KNOXVILLE — The black clouds exploding overhead, the rain coming down in sheets, his team leading highly ranked Oregon 6-0, Tennessee coach Derek Dooley did what most coaches would do during last year's lengthy rain delay in Neyland Stadium.
He treated it as if he had more time to prepare.
Coaches talked. Players listened. And listened. And listened. For close to 70 minutes, it turned out.
And when the delay ended and play resumed?
"We couldn't flip the switch back on," Volunteers senior linebacker Austin Johnson said Monday. "We were flat."
They certainly got flattened the rest of the way against the then-mighty Ducks, losing 48-13.
Now fast forward to last Saturday night in Neyland, the Vols' 2011 season about to begin against Montana. Black clouds again rolled in from the south -- lightning, wind and rain soon to follow. The Vols again headed to the dressing room, though this time locked in an 0-0 tie, since the game had not yet begun.
Painfully recalling Oregon, Dooley decided to take a different tact. Asked Monday what the Vols did during those 93 minutes between the time they headed to the locker room and the game began, the coach said, "Nothing. I felt it was important to get them to take their pads off, take their shoes off, relax. What I didn't want them to do was have them sitting there like this [shaking-, listening to music -- that's what they do before the game. You can't do that for two hours and then go play for three."
It wasn't exactly nothing. He actually screamed at them to relax, which sounds like the biggest contradiction this side of healthy tobacco.
"I'm yelling at them, 'Take your pads off! Take your shoes off and relax!'''Dooley recalled. "You have to make them relax; you have to scream at them to relax. And it's hard for them. 'We've got to play! We've got to play!' I said, 'It might be two hours.' When I told them that, you know, 'Man, that is a long time.'"
Ah, scream at them to relax. If this season becomes memorable, perhaps that should go on a Big Orange T-shirt. Or a Kenny Chesney song about his beloved Vols.
And it didn't stop there. By the time the players should have been heading back to the locker room for intermission, they still were waiting for the game to begin. By then more than five and a half hours had passed since pregame meal. Dooley ordered a few peanut butter sandwiches before the game, then a few more at halftime.
"It is a long time," he said. "You eat pregame meal four hours before a game -- that's a lot of hours without eating with the energy you're putting in. But it's that old saying, 'A hungry dog fights harder.' So you don't want to feed them too much."
Johnson ate a peanut butter sandwich before the game. Wide receiver Justin Hunter ate cookies and watched the Jack Black comedy "Year One."
Said Johnson afterward: "I tried to get on the Internet, but there wasn't any Internet in the locker room. I played a few games on my i-Phone. I just tried to rest."
Then the game began and the peanut butter sandwich began talking back. By halftime, Johnson decided to forgo any more peanut butter in favor of a ham sandwich.
"Half a sandwich, actually," Johnson said. "I didn't want to feel it in my stomach the second half, like I had the peanut butter."
Besides, as Dooley said, a hungry dog fights harder.
But what's important is Dooley's coaching. Having been burned by last year's rain delay, he did everything possible to avoid a repeat. This is not to say Montana is Oregon. The Vols might have beaten Montana if they'd forgotten to put their pads and shoes back on.
Still, the best coaches adapt to adversity. The best coaches learn from their mistakes.
Or as Johnson said in comparing last year's rain delay to this one, "This time we were ready. We flipped the switch back on and it stayed there."
Not that he wants to revisit that scenario again when Cincinnati rolls into Neyland for this Saturday's 3:30 kickoff.
Said Johnson with a smile: "I'm kind of hoping for a warm, sunny forecast."
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 ...