Things aren't exactly great in Knoxville right now. After Saturday's unexpected loss to UK and the abrupt end to the Volunteer's season, the rumor mill is in full effect. Coaching changes are imminent some believe, fans are calling for Dooley's head, while others speak of turmoil amongst the staff and players. It's very hard to decide which things are true or false. To be honest, no one would really be questioning anything if not for some interesting comments following the loss to Kentucky by some of the departing seniors. Tauren Poole, Austin Johnson, and Malik Jackson all mentioned some sort of maturity issues with the young players, some playing only for stats and not what's best for the team. There have also been comments made about Derek Dooley just "shrugging off" bad behavior by Da'Rick Rogers and possibly Tyler Bray.
This is what I want to address, because it leads right into the response to the title. If in fact Dooley did shrug off the poor attitude and insubordination towards coaches by Da'Rick, I don't think it is fair to blast Dooley for that. Since day 1 he has spoken of changing the culture of the program, branding, and making it a product that everyone involved with the university can be proud of on and off the field. At face value, to start the season, that was the case. There was no talk of players not liking each other or coaches arguing and not trusting each other. Everything was high hopes, high expectations, and lots of points. That all changed with some key injuries, and the team still hasn't recovered. Now with the latest "developments" regarding special treatment to key players, fans are in outrage that Dooley would allow such things. Outsiders think that he has lost control of his team, that the inmates are running the asylum so to speak. Some of that may be true, and some of it may be false. If it is true though, you can't blame Dooley for showing favoritism to certain athletes. It's true of every team, certain players just get treated differently. This is a special case though.
Dooley does not come across as a guy who is not in control. You can tell by his press conferences and by his mannerisms on the sidelines, not to mention his odd practice end times, that everything is calculated, meticulous, and planned. He is a disciple of Nick Saban. He was with Saban for many years. That in itself should tell you that Derek Dooley knows how to be in control of every task he is appointed. Right now, his appointed task is to rebuild the Tennessee football program. So why all the rumors? If they are true, why would he keep Da'Rick protected from teammates and allow the bad attitude of he and Bray to continue? Why would he kick Janzen Jackson off the team? It's simple really. His hands are tied. He tried to make an example of Jackson. Janzen was Tennessee's best player bar none. He gave him chance after chance and #15 just couldn't get it together. Dooley had to make a stand and he did, he was also able to do so because the Vols had signed 8 defensive backs in the 2011 class. Yes there would be a drop in talent, but there were players with lots of potential and hopes that they would develop. It worked. Brian Randolph will probably start at free safety next season.
In the case of Bray and Rogers though, Dooley had no choice but to keep his two best guys happy. Especially Da'Rick. See, when Bray went down against UGA, the only proven playmaker left on the offense was Da'Rick Rogers. Even with him dropping balls and failing to consistently get open, your team was better with him on the field. Much like they were better with Hunter on the field. Remember how the offense dipped when Hunter went down against Florida? Then again with Bray? Imagine not having those two and Dooley benching Rogers. Rogers was the offense when Hunter went down and continued to be the only reliable receiver even when there were qb issues after Tyler Bray's injury. Sure, true freshman DeAnthony Arnett stepped up a little bit and made some nice grabs on occasion, but he failed to show he was a go to receiver. The same goes for Vincent Dallas, and tight end Mychel Rivera. Zach Rogers was a drop waiting to happen, even on the rare occasion that he was open. It wasn't until Rajion Neal finally started to "get it" at wide receiver did UT have another threat in the receiver corp outside of Da'Rick.
What was Dooley supposed to do? Bench the best player on the team at that point? He couldn't and neither could anyone else. There just isn't the depth to absorb that blow. Bray knew going into the season that there was really nothing, outside of a serious off the field breaking of rules or injury, that would cause him to lose his starting spot. Same goes for Da'Rick. Especially when Hunter went down. Rogers was the guy. He and Bray were still looked upon to put up big points and lead the offense. Bray goes down and Rogers is all that is left of the talented trio. Derek Dooley said in fall camp that he was most worried about the receiver position. They lacked the depth there to the point that he moved two db's (Anthony Anderson and Naz Oliver) to the receiving position. He knew that if an injury to one of the stars would occur, the offense would be in trouble. It was built around the passing game with Hunter, Bray, and Rogers; and rightfully so. With nobody pushing those guys for playing time, it's easy to see why they would have the attitudes they supposedly have.
When you know that there isn't anyone going to take your spot, then you can get cocky and complacent. You develop a since of comfort and laziness because there isn't a reason to try all that hard. That may not be the case in 2012 though. But it all depends on how Dooley and his staff closes out this season in recruiting. We all thought that this past off season was the most important in terms of recruiting and player development, but if these rumors are true, then there is none more important than the class of 2012.
If they close strong and bring in the talent at the receiver and qb position that it appears they are going to get, then Rogers and Bray may have to think twice about acting up and slacking on the practice field. Dooley can make a change if he knows that change won't negatively affect the onfield product. This program needs to win games. Winning will prevent a meltdown. Winning on the recruiting trail will be the first step. The young guys like Arnett, Dallas, Neal, Worley, etc will all need to win in the spring. If they work hard and can start to push the "troublemakers" for playing time, you may see a more positive outcome. It's no lie that Bray and Rogers are insanely talented, and that UT is a better team with them on the field. But if the depth is their next season to where sitting them won't affect wins and losses, then don't be surprised if Dooley uses that tactic.
So the response to the statement is quite simply winning. For Dooley, that needs to start in February and continue to August. If those wins happen, this team could really make some noise in 2012. If he loses on the recruiting trail and the staff in unable to motivate and coach up the other players to the level this team needs them at, then 2012 will be another handcufffed year for the head coach, and one that could make for a very, very tumultuous offseason in 2013.
Just win baby - Al Davis