New Tennessee football coach Derek Dooley visited with Volunteers fans on the Big Orange Caravan stop Thursday at The Chattanoogan hotel.
Before meeting with the fans, Dooley spoke with the media about his experiences over the past few months and his expectations for his first season at UT.
Q: Did you have anything like the Big Orange Caravan when you were at Louisiana Tech?
A: "Not this big, but we did start a spring tour. It was something that had never done before, and it generated a lot of enthusiasm. But, you know, this is a great opportunity to get out and connect with the fans, which I haven't been able to do. When I took the job, of course we had a lot going and I've been busy. But once spring practice ended, it was the first time I was able to catch my breath and feel like I have a good handle on the team. I feel like the program is forging ahead, so here I am and it's been exciting. We've had a lot of great turnout everywhere we've been. It's good to finally connect with the fans."
Q: What's the one question you get asked the most?
A: "The Tennessee fans have been great. I think everyone wants to know a little bit about who I am and what I believe and what's the state of the program. I hope I'm calming them and reassuring them that it's getting built on a solid foundation and we've got a great future ahead."
Q: How important is the state of Georgia to Tennessee recruiting?
A: "It's amazing the amount of Tennessee fans in Georgia, but it's a critical area. Ever since Tennessee has been good and every year they've been good, they've always had a lot of good football players from the state of Georgia. So it's going to be important to us. It always is, and we have five coaches in that area recruiting. So we'll be down there a lot."
Q: How much are you going to rely on your freshmen next season?
A: "Naturally with the attrition that we've had and the fact that we've had three head coaches (in a year and a half), you're going to have some change; you're going to have some depth issues. So we may be calling on our freshmen to help us more than we'd like to. They're going to have to grow up fast. We've even had about seven midyear guys come in, and they did a great job for us. We have a lot of good young talent, and I'm excited to go work with them."
Q: Any new word on Aaron Douglas or Bryce Brown?
A: "No new news. Everyone wants to keep bringing that up, but it's really no different than when we met a couple of months ago."
Q: What have you learned about coaching from your dad (former Georgia coach Vince Dooley)?
A: "Where do you begin? Most of what I learned from him is just watching him. I hung around him as one of those 'gym rats' as a child, watching how he conducted his business and how he dealt with people, how he coached his football team. Not a lot of 'Sit down and let me teach you, son' but a whole lot of observation, and I think that probably means more than anything."
Q: Talk about your relationship with Alabama coach Nick Saban.
A: "I have a lot of respect for him. I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for the opportunity he gave me, and we do have a good relationship. I think that makes it healthy given the rivalry of Tennessee and Alabama. It's no different than two best buddies going out in the back yard playing basketball. Nothing's more competitive than those things, and it's going to be competitive next fall. But afterwards we'll still maintain our friendship and respect for each other."
Q: What's the difference in the SEC now compared to a few years ago?
A: "That's a good question. A lot of the faces have changed, but there's still a tremendous amount of good talent. There's some great coaching, and the fans are no different. They're just as passionate and have high expectations everywhere you go. So not a lot's changed, but the faces have changed quite a bit."
Q: How well do you expect the Vols to do next season?
A: "I'm never going to really predict wins or losses. What I'm most concerned about is how we compete, and with some of the intangible values of how we compete -- the toughness we play with, the discipline, the effort. I think if we do those things, then winning will be a good byproduct, and I think we'll win enough that our fans will enjoy watching us play."
Q: Are you counting down the days to the season opener on Sept. 4?
A: "I don't want to know, because I get sick to my stomach. We have this countdown to kickoff in the weight room, and I try not to look at it because we have so much we have to do and so little time. So I just try to wake up and see what we have to do today to get better; if we do that, we'll be ready next fall."
Q: What do you expect of the freshmen coming into the program this fall?
A: "We think we have a great class, and I hope they'll provide a good foundation of leadership and some good abilities to forge a new era in Tennessee football. I think we started that this year, and I"m expecting them to come in and do their best to contribute. And I know they're going to be great players. It's just a question of how quickly."
Q: What's your biggest goals for the summer?
A: "We sat down with every one of our players individually and outlined some individual goals. Certainly we want them to get bigger, faster, stronger. We want them to invest a lot of voluntary time into learning our systems and getting to know our systems better. But I think it's also important that we continue to develop the team chemistry that's so critical in the fall. So summer's important; it's an important time. The hardest part about is our coaches can't be out there with them."