KNOXVILLE — Johnny Majors hasn’t often been seen inside Neyland Stadium the past few years.
He was noticeably uncomfortable with Phillip Fulmer, his former assistant who he always believed betrayed him to get Tennessee’s head coaching job.
Then Lane Kiffin stuck around only a year after replacing Fulmer last season.
But there was Majors on Saturday evening inside renovated Neyland, clad in a snappy plaid sport coat and orange golf shirt, ready to soak in Derek Dooley’s first game as Volunteers head coach.
“I’d gotten to know Derek during a couple of coaching clinics the last few years,” Majors said before the start of the Vols’ 50-0 victory over UT-Martin. “He’s a good man, a talented coach. I’ve had my eye on him for two or three years, and he’s a perfect fit for us.”
Orange was a perfect fit for Barbara Dooley on Saturday, even if Derek’s mom had to wait until she crossed the Georgia state line into Tennessee before slipping on the orange and white jacket she bought back home in Athens, Ga.
But that didn’t mean she was waving goodbye to her nerves upon entering the Volunteer State.
“I used to get physically sick before Georgia games when [husband] Vince was coaching,” Barbara said from the fifth floor of the Neyland Stadium press box.
“But this is harder than anything I’ve ever done in my life. This is tearing me up.”
And Barbara Dooley is a breast cancer survivor.
Not that it was much easier on Vince. First came the Vol Walk, where the ol’ Bulldog boss tried in vain to blend into the crowd by wearing a white open-collar shirt, blue blazer and khakis.
“I’m emphasizing white today,” said Vince, who did wear a Tennessee lapel pin in his blazer, signed a few autographs and posed for a few pictures. “I just know that this job is five to 10 times harder than when I started at Georgia.”
Though Dooley said earlier this summer that he would watch this year’s UT-Georgia game from his den rather than UGA’s Sanford Stadium, he might want to stay even farther away after Bulldogs backers learned of the lapel pen.
Within seven minutes of this newspaper’s Wes Rucker tweeting about the pin, he’d received at least 10 tweets from Georgia fans that mostly echoed Jason W.’s terse response: “Vince is wearing a T pin? He’s dead to me.”
Figuratively speaking, of course.
The real ill will was reserved for Kiffin, however.
As Vols fan Ronald James of Nashville said before kickoff when asked what he expected of Derek Dooley’s first season: “It doesn’t matter. Anything’s better than that guy we had last year.”
So a new era is officially under way. What it will ultimately bring remains a mystery.
But Vince Dooley believes any judgment of this season must also include reflection on the Vols’ recent past.
“The last three years,” he said, “haven’t been the best around here.”
Mark Wiedmer started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press on Valentine’s Day of 1983. At the time, he had to get an advance from his boss to buy a Valentine gift for his wife. Mark was hired as a graphic artist but quickly moved to sports, where he oversaw prep football for a time, won the “Pick’ em” box in 1985 and took over the UTC basketball beat the following year. By 1990, he was ...