KNOXVILLE -- If you're not working or playing for the University of Tennessee football program these days, you're not going to get much time to speak to first-year coach Derek Dooley.
That includes you, mom.
"The problem with Derek right now is he is trying hard to focus on his staff, his team, on spring practice," Barbara Dooley said Wednesday morning. "Once he gets his ducks in a row, he will absolutely open his arms to you guys (in the media). But for now, let me tell you, he's cut me off, too. We used to talk about three days a week. Now we're down to one, which is really ticking me off.
"But I'm being patient."
UT fans and media have been asked to do the same thing.
Photo by Michael Patrick/Knoxville News Sentinel Tennessee head coach Derek Dooley during a press conference Wednesday, Mar. 17, 2010 .
The Volunteers start spring practice this afternoon at Haslam Field, and Derek Dooley will speak after every workout.
Before and after that, though, good luck spotting him on your television.
"You can get too much of a coach," Dooley said. "There's been nothing to report. There's been no news. I think people get sick of reading and hearing it, because ultimately, I'm going to keep on saying the same stuff. What else is there to talk about?
"Now, it's news. We're starting spring practice. So let's talk about it. But after spring, what do we have to talk about? There will be nothing going on. They'll be working out.
"That's just my style. I'm here to represent the program, not just get in front of the media and talk."
Even the coach agrees there is plenty to discuss at the moment, though. UT is entering its third era in three years, thanks to a third head coaching change. The Volunteers have new systems on offense, defense and special teams. Most of last season's best players are gone. Many of this team's best players are limited or out of spring practice with health or personal issues.
There are more questions than anything.
"I'm sure many of you will have questions," Dooley told a large room full of reporters inside Neyland Stadium. "But I don't many answers, because you can only evaluate so much while watching guys jump over bags.
"We'll have a good feel for our personnel coming out of spring."
But the Vols won't have a quarterback at that point. Dooley insisted he won't name a starter at that position until well after next month's Orange and White game.
Dooley said his first spring will offer a fresh start for any player who wants one, but a close examination of last season's game film gave him an early foundation on which to build.
"Is it an open slate with everybody starting over, In some ways," he said. "But we're not going to look at a guy who was productive last year and say, 'You've got to prove it to us.' We've got 12 games where they proved it to us.
"Certainly guys that had some significant production the last year are going to have some early opportunity. But there's not much of that around here."
Indeed, there's not much. UT lost its four most productive defensive players, and three projected starters -- linebackers Nick Reveiz and Savion Frazier (ACLs) and cornerback Art Evans (shoulder) -- will miss most or all of the spring.
The Vols also lost nearly their entire starting offensive line. And the only returning starter up front -- freshman All-America left tackle Aaron Douglas -- will miss at least the first few practices while sorting out what Dooley called "personal issues."
"I don't anticipate it being anything long term, but it is personal, and one thing we're always going to do as coaches and with our program is support our players," the coach added. "Nothing is more important than their personal growth and their personal life."
Depth in several crucial spots is a noticeable concern.
"Long term, I'm not. But short term, I'm very concerned," Dooley said. "I do think that over the course of a couple of recruiting years, we'll start getting a lot of stability, and I think the players will enjoy being a part of the program. But we do have some short-term concerns that really can't get fixed. We're extremely thin in a lot of areas.
"We've got a lot of inexperience in a lot of areas, but that's only going to get fixed in time."
For the time being, though, the Vols have what they have. But their new coach still plans to put them through an intensely physical month of full-contact football.
Most drills will feature Vols hitting each other full speed but not taking ball-carriers to the ground, but only because Dooley thinks that typically improves a team's fundamental tackling techniques.
"I don't think it's good practice to alter everything in fear of injury," Dooley said. "Then you've got everybody healthy, but they're not tough and they can't play. I don't know what's worse -- if you get shellacked (from attrition) or you don't have the right people. They both stink.
"We're going to be physical. That's the only way to play this game."
That's the only way Dooley wants his Vols to play the game, anyway.
"We've got to start developing our brand of how we compete and how we play," he said. "We shouldn't ever lose sight of that. I'm talking not just schematically, but from an intangibles standpoint -- what kind of competitive spirit we practice and play with, what's our discipline level, what's our toughness level, what's our effort level.
"Ultimately, we want to be a team that's enjoyable to watch for the fans."
Other contacts Wes Rucker are www.twitter.com/wesrucker www.facebook.com/tfpvolsbeat.
Twitter - @wesrucker Facebook - /tfpvolsbeat