The constant job rumors and fan distaste have become a distraction for a team that is desperate for more practices in order to get something moving in the right direction.
"It is a big distraction and the thing that coach Dooley preaches all the time is you have to be able to put it away," said defensive lineman Daniel Hood. "It is a great lesson for us because we are learning how to do things that a lot of people don't get to. Being able to put away distractions and still work."
And for Hood especially, the onslaught of Dooley criticism has been tough to swallow after his head coach helped him through a challenging summer that saw his mother pass suddenly.
|Speculation on the future of head coach Derek Dooley continues to swirl in Knoxville.|
"As a player it is hard to not take it personal when people are attacking your coach and things like that. It is hard to separate the Xs and Os from the person."
However, the Vols knew Sunday when the word didn't come down that Dooley would at least be here through the rest of the 2012 season, which is still very much alive.
"He is going to be here the rest of the season," said quarterback Tyler Bray Tuesday. "The team already kind of knew that. There was no team meeting after the game on Sunday. We knew that coach was here to stay and we are ready to get these last two for him."
Still lurking is the disappointment that came with a season-ending 10-7 loss to the Kentucky Wildcats in 2011 that kept the Vols out of the bowl picture and sparked what has become a raging firestorm of job speculation in Knoxville.
"Just like the Kentucky loss last year, we don't want to lose a game that we should win," wide receiver Justin Hunter said. "We are going to go in there and fight our tails off. We are just thinking about that game and trying to get a win to get to a bowl game."
With the losses mounting, players have begun to feel the weight that Dooley has been feeling for weeks after dropping one SEC game after another.
"I know a lot of people have," Hunter said of the pressure. "I can't say that I didn't. I felt it sometimes because we should have won a lot of games and fans are starting to get mad and a lot of things are starting to happen."
However, with pressures, losses and job security all weighing heavily, the goal remains — a win at Vanderbilt and a chance at the postseason.
"(A bowl) means a lot to us," Hood said. "It would give us more time to work because obviously we aren't where we need to be. That extra month will give us more time to develop our techniques and get better."
"Of course we only have two more chances to get bowl eligible and the first step is to beat (Vanderbilt). They are a good team this year too."
Watch as Dooley and select players addressed the media following Tuesday's practice at Haslam Field: