Dooley speaks March 17

The guy some view as Tennessee's version of Howard Hughes is scheduled to make a public appearance in eight days.

Derek Dooley, who has been something of a recluse since assuming the Vol football reins in mid-January, will meet the press March 17 to kick off the start of spring practice. He previously met the media Jan. 15 at his introductory news conference and Feb. 3 at his National Signing Day news conference.

Tennessee's players will be available for interviews from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. on the 17th. At 12:30 Dooley will take the podium for the third time as overseer of the program.

The Vols will hold their first practice of the Dooley era the following day, March 18, at 4 p.m. on Haslam Field. Tennessee also is scheduled to practice on March 20, 23, 25, 27 and 30, April 1, 6, 7, 8, 10, 13, 14 and 15. The annual UT Coaches Clinic is set for April 8-10 and the annual Orange & White Game is scheduled for 2 p.m. on April 17.

Dooley's low profile is in stark contrast to predecessor Lane Kiffin, whose bold and sometimes controversial comments made headlines and sound bites with dizzying regularity from the time he took the Vols reins on Dec. 1, 2008 until he left for USC on Jan. 12, 2010.

Kiffin was guilty of some verbal fumbles during his 14 months on The Hill but he also raised interest in the program to levels it hadn't approached in nearly a decade. He accomplished this by doing four things predecessor Phillip Fulmer did not - opening spring practice to the media, granting occasional access to freshman players, welcoming coverage of his summer camp and opening preseason drills to the media.

Fans were eager to read first-hand reports of spring practice from professional reporters - which quarterback threw the ball best, which blockers showed promise, etc. Fans were excited to read quotes from impact freshmen. Fans were so exhilarated by the in-depth coverage of Kiffin's summer camp that complaints from other SEC schools prompted the league office to ban reporters from future camps. Kiffin then opened his preseason camp to reporters, only closing the workouts the week he began putting in his game plan for the opener.

By granting liberal access to his practices, his assistants and his players, Kiffin gave Tennessee football fans a sense of kinship. The more they learned about the individual coaches and players, the more fans identified with them. The result was a team that proved to be enormously popular among its supporters, even in the midst of a 7-6 season.

That was then, of course, and this is now. Kiffin is gone and Dooley is calling the shots. How much access to the program the new coach will permit is a question still to be answered.

It's a safe bet that Dooley won't be as open as Kiffin. It's also a safe bet that Dooley won't be as restrictive as Alabama's Nick Saban, under whom he served a seven-year apprenticeship with the LSU Tigers and the Miami Dolphins. Odds are, the new Vol coach will fall somewhere in between the two extremes.

Regardless, we'll all find out March 17, when Tennessee's version of Howard Hughes makes his next public appearance.

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