July 21, 2011
TENNESSEE HEAD COACH Derek Dooley
"Hey, guys, let me start by thanking you guys for being here, the great job you do covering the SEC, the exposure you give Tennessee. We've certainly done our part in giving you some material to write about over the last year. But that's what a good relationship is all about.
We enter this year, it's probably the youngest football team I've ever been a part of and seen. I was looking at our roster before we came down here, 57 freshmen, sophomores, 24 juniors and seniors representing about 70% underclassmen. We have 10 seniors, only two of them are returning starters. So that's our makeup. What I felt like was important when we turned the page from last year was we had to present this data to our football team and make a decision from the beginning that we weren't going to allow youth to be an excuse for failure. And we're not going to do that.
I feel very good about the talent level of our young players and how quickly they become every-down-dependable players in the SEC will determine what our success is on the field.
Offensively very young. Seven sophomores and freshmen, two juniors and a senior. But we have more experience on offense coming in this year than we did last year. We found ourselves last year coming in, a lot of uncertainty on the offensive line, a lot of uncertainty at quarterback, a lot of uncertainty at runner position. We don't have that this year. So we feel like we have the right kind of players in place, and we expect them to grow and get better each week. Defense is a little bit like offense was a year ago. We're only returning one player in our front seven. And in this league, as we all know, if you don't have a good front seven, a productive front seven, you're going to have a tough time week in and week out. We're going to have to figure out and emerge who are going to be our players that are going to make a difference for us.
I think at the end of the day all I've ever asked this team, once we turn the page, was to come to work every day and try to make the program, the organization, themselves better today than it was yesterday. Because of our youth, they're not going to show up the first game and be all-conference players. But if they have the right mindset of coming in every day with a relentless pursuit of continuous improvement, then we'll get Tennessee back to what the standard is.
I'll lastly speak on that standard, because I do believe that we lost our way a little bit in understanding what it means to play for Tennessee and what 'Power T' represents. So we have spent an inordinate amount of time educating our team, talking to our young players about what Tennessee stands for and what the standard is. There's a high standard of winning, there's a high expectation in how we represent the program. Jason Witten was just in town the other day and he made the comment that 'Power T' to him was a symbol of excellence. I think that summed it up.
So that's what we're trying to accomplish. We feel good about the direction we're headed. We're really excited about heading into the season to see how we can compete."
Q. Derek, do you have any theories as to why the east has fallen so far behind the west?
A. "I don't have a theory other than to say I've been watching SEC football all of my life, as you guys know, and everything goes in cycles, it always does. Programs have their great runs. Programs have their bumps along the way. I don't think that's ever going to change. I mean, that's the competitive nature of our sport. So certainly the east looked a little different last year than it has in the past. But we'll see how it turns out this year."
Q. You've got a young starting quarterback who we discovered last year has a pretty entertaining tendency to improvise some of his more spectacular throws. How do you go about coaching Tyler Bray in preserving some on-field instincts into getting him to do what you actually tell him to do?
A."It's a little bit like parenting. They don't always do it the way you want, but then they do it, and you go, Well, that wasn't too bad after all.
And that's what Tyler was. He showed two main things out there last year. One is a level of confidence that was rare for a freshman to go get thrown into the fire. He went out there and no matter what happened to him, he never flinched, he never got affected. That's a great quality to have as a quarterback.
Secondly, he had a tremendous ability to aggressively push the ball down the field and generate a lot of explosive plays. So that's a great starting point for a quarterback.
Now, he is still in his infant stages in quarterback play. He's got some new receivers. He's got defenses now that have the book on them. They have five games to study on him. He's going to have to learn and grow.
He's made a tremendous investment in getting better, having a better command of the offense, being able to make better decisions, put our offenses in better positions. It's only going to come with experience. So as long as he continues on that track of improvement, I think we're all going to be impressed with what Tyler's production is."
Q. Coach, question again about the strength of the east. You mentioned things go in cycles. Do you feel like you've come to Tennessee at an opportune time and the rest of the division is in a state of flux?
A. "I don't really look at it that way. We have our share of problems we had to solve. That's really all my concern is.
Here is what I do know: every time you think a team is down, they emerge and they whip your tail. Every time you think a team's on top, things probably don't go their way.
