Football

SEC Football Media Days: New Tennessee coach Derek Dooley challenged to clean up Lane Kiffin's mess

His SEC roots and commitment to recapture the missing mojo has been embraced

By MICHAEL CASAGRANDE

Special to the Ledger-Enquirer

HOOVER, Ala. — Being the son of a college football coaching legend, Derek Dooley is accustomed to questions about dad.

But his mom?

Among the bevy of topics Friday at SEC Football Media Days — from his controversial predecessor to offseason arrests — the new Tennessee football coach couldn’t help but laugh when his first quesdealt with his famously supportive mother, Barbara.

“Doesn’t matter where I go, that’s the question I get,” he said to a laughing audience. “She’s become an icon in the state of Tennessee.”

If she’s the icon, he’s the savior.

After a year in the weeds with Lane Kiffin, Derek Dooley’s SEC roots and commitment to recapture the missing mojo has been embraced. That includes SEC commissioner Mike Slive who made subtle references to the Vols’ change in leadership in Wednesday’s opening remarks.

“I want to welcome coach Dooley back to the SEC, and when I say welcome, I mean welcome,” Slive said. “Regional pride and a sense of family are characteristics that set the SEC apart from other conferences.”

The hangover from the Kiffin era left a few issues for his replacement to clean up. That includes disciplinary issues, such as the bar fight this month that sent two team members to jail and further scarred the program’s reputation.

So, as the cultural shift hit the express lane, Dooley acted decisively. With the counsel of his father, former Georgia coach Vince Dooley, the dismissal of sophomore safety Darren Myles Jr., was announced a day after fists flew.

“It’s certainly not the call you like to have,” he said. “Anybody that’s been a head football coach understands those things are going to happen. When it does happen, I think it’s important to be quick. I think it’s important to be consistent.”

He also understands the importance of traditions that became less of a priority under Kiffin.

Senior defensive end Chris Walker didn’t like the lack of zeal with which General Robert Neyland’s seven football maxims were recited a year ago, but he’s equally enthused by the way Dooley embraced them before the spring game.

“We really didn’t say them with the passion and the importance that we did with coach Phil Fulmer’s staff,” Walker said. “With coach Fulmer, that was the one thing we took more pride in more than anything we did before the game, and it kind of got pushed to the side last year. When (Dooley) first got to Tennessee, he was standing next to the game maxims in the locker room, and he said he loved them.”

In terms of talent, Dooley will have a ways to go before building the Volts get back to being one of the conference powers. Starting quarterback Jonathan Crompton is gone, as well as All-American safety Eric Berry.

The preseason media poll released Friday slots Tennessee fifth in the SEC East Division — the lowest it has appeared.

But that is no reason to panic, Dooley said.

It’s just past dawn in his tenure with the rebuilding Vols.

“We feel like we have a formula that’s going to be successful in this program, and we’ve got to keep our focus on what we do,” Dooley said. “Because, if we’re worried about what they’re doing down at Alabama and we’re worried about what they’re doing at Florida, we’re not paying attention to what we’re doing.”

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