One of my favorite press conference of the year is the Signing Day presser. It’s all positive, and I am a positive person. It’s the first time we get to hear Dooley talk about the kids we’ve read about for weeks or months. It’s Signing Day Dooleyisms!
On the class in general:
It’s like coach’s Christmas on signing day every year. I want to start by emphasizing how important the team effort it takes to have a good signing day is, mobilizing all the resources, starting with your coaching staff. I have to give a special kudos to Jim Chaney, Terry Joseph and Darin Hinshaw who are our three remaining coaches from the prior staff and just did an incredible job of rolling up their sleeves with the four of us and trying to keep it all together when we hit a tough December. “So kudos to them and of course to the support staff and administration that it takes from the video, the training room, equipment, academic center, VFL. All the things that when a kid comes on campus we sell, and the faculty and students for the time that they spent, the energy that they had when all these recruits were on campus. We couldn’t have gotten this kind of class today without a great team, so I appreciate all of that.
We lost some coaches obviously, but we kept three good recruiters. We also kept Dooley, who obviously knows how to recruit.
On Negative Recruiting:
I will say it was probably as tough a recruiting climate over the last 12 months as I’ve been through. I will always be honest with you guys. Starting with the spring, all the things that were going on departmentally and with the NCAA. I think we hit July with one commitment which is not what we want, but is what we had. And of course the season didn’t end the way we wanted it to end and every week was a change in coaching. We gave a lot of ammunition to our competitors and in this league, it is hard enough when you don’t give them ammunition and we gave them plenty. Certainly on the social media landscape, which I call the national barber shop, it was non-stop, a lot of haircuts being given.
“What was so important when all of this was happening, and this is what I told the staff, was to keep the main thing, the main thing. Keep your focus on what is real, keep your focus on the facts and not get lost in emotion, not get lost in fear and not get lost in negativity. When I say keeping the main thing the main thing, I’m talking about first the foundation that we had laid in the last 24 months. Our roster of young people that we brought in for two classes and have now are going to be more mature, they are going to be more seasoned, they have experience and we have more depth.
“Secondly, all of the support structures that we put around these guys to succeed. How we develop them as players, how we develop them as students, how we develop them as people. And then the third thing is just the state of the Tennessee brand. I don’t care what anybody says, this is a special place and still sells all over the country because of the great tradition, the fan base, the gameday experience, the atmosphere they feel when they come on campus. Those three things to me are the main things that we focus on. Our team, our support structures and Tennessee. All the guys kept their focus on that, all the recruiters kept their focus on that and that allowed us to get to where we are.
AKA: I hate you Bobby Petrino, you stole our best linebacker prospect. Also the national barbershop: What a great Analogy
On no offensive linemen:
I don’t think this will ever happen again, but what is more rare is that we brought in 11 offensive linemen over the last 24 months, which I don’t think anybody has done something like that. If you take that number and divide it by three, you have what you normally have, three or four guys a class. We felt that we were so young and deep on the offensive line, if there is ever a year where we could really focus on the skill positions to try to give us some depth so that when a guy gets hurt here and there we don’t just love everything, and that’s what we did.
Think of our freshmen offensive line class as: Mack Crowder, Alan Posey, and Kyler Kerbyson. There is already an offensive line commit for 2013 in Jackson Tennessee’s Austin Sanders.
On the coaching turnover:
It was challenging because when we were down to just a few coaches, we had to go and refocus our energy. The most important thing was getting to signing day. That’s what I kept telling everybody. We have to get to signing day. Having said that, we had to get some of the key players in, especially at defensive coordinator. I think bringing in Jay (Graham) as quick as we did was a real boost for us. We were able to mobilize him on all of the running backs. And then having a quick transition on the offensive line was a big help just for manpower. Sam (Pittman) didn’t really have any ties to our recruits, but it was just manpower. All l I asked our recruits to do was to be patient when it all hit. I’m going to tell you, it says a lot about their character and their commitment level to Tennessee, and the grit level they showed because they were getting barraged by some quality schools. They didn’t flinch, they stayed with it. We had a quick loss there at the end, but that didn’t have anything to do with coaching staff changes. I was really proud of that and I think it says a lot about the guys we got.
One thing about Dooley that I have always admired, is his ability to recruit high character guys. We all want to win, I am included, but he has had very few off the field issues. It’s nice to see.
On potentially low character guy Deion Bonner:
When I say bringing in high character, that doesn’t mean that I am never going to bring in guys that have made mistakes because I can tell you right now, I have made as many mistakes in my life as anybody. I’ll put my past record up against a lot of guys. Deion, we did a lot of diligence on the situation. Deion was incredibly truthful, was incredibly remorseful and I don’t know of a high school player that had to pay the piper more for what they did than what he had to go through. He had an absolute public disparagement, (losing) five games of his high school career and everybody stopped recruiting him. It was tough. It was incredible the maturity that he showed and I believe that he can come in and represent Tennessee the right way, learn from his mistakes and be a great example. Certainly it is not the norm, but we felt with the diligence that we did on him and of course, he is a good football player, let’s not deny that. At a key position, we felt willing to take the risk.
