MARYVILLE, Tenn. — With spring-semester final exams ending today at the University of Tennessee, Derek Dooley will begin holding his breath a little bit.
After the Volunteers had a poor fall in the classroom, their coach is hoping the final tally reveals a bounce-back spring.
"It's final exams now, so it usually takes another week," Dooley said before Monday night's Big Orange Caravan stop at Maryville College just south of Knoxville. "There's several guys we're always concerned about every year going down the stretch. The reality is you lose one or two every year.
"Hopefully we won't, but that's kind of the nature of the beast and every team deals with it."
Few teams have had to deal with as poor a semester as the Vols did last fall. According to reports from UT's athletics board meeting the morning of the Orange and White Game, the team's grade-point average was 2.08. Knoxville radio station WNML reported the following week that 30 players, including 24 on scholarship, were on academic probation for making under a 2.0 and thus subject to dismissal if they couldn't pass that mark in spring.
The Vols' season on the field likely didn't help, especially the season-ending loss to Kentucky, and UT also underwent some transition at the Thornton Center, the main hub of academic assistance for student-athletes. Both offensive lineman JerQuari Schofield and defensive lineman Corey Miller missed the winter workout program and spring practice for academic reasons.
Dooley has been publicly optimistic his team will bounce back.
Once finals end today, the Vols will have some time off to relax before the summer program starts in June.
"We give them a couple of weeks off, and they need it," Dooley said. "We had eight weeks of offseason, four weeks of spring practice and then we worked them another good week and a half after spring, lifting pretty hard. They need a little time off before we kick and turn our attention to the summer program, which is a big, eight-week, pretty intense training regiment.
"Some of them will be in mini-session getting a little more schooling, and most of them will go home and relax and clear their minds and get ready for the summer."
Dooley will spend chunks of the next two weeks making the rounds on the caravan with athletic director Dave Hart, men's basketball coach Cuonzo Martin and new women's basketball coach Holly Warlick., starting tonight in Memphis and Wednesday in Murfreesboro. After stops in Johnson City, Jacksonville, Fla., and Atlanta, the annual spring tour ends in Chattanooga on May 23.
Hart and all the coaches will make every stop, which is a bit of a change from previous years.
"Dave has kind of come in and kind of put together what he wants as a department, and I think that's great," Dooley said. "It's a great lineup. It's a good agenda, so I'm all for it.
"It's always a good opportunity to get out here and get the message to the fans directly and show some appreciation for the incredible support they've given us the last couple of years."
What won't be a change, at least for the football Vols, is the structure of the summer program. After tweaking the focus in the winter following last season, Dooley said he'll much of the summer program the same. The focuses will continue to be team-building, chemistry, leadership training and value emphasis in addition to the rigorous physical routines.
Before then, though, Dooley hopes he gets some good news on his team's report cards.
"I'll give you guys an update when I know everything," he said. "I don't know any other way to do it. It takes a while for everything to be official."
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 ...