Feb. 1, 2012
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - Vols head coach Derek Dooley met with the media to discuss the 2012 Tennessee Signing Day class. Check out what he had to say.
TENNESSEE HEAD COACH Derek Dooley
"It's like coach's Christmas on signing day every year. I want to start by emphasizing how important the team effort it takes to have a good signing day is, mobilizing all the resources, starting with your coaching staff. I have to give a special kudos to Jim Chaney, Terry Joseph and Darin Hinshaw who are our three remaining coaches from the prior staff and just did an incredible job of rolling up their sleeves with the four of us and trying to keep it all together when we hit a tough December.
"So kudos to them and of course to the support staff and administration that it takes from the video, the training room, equipment, academic center, VFL. All the things that when a kid comes on campus we sell, and the faculty and students for the time that they spent, the energy that they had when all these recruits were on campus. We couldn't have gotten this kind of class today without a great team, so I appreciate all of that.
"I will say it was probably as tough a recruiting climate over the last 12 months as I've been through. I will always be honest with you guys. Starting with the spring, all the things that were going on departmentally and with the NCAA. I think we hit July with one commitment which is not what we want, but is what we had. And of course the season didn't end the way we wanted it to end and every week was a change in coaching. We gave a lot of ammunition to our competitors and in this league, it is hard enough when you don't give them ammunition and we gave them plenty. Certainly on the social media landscape, which I call the national barber shop, it was non-stop, a lot of haircuts being given.
"What was so important when all of this was happening, and this is what I told the staff, was to keep the main thing, the main thing. Keep your focus on what is real, keep your focus on the facts and not get lost in emotion, not get lost in fear and not get lost in negativity. When I say keeping the main thing the main thing, I'm talking about first the foundation that we had laid in the last 24 months. Our roster of young people that we brought in for two classes and have now are going to be more mature, they are going to be more seasoned, they have experience and we have more depth.
"Secondly, all of the support structures that we put around these guys to succeed. How we develop them as players, how we develop them as students, how we develop them as people. And then the third thing is just the state of the Tennessee brand. I don't care what anybody says, this is a special place and still sells all over the country because of the great tradition, the fan base, the gameday experience, the atmosphere they feel when they come on campus. Those three things to me are the main things that we focus on. Our team, our support structures and Tennessee. All the guys kept their focus on that, all the recruiters kept their focus on that and that allowed us to get to where we are.
"Looking at our class. A little more spread out this year. Last year we signed 21 guys from Tennessee, Georgia and Florida. This year, that number is 12. I think we had nine other guys from six different states. Like every year, you say we could have done a little better in these states, we could have been good in these things and every year is a new year. Next year will probably be a lot different than this this year. What I do know is that the Tennessee brand carries all over. Everywhere we go we get a good reception. We are going to continue to try to recruit regionally and nationally. That's not to say that local is not important. It is always the most important. Heavy emphasis on offensive-skill playmakers and defense.
"The first question is why didn't you sign any offensive lineman? It's rare. I don't think this will ever happen again, but what is more rare is that we brought in 11 offensive linemen over the last 24 months, which I don't think anybody has done something like that. If you take that number and divide it by three, you have what you normally have, three or four guys a class. We felt that we were so young and deep on the offensive line, if there is ever a year where we could really focus on the skill positions to try to give us some depth so that when a guy gets hurt here and there we don't just love everything, and that's what we did. On defense, of course shoring up the D-line is always important. If we don't get better up front, we'll never have a chance and we got what I hope will be some good impact players in the back end that will help us from speed, tackling and covering ability.
"All in all, if you look at all that has happened and all that has transpired, it is hard to feel better than I do today. I made the comment to our coaching staff that this is the best that I have felt, as far as the future of our program and where we are headed, in the 24 months that I have been on the job. It is a good day, men. It is a happy day and I'm looking forward to celebrating it tonight with our staff."
(On managing the coaching transition and recruiting)
"It was challenging because when we were down to just a few coaches, we had to go and refocus our energy. The most important thing was getting to signing day. That's what I kept telling everybody. We have to get to signing day. Having said that, we had to get some of the key players in, especially at defensive coordinator. I think bringing in Jay (Graham) as quick as we did was a real boost for us. We were able to mobilize him on all of the running backs. And then having a quick transition on the offensive line was a big help just for manpower. Sam (Pittman) didn't really have any ties to our recruits, but it was just manpower. All l I asked our recruits to do was to be patient when it all hit. I'm going to tell you, it says a lot about their character and their commitment level to Tennessee, and the grit level they showed because they were getting barraged by some quality schools. They didn't flinch, they stayed with it. We had a quick loss there at the end, but that didn't have anything to do with coaching staff changes. I was really proud of that and I think it says a lot about the guys we got."
