Photo by Adam Brimer/Knoxville News Sentinel Tennessee head coach Derek Dooley, center, shakes hands with Nancy Hall of Trenton, Tenn., in the Peyton Manning Locker Room Complex following a press conference at Neyland Stadium Friday, Jan. 15, 2010.
KNOXVILLE -- What started as a simple joke, a joke that brought an entire room to laughter, ended with the newest University of Tennessee head football coach receiving a standing ovation from the boosters in the back of the team's locker room.
And all Derek Dooley stated was a simple belief in the set of values carved into the core of most Southern people.
The new face of UT football comes with a Southern accent. The new era of UT football started with humility.
Dooley succeeds Lane Kiffin, whose brief tenure with the Volunteers started, centered around and concluded with more brashness than fans had seen in more than a century of existence.
Dooley didn't say, "I'm not going to be like Lane Kiffin." He just acted like he wouldn't, and that was enough to please a crowded room of people personally invested in the program.
"If you're looking for sound bites and other things from me that's going to attack other programs and disparage people, that's just not how I am," Dooley said. "I'm worried about Tennessee, I'm worried about what we need to do to get our program going, and I'm always going to keep my focus on that. When you're worrying about somebody else or what other people are doing, then you're not taking care of your own house.
"We've got plenty to be feeling good about in this program, and that's what we should keep our focus on."
So no, Dooley said, he's not going to smirk and snipe at his peers in the Southeastern Conference. He'd rather "try to whip their tails ... with class."
"I'm looking forward to being in this league, and I want you all to know I have a lot of respect for this league, and I have a lot of respect for the coaches in this league, and I'm always going to conduct myself in that manner," he said. "I think you can positive relationships with other coaches. I think you can show respect for other coaches, and still keep a competitive edge."
Many of Dooley's new players -- some of whom were brought to tears or anger and confusion earlier this week -- said they could handle that just fine.
"I just met that man 30 minutes ago, but that (speech) was class," middle linebacker and team captain Nick Reveiz said. "I feel a boost of confidence. I feel good about everything Coach Dooley has said and done tonight. I feel really comfortable with him.
"I can only speak for myself, obviously. But it's been a really tough week, and it still is, but I'm starting to feel better."
Offensive lineman Cody Pope expanded in a more emotional manner about the players' turbulent times in the past 15 months.
"Last year, it was a little more emotional in a sad way, because Coach Fulmer was like a father figure to a lot of guys, and a lot of guys came here for a staple like Phillip Fulmer," Pope said. "With Lane Kiffin, it was a little more hate with him leaving, because he said he wanted to be here, and he said he loved this place, and he just cut the string on us the first chance he had. And that hurt, and it felt like were dumped out of the blue or something.
"To be fair, a lot of the young guys on our team came to play for Coach Kiffin. And I feel for those guys -- really, I do. But I hope they can sit back and realize that a man like Coach Dooley ... sounds more like what Tennessee has always been.
"You can have swagger while having class, and that's exactly what I feel like we need right now."
But UT also has to win. No one had to mention that, because it was understood in the immediate aftermath of Fulmer's forced removal.
And there are legitimate questions regarding Dooley's credentials to get that done.
Dooley was raised by his father, legendary Georgia football coach and athletic director Vince Dooley. He spent seven years as an assistant to Nick Saban, one of college football's most successful coaches.
But on his own, Derek Dooley was 17-20 in three seasons as the head football coach at Louisiana Tech -- and 4-8 last season.
Those concerns were amplified by the lack of time UT men's athletic director Mike Hamilton had to research, identify and interview a pool of candidates. Hamilton had no idea until last Saturday that there was even a remote chance Kiffin would leave, and he didn't know it had happened until Tuesday afternoon.
"I'm not going to sell this program and what we are going to do in a sound bite; it's impossible," Dooley said. "But I can guarantee you that we are going to represent this program with integrity and class, and I am excited about what the future holds at Tennessee."
As for wins and losses, Dooley made no specific guarantees.
Like any Southern man, he quietly but confidently said he'd "rather just show you."
"I'm ready for this job," Dooley added. "I think that we're going to all be happy when it's all said and done.
That would please Hamilton -- who just made his second risky hire in 14 months -- had possibly hedged his job on Dooley showing himself well.
"He's been trained well to prepare for this moment," Hamilton said. "This is a great day for Tennessee football."
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