Dooley wins press conference

The 2010 opener is eight months away but Derek Dooley already posted his first victory as Tennessee's head coach. He won his introductory press conference.

Mixing down-home humor with some solid football insights, the new Vol boss rallied from a slow start to exhibit why athletics director Mike Hamilton considered him the best man for the job.

Obviously, winning a press conference is not nearly so tough as winning games. Dave Clawson charmed the socks off the media and fans when he was introduced as offensive coordinator following the 2007 season, yet his one-year tenure proved to be an unmitigated disaster. And Lane Kiffin became an instant golden boy at his introductory news conference in December of 2008 only to be viewed as a slick-tongued traitor 13 months later.

Still, it's important to make a strong first impression, and Dooley succeeded on that score Friday night ... eventually.

Fresh from a modest 17-20 record at Louisiana Tech, the new coach seemed a bit tentative in his opening remarks, resulting in a few awkward pauses. When he returned to the microphone following some comments by Hamilton, however, Dooley cracked a joke that seemed to break the tension and jump-start his confidence:

"I am glad," he deadpanned, "to finally be in a state where (his son) Peyton will be well received."

Dooley gained momentum by making clear that he does not view UT as a stepping stone to the head coaching position at Georgia, the school where his famous father (Vince) coached for 25 years. Dooley scored major brownie points by noting that "I've never been more excited about the future - for my family and for a program and for livin' - than I am right now."

The new coach tactfully hinted that his staff may not feature high-profile assistants such as Monte Kiffin and Ed Orgeron.

"Every staff member can't be a headliner," he said. "A staff is a team. What I'm more concerned about is who wants to be here, who believes in how we're goin' to run our organization and how we're goin' to play offense, defense and special teams, what kind of team member they're goin' to be, how much they believe in this institution. And we're goin' to try to put the pieces together because puttin' the right pieces together is very important. Hopefully, at the end of the day, we'll have one heck of a team."

Reminded that his predecessor's abrupt departure had shattered the trust of many Tennessee players, Dooley conceded that winning back that trust is crucial.

"The first thing I told the team is that I'm never goin' to ask them to trust me," he said. "That's something that has to be earned, and it's only goin' to be earned in time."

Whereas Lane Kiffin had such a pronounced California persona that you almost wondered if he rode into Knoxville via surf board along the Tennessee River, Dooley is Southern through and through. He spoke of goin' places and doin' things - his drawl so pronounced that it nearly seemed exaggerated for effect. His choice of words had a distinctly Southern flavor, as well.

Conceding that the Vols are feeling down in the wake of the previous coach's departure, Dooley added: "Life is tough. You're goin' to get knocked down a bunch. The quicker you learn to dust your britches off and move forward, the quicker you're goin' to lead to happiness.

"I have a lot of confidence that the team is goin' to move forward because we (coaches) are goin' to move forward and not dwell on what happened."

Dooley's best line came when he was asked to assess the players he inherited - none of whom he has seen play. The wording of his response was absolute poetry:

"I don't want to form opinions with my ears."

Dooley won just four games at Louisiana Tech last fall, and he may not do appreciably better in his first year at Tennessee. He won his first press conference, though. It wasn't a 49-0 blowout, to be sure, but it was pretty good for an opener.


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