KNOXVILLE - The summer months pass painfully for the college football world.
Players put the pads away and endure grueling workouts with their strength coaches, and fans count down the days to the start of the season in optimistic anticipation.
It's not easy for the coaches, either, especially meticulous, hands-on guys such as Derek Dooley, who would have it differently if they could.
"I would practice," the University of Tennessee's second-year coach said this past week. "[But] that's never going to happen. It's just a part of the job. You get used to it. You don't know any different because that's the way it's always been."
Per NCAA rules, coaches are prohibited from on-field interactions with their players during the months just before preseason camp starts in August, which forces them to rely on second-hand information about the players' progress.
"I understand the rule," Dooley said. "It just seems a little bit odd that we can't be around them other than socially for two months right before two-a-day [practices], but that's the way the rules are."
Dooley will get to watch his young Volunteers soon enough, however.
Southeastern Conference Media Days begin Wednesday at the Wynfrey Hotel in Hoover, Ala. UT's representation of Dooley, senior defensive lineman Malik Jackson, senior tailback Tauren Poole and junior offensive tackle Dallas Thomas are on the Thursday schedule along with Auburn from 11:50 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.
The Vols report for preseason camp on Aug. 1, begin practice the next day, put the pads on Aug. 14 and open the 2011 season against Montana in Knoxville on Sept. 3.
As many unknowns as there were for Dooley last year when he went to Media Days for the first time as UT's coach, there's still some degree of mystery with his second team. More than 70 percent of the Vols' roster will be sophomores and freshmen, and a handful of the 26 newcomers, who have yet to go through a college practice in full pads, are expected to contribute to Dooley's young bunch.
As eager as he is to see how ready those players are physically and mentally and how much progress his returning players have made since spring practice in April, Dooley certainly wishes he could have more direct contact with them during the early summer.
"I look at these high school guys and they practice every day all summer, and they develop," Dooley said. "The [high] schools and the states that put a real emphasis on developing guys during the summer, they are out there coaching them during seven-on-seven or coaching their linemen, and they get better. I think it's a positive thing.
"You can still put limits on hours. You do that anyway."
Dooley hasn't been totally out of the loop with his team by any stretch. He's repeatedly noted his strong relationship and the good communication he shares with Ron McKeefery, the Vols' first-year strength coach with a background with the United States Army's Special Forces.
McKeefery spends the most time with the Vols during the offseason workout program, making him the program's most important figure during the two months that are crucial to a team's success when the season arrives.
"I have a lot of trust in Coach Mac," Dooley said. "He's done a phenomenal job and he keeps me informed of the way things are going. If we need to sit down and visit with any of our players on any issues, then we do it right away."
And Dooley doesn't have to wait much longer to get his hands back on his team.