KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - History will be made on Saturday as Derek Dooley coaches against a head coach who also faced his father, as Bill Curry brings Georgia State to Neyland Stadium. Curry went head-to-head with Derek's dad Vince Dooley on seven occasions from 1980 to 1986 when Curry was at the helm of Georgia Tech and Vince was in the midst of his 25 years as the head coach at Georgia.
Saturday will mark the first time a head coach has been of the opposite sidelines of the Dooley father-and-son combination.
Derek Dooley was asked if Curry was the first to face face him and his dad on the SEC conference call on Wednesday.
"That is a good question and I never thought about it," said Derek Dooley. "It may be. I can't give you a definite answer, I would have to kind of reflect back but I think you are probably right. Thinking back to La. Tech I didn't know if Dick Tomey went against my father, he might have. I don't think Chris Ault did. I don't know but you very well may be right."
Turns out it is the first time.
In fact there are only three coaches that have coached against Derek Dooley that were active head coaches during Vince Dooley's tenure at Georgia from 1964-88: Tomey (Hawaii/Arizona/San Jose State), Ault (Nevada) and Steve Spurrier (Duke/Florida/South Carolina). But Vince never coached against any of the three when they were head coaches.
Bill Curry held a 2-5 mark against Vince Dooley in the match-ups. When Curry took over at Alabama in 1987, while Vince was still at Georgia the schools did not play. Vince retired from coaching in 1988. Curry moved on to Kentucky in 1990, where he coached seven more years until 1996. Curry returned to the coaching ranks with the up-start Georgia State Panthers in 2008 and will be coaching his final season with GSU this year. He announced last month that he will retire from coaching following the 2012 season.
Another connection is that Curry played his first collegiate game at Tennessee as a member of Georgia Tech's freshman team in 1961. Curry and the Jackets beat the Vols, 16-12 in what was a much smaller Neyland Stadium.
"I remember it when it was much, much smaller," said Curry. "Obviously, it was when I was young and played there in the early 60's. I guess it was 60 or 70,000 then and it seemed big, and now it's just gigantic and steep.
"The stadium is, in terms of degree of loudness and the ability to drown out signals, it's in the top five. It's colorful with its checkerboard end zones and all that, and the incessant playing of that song [Rocky Top]. We've gotten our guys accustomed to hearing it."
Curry had a grander memory as Neyland officially seated 46,390 in 1961 and was expanded to 51,527 in 1962.
As a player Curry was 2-1 against the Vols in varsity games from 1962-64.
Another twist is that Curry played his final college game while at Georgia Tech against Vince Dooley and Georgia in Vince's first year as head coach of the Bulldogs in 1964. Dooley got the best of Curry in that first-ever meeting as UGa handed Tech a 7-0 loss as the Yellow Jackets finished the year on a three-game losing streak. The Yellow Jackets started the season 7-0 but saw the year take a turn for the worse starting with a 22-14 victory by Tennessee on Nov. 7, 1964.
Finally, Curry said the Tennessee game always had special importance during his playing days as his Georgia Tech coach Bobby Dodd was a legendary player with the Vols, earning All-American honors in 1930. Dodd always placed extra emphasis on facing his alma mater according to Curry.
YOU'VE GOTTA HAVE FAITH
The Vols bought in to first-year defensive coordinator Sal Sunseri's system from day one and that faith paid off last Friday against NC State.
When installing a new scheme, it usually takes a few games, if not a full season, to get comfortable and work out all of the kinks. That didn't appear to be the case for Tennessee, however, as it looked plenty comfortable generating a good amount of pressure on the quarterback and forcing four interceptions, UT's most since 2010, against the Wolfpack in the Georgia Dome.
"The system works and then the kids buy in to the system," cornerbacks coach Derrick Ansley said. "We coach our guys hard on all 11 positions on defense. The guys are finally starting to see the dividends pay off. All we want those guys to do is come out and compete every day, believe what we're teaching them and then the product speaks for itself."
The reviews for the Big Orange defense's first outing were positive, but there is still plenty to work on in the coming weeks. The Vols feel the issues are all correctable though, especially with the hard-working attitude of this year's group.
