KNOXVILLE - Between joking about watching movies on his iPad and asking reporters about time-passing methods of their own, Derek Dooley seemed intent on making the most of an awkward situation.
The NCAA required the second-year University of Tennessee football coach to attend last weekend's 11-hour Committee on Infractions hearing, though Dooley was not implicated in either of the two major charges against the Volunteers' football program.
Though he would have preferred spending the weekend of his 43rd birthday with his family in Knoxville, Dooley made sure he used the COI hearing as a learning experience.
"I made the comment that it wasn't something I wanted to do, [but] when I sat through it, there were a lot of lessons that I took from it," Dooley said late last week at the Bradley Sunrise Rotary Sunset Gala in Cleveland.
"I do think when you see how one bad choice or one bad decision can impact so many different lives, it resonates with you. I think it was also sort of a good reminder of how the landscape is changing. It really is - moving away and putting more and more responsibility on the head coach to really have command of the whole shop. It's challenging to be able to do that, but that's the landscape right now."
Dooley and new UT basketball coach Cuonzo Martin, whose attendance was also required by the NCAA, sat in on the entire hearing even though the two football infractions committed under former coach Lane Kiffin and the 10 violations charged against UT's basketball program, former basketball coach Bruce Pearl and his assistant coaches were addressed separately.
The lessons learned for Dooley were important enough that the meticulous former lawyer met with his coaching staff when he returned to Knoxville for a discussion on how to use the experience moving forward.
"I had a long meeting with the coaches and I wanted them to kind of get a feel for what I felt in Indianapolis," Dooley said. "They're the ones out in the field more than me. You're constantly trying to promote an atmosphere of compliance. You want to balance the - I don't want to use the word pressure - but you're pushing your coaches to perform and pushing them to get results in recruiting. But at the same time, you've got to make sure they understand it's never at the expense of the rules. That's just something you've got to constantly do."
UT briefed Dooley on the hearing, and the coach ran into Boise State athletic director Gene Bleymaier after the Broncos' 13-hour meeting with the COI the day before UT's hearing. That encounter and the duration of the ordinary meetings with his assistant coaches prepared Dooley for a long day.
Even with the tiresome length of the proceedings and his forced attendance, Dooley still made sure to take an important message back to Knoxville with him as a crucial reminder.
"I just think that everybody's got a line that they got to never cross," he said. "No matter what pressure you feel, it should never cause you to do something that would ultimately result in losing your job and [affecting] the program. I think it's no different than any pressure business people feel when you see a lot of stuff that goes on out there. I don't think it's any different pressure than any industry leaders feel because it's the nature of competition."
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