Dooley stays controversy-free at SEC media days
Derek Dooley is no Lane Kiffin.
The new Tennessee coach remained politically correct and controversy-free in his first address at Southeastern Conference media days. He talked of hanging out at the lake this summer with one-time boss, Alabama coach Nick Saban, and praised former Volunteers coaches Phillip Fulmer and Johnny Majors.
And five times in his 40 or so minutes in a packed hotel ballroom Friday with reporters, he fielded questions about his predecessor, Kiffin, who ruffled plenty of feathers in his lone season in Knoxville before taking over the Southern California program.
Welcome to the SEC, coach. Really.
''It feels good to be welcomed, but at the same time that's not gonna win you any football games,'' Dooley said. ''It's certainly not gonna help you stay at Tennessee.
''I think you can have a good professional relationship and a warm relationship with your competitors. I expect to do that with all the coaches in our league.''
But have any coaches thanked you for not being quite so brash and bold-talking as Kiffin? This Tennessee coach wasn't biting.
''How do you answer a question like that?'' Dooley said after a long pause. ''Y'all are just waiting for me to say something, I guess. Let's go on to the next one.''
He did, however, mention Kiffin by name. That was rarity.
SEC commissioner Mike Slive referred to Kiffin without mentioning his name, as did Florida coach Urban Meyer and South Carolina's Steve Spurrier.
Spurrier just called him ''the former Tennessee coach.''
Kiffin was a different coach, different personality.
''The swagger that we had last year (under Kiffin) was really fun,'' Vols defensive end Chris Walker said. ''Whatever your head coach does, you're going to back him up. That's what we did last year, and that's what we're going to do this year. Whatever coach Dooley says, we're going to back him up. But I have a feeling coach Dooley won't be saying anything'' controversial.
Dooley said he hasn't spoken with Kiffin, but that's ''just because I don't know him.''
''It's not anything more than that,'' Dooley said. ''I did reach out to coach Majors and I did reach out to coach Fulmer because I have just an incredible amount of respect for what they mean to the University of Tennessee.''
He has already dealt with a much publicized off-the-field issue, dismissing defensive back Darren Myles Jr. and suspending linebacker Greg King and defensive tackle Marlon Walls for a bar brawl involving at least six Tennessee players.
''I felt like it was important to make some swift decisions,'' Dooley said. ''It's certainly not the call you like to have. Anybody that's been a head football coach understands those things are going to happen. When it does happen, I think it's important to act quick.''
Dooley said he wants to improve Tennessee's image, and linebacker Nick Reveiz said the whole team is responsible when something like a brawl happens.
''We can't be doing that,'' Reveiz said. ''We know that we've embarrassed our university, our city and our state. It's not just on those guys. It's on us, too, as seniors and as leaders.
''The whole team has to bring each other in and grow closer and realize we're going to be a disciplined team and represent the university the way we should.''
Tight end Luke Stocker described the 42-year-old Dooley as having ''an old soul'' who's mature beyond his years.
It might have something to do with being the son of former Georgia coach Vince Dooley, viewed as gentleman when he roamed SEC sidelines.
And while the first question Friday had to do with a parent, it was about the Vols coach's mother, Barbara Dooley, and how she has charmed fans.
She walked into a ''Big Orange'' event in Atlanta in an orange boa.
''Everybody loves her because she subscribes to the theory speak first, think second - the exact opposite of my dad,'' Dooley said. ''Hopefully I try to take that little portion of my dad, think first, speak second.''