You might say that after one season Derek Dooley has coaching at Tennessee down to a tee.
More accurately, down to ‘the T.’
In addition to the details involved with playing offense and defense, the Volunteers coach addressed larger program issues with players this offseason.
“I do believe that we lost our way a little bit in understanding what it means to play for Tennessee and what 'Power T' represents,” Dooley said Thursday at SEC Media Days. “So we have spent an inordinate amount of time educating our team, talking to our young players about what Tennessee stands for and what the standard is.
“There's a high standard of winning, there's a high expectation in how we represent the program. [Dallas Cowboys tight end] Jason Whitten was just in town the other day and he made the comment that ‘Power T' to him was a symbol of excellence. I think that summed it up.”
Dooley inherited a program in the midst of an NCAA investigation, one which has not ended, and faced with unprecedented public scrutiny in the wake of numerous off-the-field headlines.
UT has had just one 10-win season in the last six. And having gone 5-7 in its one season under Lane Kiffin (2009) and 6-7 in its first under Dooley (2010), it suffered losing records in consecutive seasons for the first time since 1910-11.
“With our tradition and with what we’ve been doing definitely … expectations [are] high,” running back Tauren Poole said. “We know what to expect. Everybody can expect for us, but it’s what we expect of ourselves and what the staff expects of us and we expect a lot of ourselves.
“We’re on the right track with our mentality. We’ve got to get our attitudes right and get ready to play some big-time football in a big-time league.”
In addition to the other issues, Tennessee has faced an unusual talent deficit. In voting by SEC coaches, the Volunteers had the fewest players (two) named to the preseason all-conference teams.
“The last two years … we signed everybody because we needed them immediately,” Dooley said.
He added that recruiting has been complicated by the NCAA investigation.
“This is our third recruiting class and we're still answering the questions,” he said.
Dooley said he understands the uncertainty and figures the best thing he can do is make certain the university’s most identifiable symbol conjures a singular image for all who see it.
“Coach Dooley is doing a phenomenal job bringing great recruits in and establishing what he wants: a program of character and integrity,” Poole said. “It’s just great to have him in the program. I’m excited to see what UT’s going to do.
“The first day he came in, he said he wanted to earn our trust. Right there, we knew what he stood for. He wanted to prove to us that he’s a reliable coach. He’s doing that and continues to do that. We trust him and the values he’s going to instill in the program.”