KNOXVILLE -- Derek Dooley walked into his usual news conference room right at noon Monday and took his usual seat at a table in front of the usual group of media.
A handful of the questions Tennessee's head football coach eventually answered certainly were unusual, though.
After multiple media outlets, including the Times Free Press, reported Sunday that he is not expected to return for his fourth season with the program, the Volunteers' coach dismissed those reports and said athletic director Dave Hart told him he had not yet reached a decision on his future.
Yet when asked if he believed he'd back as Tennessee's coach in 2013, Dooley admitted to some uncertainty.
"I'm worried about Vanderbilt, and I can't make that decision," Dooley said. "I can give you compelling arguments why I should, and there's plenty of compelling arguments why I shouldn't. It's not going to be your decision, it's not going to be a bunch of these sources' decision -- it's Dave and the chancellor [Jimmy Cheek], and it's their decision.
"I can't control what they think. We've had a lot of good dialogue. I think he's got a good handle of how I do things in our program, where we are and why we're not getting the results we want. You move on and live with it."
The day after Tennessee fell to 0-6 in the Southeastern Conference for the second consecutive season -- with Saturday's quadruple-overtime loss to league newcomer Missouri -- multiple sources told the Times Free Press that Dooley won't return next season, but with the Vols still needing wins against the Commodores in Nashville and against Kentucky in Knoxville the following Saturday, a timetable on an official announcement from the university remains unclear.
Dooley, who is 15-20 overall and 4-18 in the SEC with the Vols, said he met with Hart on Sunday but didn't ask if he'd be retained.
"I didn't ask him that, but I did ask him a lot of things," Dooley said. "We talked very frankly about it. He told me he had not made a decision, whether we go 6-6, despite what all the reports are.
"Either the sources are wrong or Dave wasn't being forthright with me, and I have no reason to think Dave's not being forthright. He's an honest man, he's always been honest with me and I've appreciated how he's handled everything about this. I really have."
Though he declined to divulge any details of it, Dooley said he addressed his team about his status before practice Monday.
"They're getting banged up on their phone the way my kids were getting banged up on their phone and the way my wife was getting banged up [on the phone]," he said. "Everybody said I was fired, and I didn't even know it. I'm sitting there working on Vandy, and I'd already talked to Dave.
"You've got to come home and address all that with your family, and you've got to address it in the morning with the team."
The players who met with the media after practice and before Dooley's news conference said it was business as usual, with the team cleaning up mistakes from Saturday's loss and turning its attention to Vanderbilt. Offensive tackles Ja'Wuan James and Antonio "Tiny" Richardson said Dooley's pre-practice message was nothing out of the ordinary. Other players declined to reveal any details.
"It's an inside thing," senior linebacker Herman Lathers said. "It's between us and the team, so I'm not going to really disclose that to the media. It's a family, and things stay inside.
"It's the same as all the past weeks. There's a lot of outside distractions, but it don't bother our team. We're a close-knit bunch, and we're staying together no matter what."
Throughout all the persistent distractions and outside chatter surrounding Dooley's future in the past, the players' message has remained the same: We're staying together.
"He talked to us and let us know that we need to focus on these next two games," James said. "There's a lot of negative outside, in the media and stuff like that, but we're just going to try to keep it in-house and win these next two games.
"It's pretty hard. Y'all ask us; our families ask us. I'm getting phone calls from parents and stuff like that, but I feel like we've done a pretty good job and we've shown we're more mature."
Dooley said the most difficult part of the situation was dealing with his family "when they're seeing things are contrary to what their dad's telling them." The 44-year-old father of three acknowledged it as part of the coaching profession.
He also noted what he called the irony of his players handling the situation "better than anybody" with no visible signs of negativity.
"In the offseason that's what we our emphasis on, was just staying together as a team," said Richardson, a sophomore. "That's what we've done really well through all the adversity. We've stayed together, and that's what we're going to continue to do.
"We're just going to do what we've got to do, and I think that Coach does a good job not bringing that outside stuff inside of our circle."
Contact Patrick Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org or 901-581-7288. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/patrickbrowntfp.