CLEVELAND, Tenn.—From the moment he entered the revolving door at Cleveland’s Museum Center at Five Points, University of Tennessee football coach Derek Dooley looked as comfortable greeting fans as he does pacing the sideline during a game.
Dooley clearly appreciated the chance to turn on the charm and put his wit on public display Friday evening while in town for the second annual Bradley Sunrise Rotary Sunset Gala. With about 260 attendees, the event was expected to raise around $50,000, and proceeds will benefit Bradley County’s disaster relief efforts after four tornadoes destroyed 285 homes in April.
Before he began bantering with the media on other subjects, Dooley addressed the reason for his first visit to Cleveland.
“It’s real hard when you see so much tragedy,” Dooley said. “You want to help everyone at once, but you can’t. This is a great cause. When you have tragedy like this, it starts with the local community. If everyone mobilizes in their own community, the world would be a better place. I’d rather do things like this because it helps others.
“My wife and I want to be integrated into the fabric of Knoxville, and that happens one event at a time. I had been to Nashville and Memphis but never been out and touched Tennessee like this. Doing things like this, you get a good taste of what Tennessee is all about and kind of understand the pulse of our fans, and that’s who we serve.”
The questions varied even more than the items he autographed. As he signed everything from 29 footballs to hats and books and a picture of event coordinator Margie Rodgers’ 11-month-old great-granddaughter, Dooley answered questions ranging from sophomore quarterback Tyler Bray’s weight to his feelings about last week’s meetings in Indianapolis between UT athletic department officials and the NCAA Committee on Infractions.
“When you see how one bad choice can affect so many, it puts things in perspective and is a reminder to me as a coach to oversee every part of the shop,” Dooley said. “You never want to do anything that could ultimately cost you to lose your job.”
When Dooley was asked whether Bray, the Vols’ rail-thin signal-caller, had put on any weight, he flashed a wry smile and quipped, “I don’t get a daily weight report on Tyler, but he is working hard.”
Dooley was reminded that his father and mother had been the guest speakers at the event last year, and when asked how it felt to follow his mother Barbara, who is known for her public-speaking humor, the UT coach again smiled widely.
“I feel like the starters already did their job here and now the second team, the scrubs, are coming in.”
As he spoke, Dooley was handed a football with the large black University of Georgia “G” and the autograph of his father, Bulldogs national champion coach Vince Dooley.
“Whoa, look at this,” Dooley joked as he rolled the ball in his hands. “Is there a ‘T’ anywhere on here?”
Dooley covered the white portion of the ball with giant letters “Go Vols!” then autographed it.
Stephen has covered local sports in the tri-state area for more than 23 years, having been with the Times Free Press since its inception, and has been an assistant sports editor since 2005. Stephen is among the most decorated writers in the TFP’s newsroom, winning numerous state, regional and national writing awards, including nine in the last two years. He was named one of the top 10 sports writers in the nation at the Associated ...