KNOXVILLE — A year full of firsts for new University of Tennessee football coach Derek Dooley will include his first Southeastern Conference media days appearance this week in Hoover, Ala.
Dooley will face dozens of questions Friday morning, when administrators will escort him through room after room of newspaper, television, radio and Internet journalists.
Here are five of the biggest questions Dooley probably will face:
1. Any update on the recent bar brawl?
Freshman wide receiver Da’Rick Rogers (disorderly conduct, resisting arrest) and sophomore safety Darren Myles Jr. (public intoxication, disorderly conduct, resisting arrest, evading arrest) are the only two players charged so far in connection with the early-morning July 9 incident that sent two people to the hospital, but Dooley suspended sophomore defenders Greg King and Marlon Walls indefinitely in addition to dismissing Myles.
Dooley has doled out internal punishments to other players involved and has said he may do more after receiving final police reports. Court dates for Rogers and Myles were pushed back Monday to Sept. 14 and Aug. 12.
2. How have players adjusted to their third coach in three years?
Some players on some teams don’t adjust well to new coaching regimes. Multiply that problem by two, and you’ve got the Volunteers’ current situation.
Some players recruited by Phillip Fulmer thrived under Kiffin, but some left the program. Some stuck it out under Kiffin and will feel more comfortable under Dooley, but some players recruited by Kiffin won’t mesh well with Dooley.
3. Who will be your quarterback?
In a normal year, UT heading to SEC media days without an established starting quarterback would be a big deal. Recent issues have pushed this topic slightly to the background, but Dooley still should expect reporters’ interest in the competition between junior college quarterback Matt Simms and freshman Tyler Bray.
Simms was the apparent front-runner for much of spring practice, especially after Nick Stephens left the program, but Dooley never made an official announcement. Simms didn’t hurt his cause with a solid summer in the strength and conditioning program, and he’s been a popular figure in the locker room since arriving in January. Simms also performed very well at the recent Manning Passing Academy, standing out despite sharing the stage with many of college football’s best quarterbacks.
But Bray’s talent and performance in spring’s Orange and White game can’t be ignored.
4. Is it possible to replace an entire offensive line and be competitive?
Few teams are forced to replace an entire front five, yet that’s the predicament inherited by Dooley and offensive line coach Harry Hiestand.
UT doesn’t lack talent up front, especially at tackle with sophomore Dallas Thomas and freshman Ja’Wuan James, but the Vols are extremely young. Only senior guard Jarrod Shaw has SEC experience, and he was replaced in the starting lineup early last season.
The defensively-dominant SEC rarely is an easy place for one or two unproven offensive linemen, much less five.
5. What are reasonable expectations for your first season?
Dooley has steered clear of answering this question with a specific number of wins, and he’ll surely do the same Friday. He probably will respond much like this answer he gave the Times Free Press in May:
“Number one, I hope that we play with the kind of intangibles that our fan base wants us to play with. And that’s playing with great toughness and effort and competitive spirit and discipline; that we go out there and because of how we play — our team spirit and competitive drive — that we’re a fun team to watch. And then with that, that we show improvement every day and every week that they’re here. If we do those two things, then we’re going to get where our fans are going to feel proud about what we did, and proud that we were Volunteers.
“I think we need to show continued improvement. And we have to this point. We did that this spring, and I hope we get into fall camp and we keep getting better, and then we get into our season and keep getting better. Now that doesn’t mean you lose them all early and win them all late. It’s not all outcome-based. It’s how we compete, all right, and are we showing improvements from where we don’t do things well? If you do those two things, then I think people feel good about your program.”