Three weeks into his new job and Derek Dooley hasn’t guaranteed any wins or accused any rival coaches of cheating.
No, the new Tennessee football coach hasn’t been as bold as his predecessor, Lane Kiffin. And, so far, that attitude has appeared to win over Volunteer fans — at least the more than 700 Tennessee fans who poured into the Nashville Convention Center on Thursday for a recruiting celebration, one of three planned stops on the day for Dooley.
After a few brief remarks, clips were shown of all 25 players of the Vols’ signing class, which was announced Wednesday on National Signing Day. Then Dooley spent more than 20 minutes shaking every hand around, signing numerous autographs and posing for pictures.
“It only validated what I’ve always suspected about how passionate they are and how supportive they are,” said Dooley, who spent the last three years as Louisiana Tech’s football coach. “Everybody’s just been great.”
Last year, at almost this same time, Kiffin already had dipped into hot water with his comments at a post-signing day recruiting celebration.
While at a gathering in Knoxville, Kiffin said that Florida coach Urban Meyer violated recruiting rules while seeking out wide receiver Nu’Keese Richardson. Kiffin was reprimanded by the Southeastern Conference and later that night, after stops in Nashville and Memphis, Kiffin apologized for his remarks. That came on the heels of his introductory press conference in which he predicted Tennessee would beat Florida (the Vols later lost to the Gators).
Dooley has been significantly more low-key.
“I have my way of doing things and how I believe we need to develop this program, and that is all I am really focused on,” Dooley said.
Dooley, whose father, Vince, was a longtime coach at Georgia, was joined Thursday in Nashville by defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox, offensive coordinator Jim Chaney and assistant coach Lance Thompson — a staff that seemed particularly happy with its signing class, which was ranked ninth in the nation by rivals.com.
The Vols also picked up offensive tackle James Stone, a Mr. Football winner out of Maplewood High, who said he had been leaning toward Alabama but opted to sign with Tennessee after Dooley became the new coach.
“The most important thing to me was the team, and then these recruits — to try to get a handle on them,” said Dooley, who also made similar appearances at UT fan gatherings in Knoxville and Memphis Thursday. “I think, as I get out and get our message out to the fans, the fans will recover pretty quickly [from the Kiffin ordeal]. We all have short memories, and it is important to look ahead. I don’t think it helps the program, and it doesn’t help anybody to look back.”
He also said that while the fans have been drawn to him so far, all that will matter come September and October is what he does on the field.
“I think it won’t matter come the fall. I think they will be more concerned with who wins and who loses,” Dooley said with a laugh. “So I appreciate how gracious everybody has been. Maybe one day if they don’t like me anymore, at least they’ll help me out in another profession."