Tennessee Vols saddened but not really surprised

Tennessee Vols saddened but not really surprised

November 20th, 2012 by Patrick Brown in Sports - College

Tennessee coach Derek Dooley walks off the field after his team's loss to Vanderbilt.

Photo by Patrick Smith/Times Free Press.

KNOXVILLE -- Tiny Richardson expected the call would come.

Late Sunday morning after he and his Tennessee teammates returned to Knoxville following an embarrassing 41-18 loss at Vanderbilt the previous night, they learned in a team meeting that Derek Dooley was out as their head coach and would not be on the sidelines for Saturday's season finale against Kentucky.

"They said we weren't having meetings, and then they called a meeting at 11 a.m. and we had just gotten back at 3," Richardson recalled after the Volunteers returned to practice Monday morning.

"We pretty much knew what it was about," the sophomore left tackle said. "Like I said, Coach Dooley, he's done a lot for me, helping me develop as a person and as a player. I really appreciate him, but it is a business, it is what it is and we've just got to move on."

Tennessee began that process Monday with Jim Chaney serving as the interim coach after Dooley declined the option to direct the team Saturday against the Wildcats. After a handful of players spoke to the media, the personable offensive coordinator met with reporters for 10 minutes and admitted he's unsure of the Vols' mental state.

"I think they're shook up a little bit right now," he said. "They'll bounce back, and they'll come around. I think they're shell-shocked a little bit right now, like any team would be.

"I saw the growth in them a little bit today from their eyes. The way they looked early to the way they walked off the field was different. Time will heal, and it just takes time."

After the blowout loss to the Commodores assured the Vols of a third consecutive losing season, kept them winless in SEC play and knocked them out of a bowl game, most Tennessee players knew what would happen Sunday, though it still surprised some.

"I was just kind of shocked it happened so soon," tailback Marlin Lane said. "I thought they'd wait till after the season if they were going to do it. It just put more on us, a lot of frustration, but at the same time we're going to fight through it and finish the season."

Said right tackle Ja'Wuan James: "We just know we weren't performing well, and we just didn't get the job done. It was a long bus ride, and we were all kind of worried about what would happen. I give Coach Dooley a lot of respect for coming to talk to us and letting us know."

At his news conference early Sunday afternoon, Tennessee athletic director Dave Hart related some details of the meeting he and Dooley had with the players. After Dooley spoke to the team, Hart reminded the players to finish the semester strong academically to avoid a repeat of last fall, when the Vols' cumulative grade point average neared a 2.0. Hart called it a "tough meeting" but added that a high percentage of players attended on short notice.

"Derek addressed them first and did a great job, spoke from his heart [and] said the right things," Hart said. "More than the right things, he said meaningful things. It's a good group of young men."

Linebacker Jacques Smith said there were "a lot of mixed emotions" from the team at the meeting.

"It wasn't a big surprise," said the former Ooltewah High School standout. "When you lose to Vandy, I guess that's the repercussion of it.

"Dooley's a great guy. He's put this program to where we need to be to be in a path for success. It just didn't happen this year. I believe if he had another year, he could have made it happen, but that's just my opinion.

"Some guys are going to miss him. Some guys just know it's part of the business. That's just how it is."

Dooley was emotional in his locker-room address after Saturday's humiliating loss, and Sunday's meeting followed a similar script.

"You could see the emotion in his face," Richardson said. "He did a good job holding stuff together, but you could see the emotion on his face and you could see the emotion in other people's faces, too. Coaches, players -- it was an emotional moment.

"But Coach Chaney, he's taken over now and he's done a a really good job of telling us that 'Guys, adversity is going to hit you, and you've just got to move on.'"

Lane said Monday's practice was pretty usual, and James said Chaney reminded the Vols simply to play "the game you loved when you were 12 [and] don't worry about all the distractions." Richardson believes those distractions "took a toll" on the Vols and contributed to the bottom falling out Saturday night in Nashville.

"I think that we have a mature group," Chaney said. "I'm hoping, looking for that maturity and that leadership, and what Coach Dooley's tried to teach this team all along is about forging forward and working hard with great intangibles. I think throughout the season this team has played hard, and I hope they can continue that one more game."

Contact Patrick Brown at pbrown@timesfreepress.com or 901-581-7288. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/patrickbrowntfp.