What I can't do is concern myself with where the other programs are. We have to concern ourselves with where we are as a program, and each week try to figure out a way to beat that team because we only have to be better than them on one day of the year. That's what our focus is.
And I don't think, whether we were in the east or the west, the challenges are all the same. This is a difficult league. You can look at everybody's schedule and it's a hard schedule. That's the way it is."
Q. Talk about Commissioner Slive's proposal of the GPA from 2 to 2.5. Do you think that would hurt you or are you in favor of it with the state of Tennessee or the high school recruits not nearly as good as some of the others? Also talk about on the recruiting trail going head-to-head with James Franklin now?
A. "I don't really know the specifics of what the Commissioner says as it relates to academics. I have had a lot of discussions with a lot of people who are talking about academic change. We've been talking about it since the beginning of college football. We've made some tremendous changes with our APR, all the reform that went on, and it's been very healthy for our institutions and for our student-athletes.
So we set some good baseline standards. We've met those standards in football for the most part. But now I guess there's criticism because we're the lowest of the sports in the APR. It to me raises the question: when is the lowest good enough?
We've set the standards, the minimum standards, we meet the minimum standards, but now we're not happy. It's no different to me than the person that finishes last in medical school, he's a doctor. They don't say, You were the lowest in your class.
I think one of the things that is unique about college football is the differences in all the institutions. This is not the League. We're not trying to make everybody the same. Every institution has a different academic mission, has a different mission as it relates to developing their football program. I think that's what makes college special.
The standards that we have now don't mandate that every institution use those standards. It only mandates that you meet those standards. So if institutions want to raise their standards, as many of them have, they have that prerogative. And I think that's what's good about college football, allow the market to correct it."
Q. With Coach Muschamp entering the league, how key was it for you having that prior experience as an SEC assistant? Have you maintained a close relationship with him since you left LSU?
A. "Will and I are good friends. Of course, we talked a lot. I know he told you guys that prior to him getting the job at Florida. We still stay in touch. Not as much, obviously. We certainly don't talk about the same things we did before.
As far as helping, it does help being in this league and understanding this league, understanding the expectations of the fan base and the traditions. I do think it helps.
But as long as you have an appreciation for a program and an institution and a university, and you open yourself up to how they do things, anybody can really come in this league and have success. You don't have to have a background in the SEC to have success in the SEC."
Q. Has the merger of the two athletic departments at Tennessee had any effect on how you operate your program? Have you had much contact with Joan Cronan, and if so over what issues?
A. "Yeah, I've had a lot of contact with Joan. Joan has been phenomenal. When Joan took over at interim athletics director, I thought it was very important to try to define for her three or four things where she could help us before we hired a new athletics director. She has responded beautifully. She has done a phenomenal job of kind of running the ship in the interim phase.
The merger has not impacted us positively or negatively just because we're not really there yet. You know, we're probably going to reorganize when we hire a new athletics director.
But I've been very appreciative of Joan's openness with me. I have a lot of confidence in her abilities to lead until we find a new athletics director."
Q. Coach, before your arrival to Tennessee, Tennessee was kind of notorious for letting great players leave the state. Talk about how you and your staff are fixing that. Also when you made the quarterback change, there was a lot of excitement when Tyler came in and won the games that he did. This spring he struggled in the orange and white game. Does it concern you that he struggled in the spring game, but also the wins he got were against teams that didn't have a winning record.
A. "Let me start with the recruiting part of it. We certainly have a very diligent evaluation process. We're not always right. But we have a defined criteria of what we want in our program. Historically that hasn't been a lot of players in the state of Tennessee, but I am proud that we signed seven last year out of the state.
Sometimes who we recruit and who we want, who people think we're recruiting and who people think we want are not necessarily people who we recruit and people who we want.
We've done our best to keep the guys in the state who we think can help our program. And I think it's important to sell what Tennessee can do for those guys that the other schools cannot do. There is value of being an in-state guy and going to your state institution. I think what we've done has worked tremendously well. Certainly the guys we signed last year out of the state we hope will be great players for us in the future.
As it relates to Tyler, the two things you mentioned were a bad spring game, which I would rather him have played good, but I don't lose sleep over what he did in the spring game given how we minimize it, how we divide the teams. It's just a very different dynamic. We've evaluated Tyler on the 14 practices and the two scrimmages, and we feel very comfortable with the progress he's making.
