I haven’t been doing much posting recently, and for that I apologize, I am sure you all missed me. There have been several mumblings around Rocky Top, DeAnthony Arnett and Justin Wilcox are gone, and somebody will replace each of them. Who those people are remain to be seen. So let’s start 2012 off right with a batch of Dooleyisms.
On DeAnthony Arnett
Over the holidays, I got a message and a phone call from his brother. Of course, it was a little bit of a surprise. I had never met the father. Our typical response in these, as you guys know, is that we don’t release guys especially in their first year out of the NLI (National Letter of Intent) and certainly not to competitors. But we felt like at least the initial emotion of it, we should at least start the conversation by carving some exceptions to allow him to get home.
“I want you guys to know that the most important concern for me is the welfare of our student-athletes. That’s number one. I also have a responsibility to Tennessee, and so I needed some one-on-one dialogue with DeAnthony. These are big issues. They’re complex. They’re emotional. Like every issue that we deal with our players, it’s no different than a parent and a son trying to talk through and sort through the heart of the problem and help him make a good decision that’s the right decision for his future. Over the last five weeks or two weeks I guess, I’ve had some real good one-on-one conversation since all that hit out there on the social media.
“I’m very comfortable carving out an exception for him when he makes his request, which is not until today because our offices have been closed. That’s another reason there’s been a delay in releasing him where he wants to go close to home to get back to his father. There was a lot of confusion on what had happened there and that’s why I just wanted to clear that up. I’m really supportive of DeAnthony. He has a great future as a person and as a player. He’s been very mature through this thing during a tough time and an emotional time. Once we started the one-on-one dialogue, it’s been very comforting for both of us. I’m wishing him well there when that time comes.
This was getting pretty ugly. Twitter is a great source of info, but also a great source of consternation. I think overall releasing Arnett is the best thing to do. They are releasing him to Michigan or Michigan State, maybe we’ll see him in a bowl. (After this past year, that would be a good thing.)
On Coaching Changes
I was counting today, seven schools in the SEC alone are going through coordinator changes. That’s kind of the nature of our industry. I’ve said all along that when people are wanting your coaches, despite what a lot of people think, we’re obviously doing something right. All three of those guys (Eric Russell, Peter Sirmon and Justin Wilcox) came from the Pacific Northwest, so it was a chanced for them to get back home. I understand it and I really appreciate the work they gave us the last two years. They put their heart and soul in this program and the program is significantly better today than it was when we all came here 22 months ago. Those guys played a big part of it..There are a lot of different time periods when coaches leave. It happens right after the season when there’s movement. It happens around that New Year time when the bowls are over. With the NFL season ending, there’s another spike and then there’s another spike after signing day. The whole coaching movement, the profession is from December 1 until the end of February.
Translation: Man, it sucks that they left. Many people are nervous that Wilcox’s departure is indicative of a systemic problem in the program. (You could could put me half in that group last night). But like Dooley will say later, those aren’t simple decisions.
As you guys know, I really can’t talk specifically on recruiting, but I do want to address some of the challenges that all of our schools are facing in the SEC right now. As we all know, the months leading up to signing day, it’s really a journey for families. It’s a journey for schools to try to find the right fit where the school, the player and the families, this is going to stick. This is going to be a great fit. The most important thing for me in recruiting has always been honest and frequent communication with the recruit and the family. Nothing is more important than that…Number one is academic risk. In the past, when you get your mid-term grades here – which is a great indicator of whether a recruit can qualify or not – it was OK if he was a big risk because you could sign him and if he didn’t qualify, you could help him. You could help him go to a junior college. You could help him go maybe to another school and get him back to reach his dreams. You can’t do that anymore. When there’s a high academic risk at the mid-term, the communication has to be that the limits that have been placed on us prevent us from continuing to help. That’s unfortunate. It’s one of the reasons, of course, our coaches were so opposed to it…The second thing is trying to have continued dialogue on having the right fit. Again, if you find yourself in a position where you’re overloaded at a position because you’ve extended some offers, you could delay enrollment in the past. When you have 25 and you can’t go over, the delayed enrollment thing is kind of out of the picture there.
Recruiting is a funny animal isn’t it? He can’t say who he’s talking about, but we all know who he’s talking about. He has withdrawn offers from Imani Cross, Khalid Henderson, and Keithon Redding. They are all 3-star guys. Logic says you only do that if you have someone better coming in. He let Henderson and Redding go after he knew about Wilcox. This is a strange convoluted way to say that this quote actually made me feel a little better.
