Character counts

First-year Tennessee football coach Derek Dooley has spent his first four months on the job developing the offense, defense and special teams. Just as important, he believes, is developing character - an issue he discussed during an exclusive interview with earlier today.

Three Vol football players were arrested in the wee hours of the morning last November in connection with an attempted armed robbery outside a campus-area convenience store. The reputation of the football program - already a bit soiled from some incidents in previous years - took a terrible hit due to the national publicity generated by the 2009 incident. A few days later the Vols suffered a 42-17 beat-down at the hands of Ole Miss.

One of Dooley's first directives upon taking the Vol reins last January was the establishment of a character-development program. His goal is to produce well-rounded athletes who can contribute to society, as well as to a football team. So far, the players seem to be embracing the program.

"We're still implementing it," Dooley said. "The players have been very receptive to the culture we're trying to create. I think they want that. I KNOW they want that.

"I think they're as disappointed as anybody out there in how some people perceive our program. They want to change it, and we WILL change it. It'll take time, and there will still be bumps along the way."

Former UT head man John Majors used to say that "It's easier to recruit character than to build it." Dooley agrees but believes Tennessee needs to instill it in players who don't arrive with it.

"It's going to take recruiting and it's going to take educating and it's going to take discipline - all of those things," he said. "But, at the end of the day, I think people will say, 'You know what? They're running a first-class operation over there.'"

Obviously, strong character can fortify a team by helping it overcome adversity such as key injuries, bad breaks, heart-breaking losses, etc. Likewise, weak character can destroy a team in an assortment of ways.

"I think so much of the things that happen off the field become a very distracting element to a team ... and a very distracting element to a player," Dooley said. "If you can eliminate those distractions it will allow the team to develop more chemistry, stay focused on the job at hand.

"You have a better chance to win when you have less distracting elements that are interfering. I think all of those things that happen off the field indirectly contribute to what your team's performance is week to week."

(EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the first of several articles to be taken from the interview James Bryant and I did with Derek Dooley this afternoon.)

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