Lynn Rice knew the drill.
Rice, a 1968 University of Tennessee graduate who lives in Hixson, was at The Chattanoogan on Thursday night, poster in one hand and Sharpie in the other to get the signature of the Volunteers' first-year football coach.
"I was here last year for Lane Kiffin," Rice said at the Big Orange Caravan stop in Chattanooga. "I sure hope Derek Dooley stays longer."
Dooley was hired in January after Kiffin's shocking defection to Southern California. Dooley, a former lawyer and Louisiana Tech head coach, was hired to mend the program -- inside the locker room and within the fan base.
"I went with Lane to Cincinnati last year," said UT men's basketball associate head coach Tony Jones, who was on the tour with Lady Vols assistant coach Holly Warlick. "Obviously a lot has transpired in the last year.
"Coach Dooley may be more reserved, but this guy is the real deal."
Unlike his predecessor, who fired from the hip and the lip, Dooley was direct and respectful. There were no jabbing quips at opposing SEC coaches, nor does there figure to be in the future.
Staff Photo by Tim Barber/Chattanooga Times Free Press Alan Wolfe, right, watches as Lady Vols assistant Holly Warlick autographs a photo during the Big Orange Caravan event at The Chattanoogan on Thursday.
"He's a stand-up guy," said UT signee and former Calhoun (Ga.) High star receiver Da'Rick Rogers, who was at the tour stop with fellow UT signee and high school teammate Nash Nance. "He speaks with a wisdom that's hard to describe. He talks and you believe him, and that's why I wanted to play for him."
Rogers' last-minute switch from a long-standing commitment to Georgia helped Dooley salvage a respectable recruiting class despite the difficult circumstances. Rogers, the nation's No. 9-ranked player, said things were "pretty crazy in late February" after his decision, but he's ready to go now.
"I am impressed with all the young talent we have," Rogers said. "I felt like in the next two or three years we will be making a run for an SEC championship or a national championship."
The young Vols figure to get plenty of opportunities with a roster that had six players drafted last month and the departures of three projected starters: running back Bryce Brown, tackle Aaron Douglas and quarterback Nick Stephens.
"No new news," Dooley said of the three players who are transferring. "It's really no different than when we met a couple of months ago."
The past, though, was not paramount on Dooley's agenda Thursday.
He arrived late because of traffic and stayed later because of demand. He signed every autograph and shook every hand. Dooley grew up on football, and he knows winning games is the ultimate goal.
But that's for Saturdays in the fall. Thursday was about about winning the base and connecting with the Big Orange Nation.
"I guess it's 'Who are you?'" Dooley said when asked what's the most common question he's received during the caravan stops. "These fans have been great, and we want to calm them and reassure them that we are building a solid foundation."
The Big Orange CaravanStaff Photo by Tim Barber/Chattanooga Times Free Press Tennessee Volunteers head football coach Derek Dooley urges support from fans who attended the Big Orange Caravan dinner at The Chattanoogan on Thursday.
Jay was named the Sports Editor of the Times Free Press in 2003 and started with the newspaper in May 2002 as the Deputy Sports Editor. He was born and raised in Smyrna, Ga., and graduated from Auburn University before starting his newspaper career in 1997 with the Newnan (Ga.) Times Herald. Stops in Clayton and Henry counties in Georgia and two years as the Sports Editor of the Marietta (Ga.) Daily Journal preceded Jay’s ...