Oct. 10, 2012
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - Although Tennessee head coach Derek Dooley was not at Wednesday morning's practice while recovering from hip surgery, his presence was still felt on Haslam Field where it was business as usual for the Vols.
"We ran our stuff, we did what we had to do and everything went as well as it could," UT defensive coordinator Sal Sunseri said. "Everybody wants Coach Dooley out there, but because of the seriousness of that hip he had to get it done. The kids were energetic, they were enthusiastic and they practiced like they were supposed to. They stayed to the standard of the practice."
Dooley, who underwent a surgical procedure to repair a fractured right hip on Tuesday afternoon, will coach from the press box at Davis Wade Stadium in Starkville on Saturday, but the Vols don't expect it to affect their typical game day coaching duties much, if at all.
"It's really easy because he is going to be up in the press box talking to me when the defense is on the field and he is going to be talking to one of the other coaches on offense when the offense is on the field we are going to manage it just fine," Sunseri said. "Coach has it totally managed, we've already talked about it as a staff. We have a plan and we will execute our plan."
"He's on the headset with us throughout the game. Whether he is standing right next to you or up in the press box, you are still hearing the same language, the same verbiage and you are just going through the day and managing what is going on. Of course we would love to have down him on the field, but because of the injury and what the heck is going on, for his sake, he needs to be up in the press box. We will manage it down on the field."
Although the assistant coaches will certainly be able to manage the on-field responsibilities, there is a reason the head coach is typically roaming the sideline rather than sitting upstairs.
"I think the one thing maybe that you miss that some people don't see is that Coach Dooley has an opportunity to look a guy in the eye and talk to him to see kind of how they are feeling and how they are reacting and what they need to hear," assistant coach Josh Conklin said. "When you get up in the press box it is a completely different world and the emotional part of it is taken out a little bit."
While being in the press box will limit Dooley's emotional interaction with the players, Conklin was quick to point out that it will also give him a different perspective when looking at the game from a more analytical angle.
"You have to look at it as a positive too," Conklin said. "He will probably be able to see some things offensively and see some things defensively that maybe you wouldn't necessarily be able to see."
Instead of looking his players in the eye, Dooley will now have the opportunity to work a little more closely with a few of his assistant coaches instead. For one, offensive coordinator Jim Chaney is looking forward to the new experience.
"I have felt like a few times that the head coach has been sitting next to me in the press box, but I have never had him there before," Chaney said. "I am looking forward to it. It will be a great experience and I have no issue with it. Coach and I have a great relationship, we talk throughout the game all the time, he will just be sitting right beside me."
Football can be a tension-filled game and Chaney knows that could lead to some interesting conversations on Saturday.
"We will manage, we are grown-ups," Chaney said. "I am sure he will yell at me, I'll yell at him and we will get right through it and move on with the game. That is what happens. I won't yell at him, he's my boss, you know how that goes."
PALERMO HAS EXPERIENCED THIS BEFOREOne member of the Vols' coaching staff has been through a very similar situation as to what the team will go through on Saturday with the head coach in the press box.
Defensive line coach John Palermo was at Wisconsin in 1999 when then-head coach Barry Alvarez was sidelined with knee surgery. Palermo was the assistant head coach during his time with the Badgers and saw increased duties with Alvarez limited.
"I was acting head coach for about three games," said Palermo, who was on the staff at Wisconsin from 1991-2005. "It was a little different. For the first game, (Alvarez) was in the Mayo Clinic and we talked on the telephone -- he had a feed to his room. Then the next two games he was up in the press box. Which he pretty much ran the show. On the field, I took care of things for him."
That one game which Palermo served as interim head coach was on October 9, 1999 and the Badgers pulled out a 20-17 victory at Minnesota.
Back 13 years ago, Palermo was very clear that he knew who was in charge even though he wasn't present at the Metrodome.
"This is the character of Barry Alvarez's football team," Palermo told the media after the game in 1999. "It's not my football team. I'm just one of many assistant coaches that follow the plan that he set forth."
Fast forward to 2012 and Palermo has the same message.
"Coach Dooley has things squared away the way he wants to do things," Palermo said on Wednesday. "Practice was run just like he was there. He gave us the practice plan, so we did it exactly like he wanted us to.
"(At the game) it's going to be business as usual, exactly like it has been every week."
The Vols can hope to replicate Palermo's success with Wisconsin, as the Badgers went 3-0 with wins over the No. 25 Gophers, Indiana and No. 11 Michigan State on the way to winning the Rose Bowl with Ron Dayne and company.
"We did pretty good," Palermo said with a smile.
TIME TO FIGHT FIRE WITH FIRE
Mississippi State and Tennessee are very similar teams heading into this meeting in Starkville; offensive coordinator Jim Chaney knows that.
Both offensive lines have allowed just three sacks this season while both defenses have made nine interceptions, and both stats lead the SEC in 2012.
Tennessee's offense has put up bigger numbers, 506.6 total offensive yards per game as compared to the Bulldogs' 404.6. But the UT defense has also allowed more yards of total offense (425.8) compared to MSU (325.6).
The meeting between the two teams will be a dogfight; and not just between Smokey and Bully the Bulldog.
"They play their butts off, they play very hard," said Chaney about the MSU defense. "One thing that will show up will be effort. All 11 guys get the football. It is hard to find a play that you don't see all of those guys flying to the ball. They play extremely hard and we have to fight fire with fire and play just as hard."
Mississippi State's defense features some large cornerbacks, in 6-1 Darius Slay (4 interceptions) and 6-2 Johnthan Banks (3).
"I wish they were 5-4 and 5-5," said Chaney. "They are opportunistic, have great instincts and they see what is happening in front of them because they keep the play in front of them a lot. They play the ball in the air exceptionally well, they have good ball skills, and they are everything you are looking for in a large corner."
The large corners will have a tough test on their hands matching up with Justin Hunter and Cordarrelle Patterson. The duo, along with Chaney's play calling and Bray's arm, has created some outstanding touchdowns for the Vols this season.
Something Mississippi State knows a little bit about.
"All I can say is that I have spoken to Sal about it," said Chaney. "They are very creative on the offensive side of the ball and some of their creativity creates some problems so we have had to be ready for everything. We are excited about those opportunities to go out and play. We do a lot on our side of the ball on offense so our defense are prepared for a quite a bit of stuff. We hopefully have them ready to go from our side of it."
What it will all come down to is the line of scrimmage and the battle of the two offensive lines.
"I think it is the key to everything in the SEC," said Chaney. "The line of scrimmage plays are going to win or lose ball games. You feel pretty comfortable as a play caller when that is getting done. The kids up front against Georgia had a lot of confidence about them and were hitting them pretty good. We feel good about running the ball and we hope or anticipate that it will be the same. Our kids up front have been playing a lot of football, they are juniors now, and we have one senior up front. They have played a lot, they have seen a lot and our expectation is that they will go out and do well again this upcoming Saturday."