The head football coach of the Volunteers, Derek Dooley, set aside some time for a one-on-one interview with InsideTennessee.
Here's a look at a portion of that conversation:
InsideTennessee: After hearing you on the media circuit post spring practice, I've heard you make mention of how the program no longer has "anchors." Can you explain what or who you are referring to by those "anchors?"
Derek Dooley: What I said is we've had a lot of things that have weighed our program down over the last 4-5 years that made it challenging in the competitive market that we are in to have success. For example, we all know about the change in the head coaching staff, the three head coaches in three years. That's not something that is ideal. We've had a change in our reporting structure from from the presidential level to the chancellor level, which affects a whole internal dynamic. We've had a change at the chancellors level. We've had a change at the athletics director level. We've had an NCAA cloud that sort of hovered over the program for three years. Probably the biggest thing Danny is when you talk about anchors is the attrition that decimated our roster and sort of forced us to play 32 true freshmen the last two years.
Every school has challenges and every school has things that are not perfect. But, those were really heavy weights on a program when it happens. When you put them all together over a four-year period, it makes it challenging. So that's what I'm talking about.
The good news is that I feel like those are gone. The attrition that decimated our roster, we feel like after two years, we've gotten it back to where it is at a competitive level from an experience standpoint, from a maturity standpoint, from a depth standpoint. It doesn't mean it's where we need to be, but it means it is at a competitive level. And, we have a little stability now in our athletics department with (director of athletics) Dave (Hart) taking over. So, you feel like now you have kind of settled in and it's time to go forward.
IT: I can recall in my career as a writer and a photographer getting anonymous voice mails or emails at different times when a member of our readership disagreed with something I published. How do you as a human being, a husband and a father deal with the extreme expectations that come with being the head football coach at the University of Tennessee?
Dooley: It's a good question. I think the pressure is not the issue as much as the public scrutiny and the public criticism. It is so important to be disciplined and stay focused on the things that you can control, stay focused on the job that you are doing and what you are doing well and what you need to do a better job of and stay focused on the team. Is that something that is just easy? Of course not. Sometimes when you see things they say well does it bother you? And everybody goes, 'No, it doesn't bother me at all.' Well, it's not human nature really to say that criticism doesn't bother you. Of course it does. But, what is important is when you see or hear criticism that you analyze it constructively and you stay focused on: A. Do I agree with it? B. if I do then what am I going to do about it? C. If I don't, then stay focused on what we are doing. Because you just can't control what happens externally. That's probably, of all the changes that have happened in our profession over the last decade, it's the salaries that we are getting paid and the public forum that we are under every day.
IT: You've talked about how you want this year's defense to be more aggressive, come up with many more game-changing plays. Given how much youth there was on last year's team, was it even possible to play that fast with several freshmen on the field?
Dooley: I think that there's some philosophical beliefs that you have as a coordinator and as a head coach that you're going to do no matter what your personnel is. When I say that, it doesn't mean that we are going to just sit there and blitz every down and expose ourselves. So, I think that's where the confusion comes in. You can be multiple, you can be aggressive and you can play a little more deny-the-ball defense.
It also relates to situations because there's times in a game where it is important not to be aggressive, but there's also times where you've got to do something. It happened in several of our games last year — second half against LSU where they are running the quarterback runs, the Kentucky game where you know what they're doing and what do we have in our arsenal to take some chances? I felt like we didn't have enough in our arsenal to take chances when you need to take them in a game. When I say that, people say we are just going to be blitzing all the time and going crazy. That's not necessarily the case. Being multiple, flexible, so no matter what the situation in the game is, you have something that you can go to.
IT:With that Kentucky loss happening when it did and who it was against, was that the down point of your career?
Dooley:(laughter) I hope so. But, my career I hope is still in its early stages. Time will tell, Danny.