Faced with the task of bolstering one of the SEC's thinnest rosters, Dooley ignored boom-or-bust football prospects ... guys who might become first-round draft picks but also might leave the program within a year. So, while Alabama, Auburn, Georgia, Florida and LSU were piling up verbal commitments from 5-star and 4-star recruits, Dooley was quietly assembling a bunch of 3-stars who will be the cornerstone of Tennessee's football future.
With a National Signing Day haul of 27 prospects - 18 of them 3-stars, nine of them 4-stars - Dooley admitted that his investment strategy was ultra-cautious. He couldn't afford to sign players who might fail to qualify or flunk out. He couldn't afford to sign players who might get expelled due to character issues. He couldn't afford to sign players with superior potential but inferior production.
Conceding that his approach was all about "minimizing risk," the coach added: "With where our program is - with the numbers we were working off of this year - it was extremely important that we bring in a group of guys without a lot of risk of them leaving."
Basically, the coach says he analyzes five factors when assessing a prospect.
"We look at size and speed; we have standards at every position," he said. "We look at their position specifics, which is the skill set their position requires. We look at what I call critical factors - the intangibles of toughness, effort, discipline and passion for the game. We look at their academic makeup and we look at their character as people."
Acknowledging that every prospect is deficient in one or more areas, he said, "It's no different than investing your money. When you build a class you're investing in people. It's important that we minimize the amount of risk."
Dooley is convinced that he and his staffers accomplished this with the 27 players who comprise their 2011 signing class. Here's why:
They're loyal. Not one of the players who publicly committed to Tennessee reneged in favor of another school. According to Dooley, not one of them even wavered.
They're academically accountable. As a group the 27 signees average 3.0 (of a possible 4.0) in core classes and average a 20 score on the ACT.
They're dependable. Given 12 months to assess their character, Dooley believes most of his 2011 signees will persevere through whatever difficulties they might encounter.
"I know we're charged with winning games," he said, "but getting guys to stay through the course is just as important.... It was very important to me that four years from now we can say there's a whole bunch of guys who made great contributions to the program."