KNOXVILLE - In his five-year Tennessee career, Willie Bohannon has played for three head coaches and five different position coaches.
For the linebacker and the other seven players remaining from the Volunteers' 2008 signing class, playing for a coach surrounded by questions concerning his future and job security, as Tennessee is doing now with third-year coach Derek Dooley, is nothing new.
"I look at it, and I feel sorry for the younger guys who don't really know how these changes really affect them," Bohannon said after Tuesday morning's practice. "Being through it so many years and going through so many position coaches -- this is my fifth position coach -- nobody really knows how much it affects you as a player. All you've got to do is really stick through it, and that's probably something I need to tell the younger guys.
"A lot of the guys who've been through it, just tell them to keep playing hard no matter who's here."
Bohannon was a true freshman defensive end when long-time coach Phillip Fulmer's departure was announced before the end of the season. Multiple media outlets, including the Times Free Press, reported Sunday that Dooley is not expected to return for a fourth season as coach. At his usual Monday news conference, the coach admitted his future is uncertain but said athletic director Dave Hart told him Sunday that he'd not yet made a decision on whether he'd be retained.
Dooley also declined to go into detail regarding what he told his team before Monday morning's practice, but Bohannon described the address as "pretty emotional."
"You could imagine how it was," he said. "Who knows what's going to happen next year. I've been around all these coaches who have been out and in, and it's a pretty difficult situation.
"I feel really sorry for his family having to go through this, and I know he don't want us to really like think about him in this situation but think about winning these games. But it's kind of hard because I saw Coach Fulmer have to leave, and cried, and then all the assistant coaches who left and everything. It's a hard situation to be in."
Defensive lineman Daniel Hood, a fourth-year junior, said the outside chatter is a "big" distraction and took up for Dooley, who helped him cope with finding his mother after her boyfriend shot in her in a murder-suicide in June.
"I can't [speak] to it about X's and O's because the only thing I know is defensive line and offensive line, but I know as a person he's one of the best people that I've had around in my life," Hood said. "Probably the second-most important I've had in my life. This summer, going through things with my mom and things like that, I wouldn't be where I am today without someone like Coach Dooley.
"As a player, it's hard to not take it personal when people are attacking your coach. It's hard to separate the X's and O's from the actual person."
Tennessee still can reach a bowl game with wins against Vanderbilt in Nashville on Saturday night and Kentucky in Knoxville next Saturday afternoon.
"He's going to be here for the rest of the season," quarterback Tyler Bray said. "The team already kind of knew that. There was no team meeting after the game Sunday, so we knew Coach was here to stay.
"We're ready to get these last two for him."