, at his suggestion, he shifted to defensive tackle. That change demanded more changes.
Dooley preferred super-heavyweights in the middle of his line. Hood accepted the challenge with a carb-crazy diet that included full pizzas and bread sticks for snacks.
Leaner, stronger, quicker players are the new model under Jones. So Hood conformed, dropping his weight from a high of 305 pounds to 280.
He has had three head coaches and three defensive coordinators. He has gained 60 pounds and lost 25. And he has played on three losing teams.
But now that he believes he has a coach who shares his love for the game, he’s not ready to give it up.