HOOVER, Ala. — New Tennessee football coach Derek Dooley has an impressive pedigree.
Though his head coaching career consists of only a three-year stint at Louisiana Tech and a 17-20 record, he spent seven years as an assistant to Nick Saban, now considered the premier coach in the college game. And he's the son of legendary former Georgia coach Vince Dooley.
But perhaps the best thing about Derek Dooley, to the media, to Tennessee fans, and to opposing coaches, is that he's not Lane Kiffin.
There was no false bravado during Dooley's first Southeastern Conference Media Days news conference Friday. No accusing his conference counterparts of cheating. No hollow promises of singing Rocky Top at the Swamp.
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Dooley spent most of his 40 minutes at the podium going through the nuts and bolts of how he's planning to rebuild and repair a fan base still reeling from the end of the Phil Fulmer era and Kiffin's abrupt, messy departure to Southern Cal after just one season in Knoxville.
"It's certainly been a tough couple of years for our fans," Dooley admitted.
A handful of Kiffin questions were thrown at Dooley, but he wouldn't bite. When asked if any of his fellow coaches thanked him for not being like Kiffin, he responded, "Y'all are just waiting for me to say something, I guess. Let's go on to the next one (question)."
The Vols started to slip from the national radar near the end of Fulmer's regime and finished 5-7 in his final season. Kiffin came in with a lot of hyperbole, and while he did bring some buzz back to Knoxville, there was much more style than substance as UT finished 7-6 and was whipped 37-14 by Virginia Tech in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.
Dooley inherits a team that has no experienced quarterback, lost its top two rushers and has to break in five new starters on the offensive line.
But Dooley might have even more work to do off the field. Tennessee's history of disciplinary problems in the football program has been well-documented, and it didn't take Dooley long to get a taste. Earlier this month, several UT football players were involved in a bar fight that left two people hospitalized, including an off-duty police officer. Dooley dismissed safety Darren Myles as a result, and will wait until the legal process runs its course before taking more action.
Dooley, 42, has made it clear that he plans to change the culture of UT football, and he's doing it from the ground up, changing the recruiting methods, instilling strict disciplinary procedures and implementing more programs focusing on character education.
"Our image is not where we want to be," Dooley admitted. "We've got a lot of bullet-proof issues. We've got a lot of entitlement issues that we have to work through. Now, at the end of the day, I know what the job's going to get measured on: the success we have on Saturdays. But I also feel like we have a tremendous chance to impact young people's lives and we're going to work hard to do it."
The Tennessee players are dealing with their third head coach in three years, but there seems to be a sense of calm now with Dooley running things.
"Coach Dooley, he's an old soul, very mature for his age," senior tight end Luke Stocker said. "He and Coach Kiffin are different personalities, and they do things different. But in the end, football is football."
Dooley is also trying to repair some of the hurt feelings of the past, as he's reached out to both Fulmer and his predecessor, Johnny Majors. Majors spoke to Dooley's staff about the history and tradition at Tennessee.
"Coach Fulmer is in many ways still in a painful state, and I understand," Dooley said. "I also told him that he's a part of the great tradition here and he'll always be a Tennessee Volunteer. As that pain goes away over time, I hope he'll come back. I just have a tremendous respect for both of them. They represent Tennessee the right way. They won an incredible amount of games and they'll always be a part of our program."
It doesn't hurt to have a dad like Vince Dooley whispering in your ear. The elder Dooley won six SEC titles and a national championship at Georgia, and Derek said his father has already had plenty of suggestions on how to right the ship at Tennessee.
"I would be a fool if I didn't reach out to him, someone who has had the success that he's had," Dooley said. "Certainly I've done that and I'll continue to do that. But at the end of the day, I'll continue to shape the program that fits my personality."
And as long as that personality stays the total opposite of Kiffin, Dooley should do OK for the moment.