First he paid homage to the past — specifically former Vol head man Phillip Fulmer, who was confirmed for first-ballot induction into the Football Foundation Hall of Fame earlier in the day.
"Well deserved," Dooley said in a private meeting with media prior to his Caravan appearance. "Any time you get in that quick (three years) after you've been out of coaching, that ought to tell you what kind of job he did. Well deserved. I know all the Tennessee fans are proud for him. It's the highest honor you can get as a player and a coach, so kudos to him."
Oddly enough, Dooley telephoned Fulmer one day before the Hall of Fame selection was made public.
"He probably thought I was calling to congratulate him but I didn't know the news," Dooley said, "so I'm going to reach back out to him."
The current Vol coach said he and Fulmer "stay in touch," adding: "He's the first person I called when I got the job. I have a lot of respect for him."
Fulmer's 152-52 record was built largely with out-of-state signees, and Tennessee still must recruit nationally. Because seven first-year assistants are trying to build relationships with prospects who were being courted by other Vol aides a year ago, Tennessee's current recruiting effort could suffer. Dooley sees no sign of that happening, however.
"I haven't seen that at all," he said. "In fact, I think we're further along from a relationship standpoint, from an offer standpoint, from a communications standpoint than we've been since I got here."
Basically, Dooley's recruiting pitch emphasizes the school and the program, rather than the individual recruiter. As a result, the longer Tennessee has to sell the pluses of the school and the program, the better its chances of landing a prospect.
"It just takes time. It takes time to get settled into an area," Dooley said. "I feel like we're on the right course, as far as building the relationships, knowing who the prospects are, identifying 'em and getting 'em on campus."
After playing catch-up on the recruiting trail for two years, the Vol coach believes Tennessee finally is where it needs to be. He now knows where the top prospects are and he knows who they are. That has enabled his seven new aides to hit the ground running.
"We had a database (of prospects) and a resource they could draw on," Dooley said. "I didn't have that when I got here, so we had to start from scratch. (This time) we had everything laid out for 'em, so it was just pick up the sheets and go."
The last thing Tennessee's head coach wants is for the Vols to lose a prospect to another school because it loses an assistant to another school.
|Wide receiver signee Cordarrelle Patterson has Big Orange Country rumbling with excitement.|
"We've been very careful to try to build a Tennessee recruiting office that allows us to manage the prospects, the database and the information, no matter who comes and goes on the coaching staff."
Tri-Cities fans who came to hear Dooley's sense of humor during his public comments weren't disappointed. Because Tennessee ranked dead last in SEC rushing at 90.1 yards per game last fall, he noted that many fans he has met along the Caravan route have offered the same advice:
"Everywhere I go they say, 'You've got to run the ball. You've got to run the ball,'" the coach noted.
With strong-armed quarterback Tyler Bray and all-star wideouts Justin Hunter and Da' Rick Rogers returning, however, Tennessee's passing attack boasts mind-boggling potential. Thus, Dooley noted that many folks want Tennessee to throw the ball every down.
"Well ... which one is it?" the coach said, feigning exasperation.
When the laughter subsided, the coach drew a hearty ovation by noting: "We're going to do both. You cannot be one-dimensional — not today — and expect to compete for championships."
The impending arrival of heralded Junior College All-America receiver Cordarrelle Patterson makes Tennessee's passing attack even more imposing. He might be the most celebrated signee of the Dooley era.
"Everybody's excited about CP," the coach said. "I asked why everybody's talking about CP, and was told, 'He looks like a linebacker and runs a 10.3 (hundred meters).' I said, 'OK ... OK.'"
Dooley drew another big laugh when he opened the floor for questions. The first one concerned the Vols' well-chronicled struggles in the kicking game.
After an exaggerated double-take, Dooley replied: "I'm hoping we don't have to kick."