(On signing Deion Bonner)
"When I say bringing in high character, that doesn't mean that I am never going to bring in guys that have made mistakes because I can tell you right now, I have made as many mistakes in my life as anybody. I'll put my past record up against a lot of guys. Deion, we did a lot of diligence on the situation. Deion was incredibly truthful, was incredibly remorseful and I don't know of a high school player that had to pay the piper more for what they did than what he had to go through. He had an absolute public disparagement, (losing) five games of his high school career and everybody stopped recruiting him. It was tough. It was incredible the maturity that he showed and I believe that he can come in and represent Tennessee the right way, learn from his mistakes and be a great example. Certainly it is not the norm, but we felt with the diligence that we did on him and of course, he is a good football player, let's not deny that. At a key position, we felt willing to take the risk."
(On the 25-player signing cap)
"The 25 signing cap is a challenge and I can tell you that I am not alone in saying that. I'll give you a great example. In the past when you hit mid-term and you knew a guy wasn't going to qualify academically, you signed him and you helped him go to a junior college. You helped give him the hope that he could come back to a school like Tennessee. This year, when we hit December we did a real thorough analysis of what these academic risks were on a lot of these players and we had to part ways with a few guys for academic reasons and you get criticized for it. The fact of the matter is you have to make those kinds of decisions and you can't help them. It was also tricky down the stretch because so many of these guys wait until signing day to make a decision. Normally in the past, you can get a few more commitments, oversign some of these guys at the end and it will work out. This year you really had to think twice about stretching too many NLI's out there because it was going to be a three-for-one penalty. I think a lot of schools find themselves a little short than where we normally would be. Is it tricky? Year, but that's the rule. I'm against it and I will continue to be against it because I don't think the rule we had in placed hurt the young people. I think it helped them in a lot of ways. It helped them grayshirt and keep their opportunity, it helped them place in junior colleges and we are not able to do that anymore, but that is the rule."
(On how much the Kentucky game came up in recruiting)
"The game wasn't ever talked about, but what's written on the national barber shop creates a fear and paranoia that other schools love to highlight. What I try to do, of course, is anticipate what other schools are going to say, but it's still out there. The social media has really changed so much in our game and so much in the recruiting process, it just presents a lot of challenges because you find yourself having to defend the absurdity. The best example was the national fact that I hired Randy Shannon as defensive coordinator. It was a fact. Some great, respected media outlets reported it, all from one tweet. I never talked to Randy, still haven't. You end up having to defend things that are not only baseless, but there is absolutely nothing to it. You find yourself in a defensive posture a lot. Now we created a lot of it, so I'm not complaining about it. If we do our shop a little better, at the end of the year we don't have a lot of that. It is just the nature of the beast. Here is what I do believe and this is what I have seen. The players who are diligent in their process, have a nice support structure with a mom, a dad, a coach, whoever it is, and they go through the process intelligently, that negative stuff doesn't impact them. It doesn't impact them and the guys that it does impact, maybe it's best that they don't come. I didn't lose any sleep over it. It was just important to me to stay on the phone a lot and answer a lot of questions and that was fair. It's part of it."
(On signing three junior college players and whether they address a need)
"Just philosophically, and I said this last year, we are not going to build this program on junior college players, and that is not a knock on junior college players. What we will do is every year try to sign a few to try to address a need. You hit it. We had a need on the defensive line. We are going to have it every year on the defensive line. What Darrington (Sentimore) brings is he has played in 12 games in the Southeastern Conference at a high level. He is unlike most junior college players. We actually watched his film at Alabama, so we know we are getting. I hope that is going to help him and him being here mid-year I hope will help him.
"Dan McCullers, of course, brings something that most people don't have which is gargantuan size. He is really big. When you see him, he looks like two people. It's like a circus act. What's going on here? He is a big guy and those guys are hard to block. Now we don't want him to get so big that he can't move. That is going to be the challenge, but he brings size that we didn't have.
"CP (Cordarrelle Patterson), you watch the film and whether you need him or not you are a fool not to recruit him because he has tremendous playmaking ability, size, speed and also brings return ability on kickoffs. We signed a lot of wideouts because we were lacking depth there and, of course, the other guys are getting up in years."
