Derek Dooley is now settling into what we all hope is  a very long-term job. Initial signs were good. Within a few days, Tennessee hired a pretty well respected receivers coach in Charlie Baggett. Baggett’s list of coached receivers is more impressive than the heralded tailbacks coached by Eddie Gran. Get a load of this: Randy Moss, Chris Carter, Plaxico Burress, Mushin Muhammed, Andre Rison, and Derrick Mason. Come get some. Shortly after, four-star receiver Justin Hunter dropped his nearly six month commitment to LSU and switched to Tennessee. Rumors swirled about Rodney Garner, Kevin Steele,and Dick Bumpas all potentially joining the staff. Word came in that long-time Georgia commit De’rick Rogers was to visit along with Markeith Ambles. Lane Kiffin was all over TMZ with a few blondes (one of which may or may not have been Layla), a lot of booze and a wrecked Lexus (a Wrexus?). We were down, but the resolve in Knoxville was strong.

Just a few days later and things are drastically different. Markeith Ambles is visiting USC and probably will not step foot in Knoxville again before signing day (if ever). Tennessee was very publicly spurned by one of its own when Kevin Steele took his extra 200k and stayed at Clemson. Willie Mack Garza decides to sneak out in the middle of the night like a drunken frat boy who went home with the slump-buster. All of a sudden the sky is falling again.  Well, in my humble opinion, we were never going to assimilate a better, or even an equal staff to the one we lost. Gran and Wilson are both beast recruiters with lots of contacts and very defined areas of expertise (South Florida and Louisiana). James Cregg got rave reviews from everyone I heard talk about him, especially Aaron Douglas. And quite frankly, the work that he did with our offensive line this year is really pretty incredible.

We also were never going to salvage this recruiting class into the top 5 or 10 that it almost certainly would have been under Kiffin. We’ll never know if guys like Brandon Willis, Michael Taylor, or Ahmad Dixon would have worn Orange or if they would have been any good, but they’re all going to be rated higher than the guys Dooley brings in to replace them.  You can’t go through three almost entirely different staffs in less than two years, then lose your starting quarterback (Crompton), tailback (Hardesty), left tackle (Scott), best linebacker (McCoy), best defensive lineman (Williams), and a once in a decade talent in Berry and contend. No program could withstand that, but when that program has to pull the majority of their recruits from other states it just becomes that much more difficult.

However, the sky isn’t falling either. Coach Kiffin did a lot of things that hurt this school. Mckenzie and I would be the first to tell you, his statement that he left the university in better shape than when he found it is indicative of the kind of arrogance that fans hate. But he also brought in an influx of talent that the program desperately needed. Janzen Jackson, David Oku, Bryce Brown, Greg King, Eric Gordon, and Marsalous Teague combined with Tyler Bray, Matt Milton, JuJuan James, Corey Miller and the rest of this class gives Dooley the very luxury that Kiffin’s predecessor was so harshly criticized for denying him: a foundation of young talent.

Coach Dooley was asked at his press conference about potentially running a 3/4. His response was something to the effect of, “There’s a lot of different ways to win. 4/3, 3/4 or whatever you want to use. There’s a lot of different ways to win.” If there were ever a time in football where that was true, it is right now. Look at the NFL playoffs for example. The Jets run the ball and have four pro-bowl caliber offensive lineman to go along with an exceptional defense. The Saints have a high flying offense. I can’t name a single member of their offensive line but I can name six of their receivers. In college, Florida runs the spread option, Texas runs a passing spread, Bama pounds the ball. What you run isn’t nearly as important as who is running it and how talented they are. To take that to a bigger scale, there are a lot of different ways to run a succesful program too. You can succeed ala Miami in the early 2000’s or Southern Cal more recently and make no bones about the fact that the school is an NFL factory. Obviously this is style Kiffin tried to bring ot Knoxville, and as John Adams said, it’s not that it didn’t work, it just didn’t work long enough. Or you can succeed ala Alabama or Georgia and preach teamwork, discipline and (as Nick Saban loves to say) “process” and let the results take care of themselves. It’s very difficult, if not impossible, to do both. We found that out the hard way.

I’m cautiously excited about Dooley. I would feel better if we had a full staff here just before signing day, but under the circumstances Dooley can hardly be blamed. 17-20 in three years is down right unacceptable. But just as I told Fulmer supporters when we fired him just ten months removed from an SEC East Championship (whatever the hell that is) wins and losses don’t measure the entirety of what it means to be a coach. He does come from a strong pedigree, he says all the right things, and (maybe most importantly) he sounds southern as he does it. Right now I’m taking a big wait and see. But I do believe the foundation is there to be built upon and it is still great to be a Tennessee Vol.

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