KNOXVILLE — Derek Dooley thought he was done answering questions about Tennessee's involvement with the NCAA.
A Monday night report by Yahoo! Sports changed that.
After Tuesday morning's practice, the Volunteers' second-year coach addressed the report alleging that Willie Mack Garza, the defensive backs coach under Lane Kiffin in 2009, paid $1,500 to Houston-based scout Willie Lyles for airfare for former five-star tailback Lache Seastrunk and his mother on an unofficial visit to Knoxville in June 2009.
"It's something that happened before I got here by a coach who's not on our staff involving a player who is not on our team," Dooley said. "There's nothing really I can say about it other than that."
UT's NCAA case ended a little more than a month ago, with the NCAA accepting the school's self-imposed penalties for the football and men's basketball programs and slapping UT with two years' probation.
NCAA investigators alleged two major violations against UT's football program during Kiffin's one season, but the Committee on Infractions ultimately found there was insufficient evidence to support them.
The school isn't subject to the NCAA's "repeat violator" label because the alleged incident with Garza, who followed Kiffin to Southern Cal but resigned right before this season because of unrelated personal reasons, happened before the probationary period began.
"All I can say on that is that the alleged incident, I had no knowledge of, or knowledge of a relationship at all," Kiffin said after Tuesday's practice, according to the Los Angeles Times. "I have always been committed, wherever we've been, to doing things the right way and cooperating with the NCAA, so that's all I've got on it."
Dooley said he faced questions from every recruit during UT's lengthy investigation. He's closed the chapter in his mind on UT's NCAA troubles, but the saga may not be complete.
"You never want anything to come out on your program that somebody might perceive as negative," he said. "But you know what? I can't changed what happened. All we can deal with is make sure everybody understands that this wasn't under our watch and it wasn't involving a coach on our staff and it doesn't involve a player that's been in our program.
"I'm hoping the NCAA is going to stay consistent with what they've done, which is 'Let's target the people that make these mistakes, not the programs.'"
'Grit' from Bray
Dooley had more praise for Tyler Bray's ongoing development, crediting the sophomore quarterback with continual improvement. The coach was impressed by how Bray handled "a horrible situation" in UT's loss at Florida, when the Vols lost star receiver Justin Hunter early in the game.
"He showed a lot of grit," Dooley said, "which I think is so important in any player. The environment was an environment he's never been in. What happened in the first quarter, it changed a lot of what he had been practicing, and that's where the grit came in.
"He sucked it up ... but he also made a couple of bad mistakes, and we've got to learn from it."
Bulls' Mack truck
Ask any UT offensive player, and "Number 46" is the name he'll give you for Buffalo linebacker Khalil Mack, who's made 31 tackles, nine for loss, three sacks, three forced fumbles and an interception in the Bulls' four games.
Mack has his own page in Buffalo's pregame notes package touting his candidacy for All-America honors and the Butkus Award, which is presented to the nation's top linebacker.
"Everybody here compares him to [UT end] Jacques Smith," right tackle Ja'Wuan James said. "Coach Dooley said he's a guy that's on the wrong team. He's the motor of the team."
'Get it fixed'
The Vols' run game fell to 112th nationally during their open date, and repairing it remains a priority, though Dooley said last week he wasn't "in desperation mode" about it.
"I'm not in desperation, but deep down inside you want to get it right. You have to," James said. "It's just one thing we worked on all summer, and we've got to go out there and get it fixed as the season goes along."
Buffalo is just eighth in the Mid-American Conference in stopping the run, but the Bulls held Connecticut to 80 yards on 42 carries (1.9 yards per carry) in a 17-3 loss last weekend.
"That'd help out a lot, where teams can't sit back in a zone or do like Florida did and blitz us the whole game and play man [coverage]," Bray said. "If we can get a running game, it should open up the passing game."
Reserve linebacker and special-teams mainstay Raiques Crump worked out on the side during the open portion of Tuesday morning's practice. ... UT is offering $10 tickets to Saturday's game for all 18-and-under students.
Patrick Brown has been the University of Tennessee beat writer since January 2011. A native of Memphis, Brown graduated from UT in May of 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism/Electronic Media and worked at the Knoxville News Sentinel for two years on the sports editorial staff and as a freelance contributor. If it’s the NBA, the NFL or SEC football and basketball, he’s probably reading about it or watching it on TV. Contact him ...