(On losing two linebacker recruits at the end)
"Neither of them surprised us. The drama helps the viewership, I get it. We need that drama so we can drive the readers and turn it into a TV show. From the very beginning, even back in September, we knew those two guys, it was going to be tough to close them out because they were far away and never shut it down. They were always going to listen to other schools and go on trips. When that is happening experience tells you there is a good chance you aren't going to get them at the end. What made it challenging for us was, because of that 25 rule, you couldn't stockpile more at that position knowing you were going to lose them, because there was a chance you wouldn't. It happening so late, that's what makes it challenging. Had the 25 rule not been in place, we might have been able to hedge that bet a little bit better. But there still will be some possibilities to help us on that end."
(On the two linebackers Tennessee did sign)
"Extremely excited about them. I think both of them are going to be really good football players. LaTroy probably wasn't a good a fit in our old scheme and he knew it. LaTroy was getting a little shaky in December and I told him I'm going to fix it. Be patient because you are going to fit in perfectly with what we are about to do. He was patient and he was great. It was good."
(On the signees desire to play at Tennessee despite the coaching turnover)
"I think this is going to be a special group because of that. I just take a guy like Danny O'Brien up there in Michigan. I don't know if anybody got assaulted like he did every week. He is a far away guy, but I'm going to tell you, incredible character. I also believe that it is how you recruit these guys because we don't sell a recruiting coach. It's not about a recruiting coach. It's not just about me. We sell Tennessee, we sell the program, we sell the team, we sell the university, we sell our structures and when you recruit it that way I believe you don't have a lot of fall out. Now, when you recruit on hot sauce and emotion and chest bumping and I'm a great position coach, when things get disruptive, naturally it is going to go because it is built on sand. Our recruiting efforts, in my opinion, are built on rock. It is built on relationships and selling the right things that are going to impact their lives. When you do that you have very few (de-commitments). Last year we had zero. Now, what is the converse to that? Why doesn't everybody do that? Well, you're not going to get some guys because a lot of people like the chest bumping and the hot sauce in recruiting."
(On using current team to recruit)
"Keep the main thing the main thing. That was number one with our team because nothing is more important than the guys they're going to be playing with. I tell them, `You can be in Anchorage, Alaska and if you like the guys you're around, you're going to love it. You can be in the nicest house, the nicest stadium and if you don't like the guys you're around, you're going to be miserable.' That's the most important thing to me is getting the recruits around our team. I'm proud of these guys. These guys are locked in. They're locked in, they're great people and they're focused on football. They're not perfect. They're flawed like all of us, but there's a lot of good energy in that locker room right now and I think all of those recruits felt that. That's what counters all of that other stuff. That's why I say, `Keep the main thing the main thing.' That's number one on the main thing is our team. Number two is our structures that are going to help them develop and be successful. Of course, three is Tennessee. If you keep your focus on that, it's hard to say no."
(On the competitiveness recruiting in the SEC)
"It's highly competitive. Probably the most difficult thing is (when) a guy commits, and all that means is everybody knows who to attack. That's the hardest thing in this league. You talk to some of these guys who haven't been in this league and they can't believe it. It's just a different environment. It is. It's just incredibly competitive. I'm not upset at it. That's the way it is. I'm in it. I've been in it most of my coaching career. I wouldn't say it's dirty. I wouldn't say people cheat like a lot of perception is. That's not it. It's competitive and you better work. You can't go to sleep at the wheel because if you do, your guy is gone."
(On how current roster effects recruiting)
"It depends. I think nobody thought we would get CP (Cordarrelle Patterson) because of what we have coming back. You know what I've found? Great players don't care who you have because they have confidence in their abilities. I tell our guys `We're going to have great players every year. If you're scared to come in and compete, you don't need to be here. You need to go to some other school.' I also say, `To be a great team, you need a lot of great players.' I sell that to our team and they do a great job of recruiting because of that. You can be selfish, be an offensive lineman and when another offensive lineman comes in as a recruit, you do a bad job of recruiting him. I used to do that. I'm just kidding. You don't want him to come in and beat you out, but that's not how it is. When you're a good team with a lot of good players, that's what it takes to be a champion."
(On whether the skills of the new WRs indicate the direction of the offense)
"I don't think so because we signed three running backs. We signed another tight end. What we're trying to do is get a lot of playmakers and depth. We can't have an injury and the whole season goes south. We have to have a lot of good football players. It's the same at quarterback. We have three guys who we believe in. We have a lot of receivers. We have a lot of tight ends. Especially at the skill level. It reared its ugly head last year. You lose one guy here, one guy there and your whole season is done. You lose one guy in the backend and you can't cover anybody. You have to have a lot of good football players to win in this league because other teams get injuries too. You can't go blaming every year on an injury. You have to put the next guy in and go win. That's what we were trying to do."