"We made a lot of mistakes, but at the end result we got the win," Ansley said. "Mistakes that we can fix and mistakes that kids understand what they did wrong. Moving forward I feel pretty good about what we've got. Mistakes are never about what the other team did, it's about what we did. It was nothing that NC State did that we weren't ready for. It was all about how we executed that particular play and assignment.
"The guys knew exactly when they did, what they did wrong and that's always a good sign. When you don't know what you did wrong and why you did it, that's when you have issues moving forward, but the guys were really engaged on the sidelines. They had some chances to correct some things and those guys stayed locked in for four quarters."
The majority of the defensive miscues last Friday can be attributed to breakdowns in communication, something safeties coach Josh Conklin feels will resolve itself with more time on the field.
"Big picture, one of the things we did well was that we never got rattled when we had a bust in communication," Conklin said. "We run a multiple-set defense so we are doing a lot of things on any given play. We are checking to stuff and adjusting, but the more that we talk and the more we get comfortable communicating and the more confident the guys get knowing what they are saying is right, we will eliminate a lot of those communication busts and errors. I would anticipate that will get better going into this week.
"The things we have got to get better at this week are just making sure whether we are in the right leverage on a wide receiver or in the right leverage if we are in the deep part of the field so we have got to make sure we keep cleaning up and tightening up as we go forward."
Despite those typical first-game issues, Tennessee was pleased with what it was able to accomplish its first time out on the gridiron, especially against such a talented opponent.
"I looked at NC State as an SEC opponent," Ansley said. "All through February and Spring ball, and all through summer, you always have that in the back of your mind to open up with a really good team, a well-coached team, a hard-nosed team that is going to run the ball and try to throw the ball deep. They brought a lot of things to the table as far as offense is concerned.
"We were nervous going into the game about what they were going to do because it was the first game, but once we got settled in and our kids understood what they were trying to do I thought we did a good job of making some adjustments, settling down and playing Tennessee football."
HITTING THE SEAM
The Tennessee running back corps combined for 191 yards on the ground against NC State, more than they recorded in all but one game last season, a 199-yard effort vs. Buffalo.
The Vols were led by Marlin Lane, the third running back to enter the game, who finished with 75 yards including a burst for 42 yards late in the game.
Each of the potential starters for this week, Lane, Devrin Young or Rajion Neal, would tell you that they have each others' backs both on the field and along the sidelines and there is no jealousy amongst the bunch, just support.
Running backs coach Jay Graham would support that sentiment.
"They have all done well," said Graham. "They have worked hard and some of the things we have been working on they have done a good job with. All three of the guys have been practicing pretty hard because they understand the situation."
Young, listed second on the depth chart for the opener, only got two touches against the Wolfpack, but according to Graham will see more time this week against Georgia State.
"I really wanted to get (Devrin) in coming into the first game," said Graham. "I plan on getting him in a little bit more so we are going to make sure to do that. When we are moving fast (as an offense) in certain series that he gets in because he can touch the ball and make some things happen for us."
The Vols had some huge bursts during the game including Lane's run and a 67-yard touchdown run by Cordarrelle Patterson on an end-around. There were even bursts for five yards here and there and an 8-yard touchdown run by Neal, but when the Vols needed to pick up short yardage, they were unable to do so.
"It is always a concern, no matter what," said Graham. "Those are very important downs. A lot of times the other team knows you are running it and you have got to go get that extra yard. That is something we have put an emphasis on and we have been working on it really hard and a lot of it is driving guys off the ball and the running backs driving their legs and finish the run."
Graham also stresses the importance of hitting the holes that the O-line and blockers create for these running backs.
"It is the way they see things," said Graham. "There are going to be small holes and a lot of times you have to be careful when you cut back. We've talked a lot about pressing to the line of scrimmage. That is something that (Marlin) has been getting better at, and something he has had a lot of work on this week, so we have to take that from the film room, to practice, and to the game."
The competitive energy surrounding the group helps not only on the field during the games, but all week long in practice.
"Every week we are competing," said Graham. "It has been a good week of practice [this week] but the most important thing is getting to the game and based on how you practice determines how many reps you get. That's the thing that I try to tell them in practice if you do those things right, you will see it in the game."