Does it concern me that the teams he played against didn't have winning records? Hey, I was happy that we went out there and were able to get four victories. I don't care what their record was. There was a point in the season where it didn't look like we were ever going to win another game. Now, he's going to have to go prove he can do it against every team in the league. We'll see if he can do that."
Q. What are your thoughts on some of the legislation that came out of the SEC spring meetings this year?
A. "You've got to help me out. There was a ton of it. How many hours you got (smiling)?"
Q. The 25 and the seven-on-seven.
A. "Let's start with the 25. The coaches spoke on how they felt about it. The rule was passed and we move on. So that's what we do. They listen to us. Sometimes they agree with us and sometimes they don't. We'll all adjust. That's what we're going to do as far as the 25."
Q. Knowing Muschamp like you do, what did you think when he got the Florida job, being in the same division with him now? How do you think he'll do there?
A. "Of course, I had mixed feelings. I was proud of him. He deserved it. He's earned it. But I'd rather him been at Texas because he's a friend of mine. I mean, that's just how it is.
I don't think that has any impact, I really don't, on the game. I think we make this a bigger deal than it is. I don't know him in a way and he doesn't know me in a way that's going to be this difference maker on game day. We're certainly not going to be concerned about the other's well-being on game day.
I just think it's probably a bigger story than we're making it out to as it relates to the competitive part of it on the game day.
He's earned it. He's going to do a great job, there's no doubt in my mind. But we got to play each other every year and that's a big game for both programs."
A. "Two Louisiana guys, that's what you're asking. That was a real blow, we lost Herman. We were returning two out of our front seven, then Herman gets hurt the first day of workouts, now we're returning one out of our front seven.
I don't know when he's going to be back. I can tell you this, it's not any time soon. We're just going to have to monitor it week-to-week. But it was a blow to us.
Prentiss had a good year, got a lot of interceptions. He didn't play as consistent as we would like him to play. But he's put on a little weight. I was joking with him the other day when I saw him. He looked a little different. He's going to need it. We need him to be a good player for us because we don't have a lot of returning guys on defense that had any production.
So he's important to us and it's important we get Herman back as soon as we can."
Q. With the search for the new AD, what type of input have you had in that?
A. "I have a lot of trust and confidence in Jimmy Cheek, our chancellor. We've had a lot of communication on what's important in developing a winning football program that's going to meet the expectations of our fan base. He understands it and has been very supportive of it.
I am not involved in the hiring process, nor should I be, because it's going to be my boss. I've appreciated Dr. Cheek's communication with me at every step, which he has. I've appreciated his asking questions on what I thought was important. I know that he's going to make a great decision for Tennessee."
Q. Coach, you took over in January 2010. It's July 2011. The NCAA investigation that was existing when you started is still going on, I think it's been, 22 months. What can you do to make those investigations faster? How hard does it make recruiting when you have that cloud hanging over you for almost two years?
A. "I made the point, this is our third recruiting class and we're still answering the questions. I can't do anything. I'm just a football coach. What I have appreciated is the NCAA's willingness to listen. They've been great. They've begun to make some significant changes. I say that because I raised the issue with them at the convention. They're there to listen and they've acted.
I also want to say that I understand their challenges. They got a tough job. They're understaffed. They have no subpoena power. I appreciate the challenges they have.
As crazy as it sometimes seems on the outside, you understand what their challenges are on the inside and they understand what our concerns are. I think we're making tremendous progress to improve that process."
Q. Derek, what role do recruiting services play in your recruiting process?
A. "The biggest role they play is providing video to evaluate players. You know, in the old days, I say 'the old days,' I'm a young guy. The old days were like 10 years ago to me. You got your film from a high school coach. So when you went to the schools, you would share video.
With technology, with digital, it's been a lot easier. There's a better way where the high school coach can one time send his games to a service, and then that service can send it out to all the colleges. So we depend on video of these players to form our evaluation. It's a lot easier to get it from one person than to get it from 250 high schools.
So that's the main thing that we use those services for, is just collection of video to allow us to do a real thorough and diligent evaluation of the players."