On when he’ll hire the new coaches
I wish that I could put a timeframe on it. It’s really complex, given you have to invest time in recruiting and some teams are still playing in the NFL. It’s really hard to say. Certainly, the quicker, the better. What we’re not going to do is try and compromise who we get to try and hurry it up…You start gathering information. Of course, it’s Tennessee. It’s unbelievable the amount of interest that coaches have wanting to come here. I think they understand that it’s a great time to come to Tennessee. It’s certainly a much better time than it was two years ago when we came to Tennessee, and all the coaches our there know that, especially on defense. We finished 28th in the country on defense, we have nine starters returning and we have a great mid-year signee to boot. That’s pretty appealing.
He knows his job depends on that hire. He’s going to try and get it right.
On Team Chemistry
I don’t think losing coaches really impacts team chemistry. I think the most important thing is how can we help them build team chemistry? Team chemistry, first of all, is them learning to play for each other, learning to play for Tennessee and learning to have a great trust with each other, with the coaching staff and with everybody in the organization. That takes work. I think anybody who is a part of any team, whether it’s in business, the military or sport, it’s always a challenge. We have a lot of things that we’re doing in the off-season to help that. We tinker with some things, but I think more than anything, it’s growth and maturity. That’s what it is. The more you invest in something, the more important it is to you. That’s just a fact. That’s why seniors are so much more passionate about the success of a team than freshmen. It’s just human nature, because they’ve invested four or five years in the program. The more you invest in something, the more it hurts you and the more important it is. It’s human nature. I think time is going to fix that more than anything.
It’s the secret of sports getting guys to buy in, it’s more important than X’s and O’s.
On what criteria he looks for in a defensive coordinator.
I’d hate to sit here and box myself in because when you start this dialogue, sometimes you think you know what you want but suddenly someone appears and you go, `Gosh, this is a pretty good hire right here.’ I have some ideas, but the most important one is what can help us win the most next year. That is going to be my focus from the beginning…You feel pressure every year in this league. It’s not just this league, guys. Akron who we play next year, Kansas and Memphis all parted ways with their coach after two seasons. If that doesn’t say, `Hey buddy, every year you are on the line.’ That is the way it is and that is part of the profession. What you can’t do is get so drawn in to that, that you lose your focus of what’s important. What’s important is what we are doing every day to help us go out there and play better next season. That is all we are focused on.
Translation: My butt is on the line if we don’t win soon.
On Jay Graham:
Jay has every quality you would want in a coach. He is certainly a great person, he cares about the student-athletes, he has done a remarkable job in his short career of coaching players, motivating them and getting them to play well, and then add to it what he has done at this place. It was pretty much a no-brainer for me. We are glad Jay is back to his family and he is going to have a big role for us moving forward.
On THE Factor
I think that the important thing is that number one Tennessee has not changed. All of the things that they really fell in love with when they got here and saw it, the program, how we are running the program, what we have done in the last 22 months, the new facility, the support, the game day excitement. None of that has changed. We have the resources and the attraction that is going to get some high-quality coaches. There is a tremendous amount of interest. Just stay patient. When we hire who we hire, you will have an opportunity to meet them because that is a factor, but it is certainly not `the’ factor. I’ve told recruits that all the time. That shouldn’t be `the’ factor. What I also tell them is that this is an early part of the bad part of our profession that you are going to have to deal with as a player for the rest of your career. If you go to the NFL and play eight years in the NFL, you might have eight position coaches and four head coaches, so the important thing is liking the program, liking the direction, liking the team because ultimately that is what is going to define their experience in college.
This is so important to remember for us as fans, and for college kids. It’s a cyclical sport, and the jobs are cyclical. You just have to control what you can.
On Disillusioned Fans:
Twenty-two months ago we walked into a tough situation and we have rolled up our sleeves and gone to work every day. Despite some of the hard bumps that you hit along the way, it doesn’t minimize the progress that has been made at the foundation-level, it doesn’t minimize what the roster looks like heading into next season and it doesn’t minimize the excitement that we have outside of this area in recruiting and elsewhere. Listen, I am excited and I am fired up. I don’t know what else to say. When you get drawn in to the drama, it is toxic. It really is. It is bad for the soul. When you love something, when you are talking publicly about it, you support it. Whether it is your family, your wife, your school, your program. When you love something, you support it. That doesn’t mean that you don’t have concerns about it, it doesn’t mean you don’t air out some things privately if things aren’t going the way you want it, you support it. We have one of the best fan bases in the country with a passion that is unmatched. I wouldn’t trade them for anybody. When you have some bumps along the way, there is going to be some passion the other way and that is great. It is healthy, but the most important thing is how you move forward and how you fix it. That is all I am focused on.
And right now, that’s what we should be focused on too.