KNOXVILLE — Change continues for Tennessee's football program, this time in an area coach Derek Dooley created himself.
Andre Lott, a former Volunteers defensive back, is out as the coordinator of the Vol for Life program, which Dooley established to focus on players' growth outside of football.
"He's not working for us now, but he's still part of the family," Dooley said Thursday during the Vols' pre-camp news conference. "He's a letterman, he's one of us and he always will be. I think it's a great opportunity to reshape it a little bit.
"We started this thing two years ago from scratch; I did. You go in and you have some ideas of how we can really reshape it and make it better. Andre did a lot of good things and I think it's made a big impact in a lot of our players, but I also think we can move it to kind of another direction and another level."
The VFL program has become a selling point in Dooley's recruiting. It focuses on six areas: decision-making skills, personal finance, career placement, spiritual growth, community outreach and NFL preparation. Lott was tabbed to head it n June 2010.
The Memphis native played at UT from 1997 to 2001, was a team captain on the 2001 team and played six seasons with three NFL teams. Lott was at the dedication ceremony for the football team's completed Habitat for Humanity house on July 21.
Details on Dooley's decision to go in another direction are sparse, but the coach appears to be in no hurry to hire Lott's replacement with the Vols starting practice today.
"It's not a situation where we've got to have one tomorrow," he said.
Phillips official Vol
Defensive lineman Omari Phillips is officially a Vol. The 6-foot-6, 325-pounder will wear No. 50 for UT after clearing admissions this week. The Venice, Fla., native is a late addition to the 2012 signing class.
Phillips signed with Florida in February but was denied admission there despite being cleared by the NCAA. Once he was back on the market, the Vols pounced. Phillips visited Western Kentucky and UT last month, sent scholarship papers to Knoxville and waited for clearance.
"We had some guys on the staff that had a relationship," Dooley said. "We just went through the process like we do with anybody of that nature and brought him up on a visit, and we did our diligence. The process has gotten us to here.
"Really not any different than we do every other player -- just did it in a different time of year than what you normally do."
For the second consecutive year, UT's entire signing class is eligible as the Vols begin camp.
"It's more important now than over because you can't oversign," Dooley said, "but, hey, it wouldn't happen if those guys didn't put in a lot of work to finish strong, and they all did."
'Backer moving on
Linebacker Nigel Mitchell-Thornton will forgo his senior season after receiving his degree in marketing in just three years. Mitchell-Thornton enrolled early in 2009 and played in 17 games as a reserve linebacker and special-teams ace. He made the SEC's academic honor roll in 2010.
"He's retiring, on to the business world," Dooley said. "[We're] supporting Nigel, proud for him. He'll be a great employee for somebody."
Dooley said Alton "Pig" Howard is "progressing great" nearly three weeks after foot surgery. The freshman receiver turned heads with his speed and agility during summer workouts. The 5-foot-8, 185-pounder is still on crutches and remains about a month from action.
Linebacker Christian Harris is recovering "at a rapid pace" from his ACL injury suffered in the spring, Dooley said. The redshirt freshman had a shot at providing depth at inside linebacker and on UT's special-teams units. His timetable remains more uncertain.
UT has moved on regarding quarterback Tyler Bray being linked to two recent car-vandalism incidents at a Knoxville apartment complex, and the Knoxville police have done so as well. Bray offered to pay for damages for one victim, and the second has chosen not to pursue the issue. Bray and his roommate allegedly were throwing beer bottles and golf balls off their balcony.
"The management of the apartments is going to pay for [the second victim's] car to be fixed," KPD public information officer Darrell DeBusk told the Knoxville News-Sentinel.
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 ...