Q. Coach, you typically sign junior college players for positions where you need help immediately. Can you go over your expectations.
A. "The last two years we changed that perspective. We signed everybody because we need them immediately, but your point's well taken (smiling)."
Q. What is your take on the three guys you signed for the defense?
A. "We certainly had a double need at defensive tackle. I've made the comment, we don't build our program on junior college players we want. That's not anything against junior college players. But we just believe in bringing them in as freshmen. So when we do bring a junior college player in, it does need to be, in my mind, a critical area of need, and he's the right makeup to fit into the culture.
All three of those guys we hope we made the right decision on. We needed some help on defense because we lost so many guys and we don't have a lot of returning production. So we got one up front, two in the secondary. We'll see if they can help us."
Q. You talked about some of the struggles that you've had in terms of personnel, getting enough people on both sides of the ball. Last year you talked about how it was the offense, there were a lot of holes. This year, obviously the defense, you have problems finding bodies to fill those positions. A lot of that has to do with turmoil that was going on before you even got here. Do you feel like you got any benefit of the doubt from the fan base on how long it would take to sort of build back from those problems? At what point do you say, terms of your goals for the program, All right, that's behind us, here is what I want to do, we're right there or not there?
A. "January was when I said it, or really February when I met with the team, that it is behind us. That year's over. We can't complain about our numbers anymore. We're not at the 85, but we got enough bodies to go put a football team out there together. The only thing that we have right now is just youth. We can't sit there and use that as an excuse not to succeed.
I do appreciate the way the Tennessee fans supported us all season. It's the most unconditionally loyal group of fans I've ever been a part of. When we were sitting there 2-6 on our heels a little bit, there was nothing more meaningful to me than to get off that bus on the Vol Walk and see 30,000 fans going crazy and a hundred thousand in the stadium, it says something. I always say, you find out about people and teams when the times get tough.
Our fans were incredible last year. I appreciate the support they give. We're doing our best to meet their expectations. They're high and they should be high. We have every resource to succeed at Tennessee and we're going to get there. How quickly, I can't predict."
Q. What is your thought of the establishment of a conference-wide discipline policy as pertaining to player arrest and missing game time. The other is your thoughts on changing the one-year renewable to a multi-year scholarship program?
A. "Yeah, let me address the scholarship thing first. You know, I get a kick out of a lot of these issues. They're fun to read about. A scholarship is a contract. I mean, that's what it is. It's a contract between two parties. Both parties have obligations to do things to continue the contract.
I hear about how it's so awful when a player gets a scholarship taken away. I'm sitting there going, Universities give academic scholarships all the time, and if a student doesn't meet certain academic requirements, they take it away from them.
It's no different to me in athletics. We have a commitment to them, and they have a commitment to us. So we're giving them a benefit and they're giving us a benefit. That's why it's a contract.
So I think how we have things is good, it's fair. It is one year. It's renewable. I think the market takes place when a team is abusing that situation. If a coach is just taking away scholarships, kicking people off the team, the market is going to take care of it in recruiting. Who is going to want to go play for the guy? Allow the market to act.
It goes back to what you believe philosophically. Are we going to allow the institutions and programs to set their rules, then allow the market to handle which way they go and the success they have, or are we going to take over and define what everybody does all the time? I think it's absurd to have across-the-board disciplinary measures when you're talking about dealing with young people.
Otherwise what we need to do is get off the campuses and form us a little college league like the NFL if we're going to go in that direction. Then it's one group, we represent the college football league, not the school, we're all the same, we all wear the same sideline gear except the color of everything. It's all uniform.
That's what makes college unique. We got programs that have $100 million competing with programs that have $10 million. Things aren't level. Things aren't equal. That's just the way it is. I think that's a unique thing, fun. Makes great fodder for the fans, brings pride to the institution because of their uniqueness. I don't think that's something we should be ashamed of.
I don't even know if I answered your question (laughter)."
Q. Derek, you said you use the recruiting services to evaluate talent. In light of all the scrutiny over recruiting services lately, are you evaluating the recruiting services at this point?
A. "I did even before this happened. When I first got there, we cut about $50,000 my first year of the services. Because of our newness, I didn't want to cut too much. I wanted the coaches to see what's useful and what's not.