(On the wide receiver class UT signed)
"They all bring different skill sets. Wideouts come in all shapes and sizes. Some can do things others can't. I'm not going to speculate what they're going to look like next fall. You guys know how I am. I don't try to build these guys up because I don't know what they're going to look like in the fall. I have to get them in here, develop them, coach them and see what they can do. We'll see how they play when the lights come on, but we feel like we have a pretty quality class at that position."
(On planning on having flexibility signing 21 players)
"Yes, because I felt like there might be some guys falling out that didn't happen before because of this 25-thing. Last night, everybody in the SEC, there was a lot of jockeying going on out there trying to figure out who is getting who because it's going to impact who you can send an NLI to. It's tricky, but those are the rules."
(On if there are any unsigned players UT is looking at)
"There will be some. Time will tell. You know what? I wasn't going to take a marginal player to fill out everything because I'm not sure we can get to 25 next year. You can always count back next year."
(On whether he was nervous about LaDarrell McNeil's decision)
"I was extremely nervous. You look at indicators because he took a visit to Oklahoma State. Are you nervous? Are you kidding me? I mean, yes. He comes back and he's going to take another visit, but then he cancels it. When that happens, you get a little peace. But are you nervous? Yeah. You're calling them 28 times before signing day. `Are you there? Is everything OK?' `Yeah, coach. What?' You don't hear from them in two hours and you're in a panic. He's just at a movie. That's the challenge of recruiting far away because the worst time of the recruiting period is when it goes dead - Sunday, Monday and Tuesday. You don't know what's going on, on the street."
(On LaDarrell McNeil)
"We liked everything about him. He has great character too. Do I think he has all the skill sets back there? Yeah, I do. He's physical. He's fast. He's rangy. He's big. We'll see."
(On the three running backs Tennessee signed)
"I feel like we signed guys we think will be (dynamic). You watch the film. There are not many more out there that are more dynamic than what a couple of these guys are. Alden (Hill) was our first running back commitment. He brought size that I felt like we didn't have coming back. We signed Q (Quenshaun Watson), who has some explosive qualities that not many guys have. He's incredibly fast. He's a 10.5 100-meter guy, state champion almost in track. He also brings return ability. We only had one returner last year and you all forget that. He (Devrin Young) went through a little period where he was getting hit around. You have to have a lot of guys at a lot of positions. He can do some things in the backfield when you get him the ball in space. Davante (Bourque), to me, is that all-purpose every-down (back). He's big. He's fast. He has great instincts. How all those three guys will help us, only time will tell. They're all going to get a great opportunity to help us, as will the guys on our roster who are going to be more mature and more seasoned. We'll see how it plays out."
(On multi-year scholarships)
"I don't really have an opinion on that other than I'm against those. I think that will be more discussions in our head coaches meetings. I don't know. We forget this is a contract, a two-way street. I think it's humorous that the academic institution can give an academic scholarship and take it away when a student doesn't perform at a certain GPA-level, but it's absolutely the worst thing you can do as a coach - it's so wrong what you do to these young people - when he doesn't do what he's supposed to do. I'm still trying to figure out what I'm missing. You have these contracts. It's called quid quo pro. We give you this. You give us that. But if they don't give us that and we decide not to give them this, then it's the worst thing you can do. I'm still struggling to understand that issue. I'm not smart enough to figure it out. I have to spend more time on it before I give an opinion."
(On how the 25-man limit effects recruits that want to come to Tennessee but don't yet have offer)
"It's hard because you want to be honest with them. You don't want to misrepresent. You have to tell them, `Look, I can't send you an NLI right now, but if another guy doesn't come, I'll send you one.' `Boy, you really want me, don't you coach?' And these other schools are saying, `We want you. You're our guy.' So it's hard."
(On whether recruit has to take scholarship on the table)
"He doesn't have to, but what would you tell your son to do? This is what makes it hard. You could sign guys and when you oversign them, you still give them the opportunity to come to Tennessee. I think that's where a lot of the confusion happens. People think when you oversign, you just kick guys on the street and they can't go to college. That's not what's happening. That's not what's real. What we've done is we've taken one or two rare exceptions, rare circumstances where it wasn't managed properly and we've turned it into a national crisis. It's what happens, you overreact. We had a good rule in place that was in place for one year."
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