We do sort of a quality control on recruiting services every year, just like we do in everything in our program, Is this a good service, is it helping us? If not, let's not spend a lot of money on it.
We spend a lot of money on it. I don't apologize for that. We recruit across the country. We have to stretch our wings out pretty far and need to get video from a lot of areas to build our board. But we do try to stay fiscally responsible that the services we are using are giving us a little return on the back end."
Q. Coach, it's being discussed the year of the running back. Is Tauren Poole being overshadowed and what kind of season do you foresee for your running back this year?
A. "I told Tauren on the way down that Coach Spurrier said he had the best back in the league. I told him I agreed with him. He just smiled said, I heard that, coach.
Tauren is everything that you want in a player from his drive to be his best. I wish we had 100 Tauren Pooles. His commitment to the program, how he represents Tennessee. He's got, of course, good size and speed for his position. He was inconsistent last year. He was productive as a whole. He had some games where he was remarkable. He had other games where it was hard on him.
I think a lot of things go into that. Number one, it was his first year of playing. He wants to do well so bad, he wants to perform so well, it took him a while to get settled into the position.
We got to do a better job of blocking for him, and we will. And we also need to help him a little bit with another back. I think it's hard. There's only a few guys a year who can go out there and carry that load 12 games and take that kind of pounding. So I've always kind of believed in a two-back system where you got another back who can get in there where you can manage your player so he can be productive consistently throughout the season.
We're not going to be a good football team if Tauren is not productive for us. We're not going to be a good offense. We need him to be consistent, productive, and I know he's committed to doing that."
Q. Is there a way to take care of that and make the NCAA more powerful than they are?
A. "I'll tell you, it's hard for me to offer solutions to what the issues are because I'm not in that world day-to-day. It's really not fair to me. It's really not fair for me to criticize when you don't really know what their world is.
So I know this: they have great leadership, all right? All the changes that have happened have been positive. Of course I know Mark Emmert from my days at LSU, just have a tremendous amount of respect for him. I've come to know Julie, who is doing a great job. And I know that they're going to work for solutions to help everybody.
So I have a lot of confidence in them. But I also know that there are challenges. It's tough. We got a lot of smart people out there trying to figure it out.
We'll improve it. I don't think it will ever be perfect. But you know what, no system is. I mean, even the guys that do have subpoena power screw it up all the time. Let's don't forget that."
Q. You said you cut back on $50,000 on the recruiting services, is that correct?
A. "My first year, yeah. I think we cut another 25 this year. Don't come back and say, Oh, it was $47,500."
Q. Why was it so much? Did Lane Kiffin make it that much on the budget?
A. "I mean, I can't speak for how it got to that. I just came in and said, What are we doing? What do we need? What do we not really need? We just did little quality control, shaved it down a little bit. Nobody told me to do it. You got to remember where I came from. We didn't have any money at Louisiana Tech. I mean, my instinct was to cut money. Then I realized we had $100 million. Then I'm going, Why did I just do that (smiling)?"
Q. You had a couple of games last year that ended peculiarly.
A. "I almost got out of here (laughter). Did you say that was the last question over there (smiling)?"
Q. How do you talk to your team about games like that? Does that stick around in the back of your mind? Do you worry that it sticks around in the back of your players' minds?
A. "I told everybody I was 8-7 in post-game handshakes last year. It was a remarkable feat (smiling). You know, that whole deal, it happens to you. They say that's never happened in college football and it will never happen again. I was agreeing with them. You're right, it will never happen again. And it did.
There's lessons in everything. I told our team, once I was able to gather my emotions, that when things don't go your way in life, in football, whatever it is, before you start pointing fingers, you better look in the mirror and ask yourself, Is there anything we could have done better to change the outcome, is there anything I could have? We all had to answer that question first. There was a ton that we could have done, that I could have done, our coaches could have done, our players could have done. We had a lot of opportunities in both those games to not let it get to that.
You live, you learn, you move on. I'm glad those things happened my first year. I hope they don't happen as we get deeper into the experience.
So they asked me on this tour, they say, Hey, what was your greatest moment last year?
I said, Well, there were two of them. They just only lasted about 30 seconds.
So that's the way it is. That's the nature of sport. We put in a new rule that hopefully will prevent that from happening to another coach again. We live, we learn and we move on."