What a great answer.
On the SEC’s 25 player signing rule:
The 25 signing cap is a challenge and I can tell you that I am not alone in saying that. I’ll give you a great example. In the past when you hit mid-term and you knew a guy wasn’t going to qualify academically, you signed him and you helped him go to a junior college. You helped give him the hope that he could come back to a school like Tennessee. This year, when we hit December we did a real thorough analysis of what these academic risks were on a lot of these players and we had to part ways with a few guys for academic reasons and you get criticized for it. The fact of the matter is you have to make those kinds of decisions and you can’t help them. It was also tricky down the stretch because so many of these guys wait until signing day to make a decision. Normally in the past, you can get a few more commitments, oversign some of these guys at the end and it will work out. This year you really had to think twice about stretching too many NLI’s out there because it was going to be a three-for-one penalty. I think a lot of schools find themselves a little short than where we normally would be. Is it tricky? Year, but that’s the rule. I’m against it and I will continue to be against it because I don’t think the rule we had in placed hurt the young people. I think it helped them in a lot of ways. It helped them grayshirt and keep their opportunity, it helped them place in junior colleges and we are not able to do that anymore, but that is the rule.
Dooley can’t or won’t say it, but I’ll say it for him. If he had known he was going to lose Dalton Santos and Otha Peters, he would’ve kept Austell, GA linebacker Khalid Henderson. Instead, Henderson is Kentucky’s highest rated recruit.
On last year’s Kentucky game:
The game wasn’t ever talked about, but what’s written on the national barber shop creates a fear and paranoia that other schools love to highlight. What I try to do, of course, is anticipate what other schools are going to say, but it’s still out there. The social media has really changed so much in our game and so much in the recruiting process, it just presents a lot of challenges because you find yourself having to defend the absurdity. The best example was the national fact that I hired Randy Shannon as defensive coordinator. It was a fact. Some great, respected media outlets reported it, all from one tweet. I never talked to Randy, still haven’t. You end up having to defend things that are not only baseless, but there is absolutely nothing to it. You find yourself in a defensive posture a lot. Now we created a lot of it, so I’m not complaining about it. If we do our shop a little better, at the end of the year we don’t have a lot of that. It is just the nature of the beast. Here is what I do believe and this is what I have seen. The players who are diligent in their process, have a nice support structure with a mom, a dad, a coach, whoever it is, and they go through the process intelligently, that negative stuff doesn’t impact them. It doesn’t impact them and the guys that it does impact, maybe it’s best that they don’t come. I didn’t lose any sleep over it. It was just important to me to stay on the phone a lot and answer a lot of questions and that was fair. It’s part of it.
AKA: I hate you Bobby Petrino
On JUCO players:
I said this last year, we are not going to build this program on junior college players, and that is not a knock on junior college players. What we will do is every year try to sign a few to try to address a need. You hit it. We had a need on the defensive line. We are going to have it every year on the defensive line. What Darrington (Sentimore) brings is he has played in 12 games in the Southeastern Conference at a high level. He is unlike most junior college players. We actually watched his film at Alabama, so we know we are getting. I hope that is going to help him and him being here mid-year I hope will help him.
“Dan McCullers, of course, brings something that most people don’t have which is gargantuan size. He is really big. When you see him, he looks like two people. It’s like a circus act. What’s going on here? He is a big guy and those guys are hard to block. Now we don’t want him to get so big that he can’t move. That is going to be the challenge, but he brings size that we didn’t have.
“CP (Cordarrelle Patterson), you watch the film and whether you need him or not you are a fool not to recruit him because he has tremendous playmaking ability, size, speed and also brings return ability on kickoffs. We signed a lot of wideouts because we were lacking depth there and, of course, the other guys are getting up in years.
If these three players provide the impact that many people (including Dooley) think, UT is going to be in good shape for 2012. Patterson is 6’3″ 220, and very fast. I don’t think it’s an overstatement, that we have the best receiving corps in the country with them. Again on McCullers, when you watch the tape, he just collapses the middle of the O-line. Sentimore is a special player. Like Dooley said, they watched tape of him at ALABAMA. That’s a lot more reliable than high school footage.
On losing Santos and Peters:
Neither of them surprised us. The drama helps the viewership, I get it. We need that drama so we can drive the readers and turn it into a TV show. From the very beginning, even back in September, we knew those two guys, it was going to be tough to close them out because they were far away and never shut it down. They were always going to listen to other schools and go on trips. When that is happening experience tells you there is a good chance you aren’t going to get them at the end. What made it challenging for us was, because of that 25 rule, you couldn’t stockpile more at that position knowing you were going to lose them, because there was a chance you wouldn’t. It happening so late, that’s what makes it challenging. Had the 25 rule not been in place, we might have been able to hedge that bet a little bit better. But there still will be some possibilities to help us on that end
AKA: I hate you Bobby Petrino. On another note, Cincinnati linebacker commit Kenneth Bynum is visiting UT within the week. Dooley is hopeful he sticks.
On LaTroy Lewis:
LaTroy probably wasn’t a good a fit in our old scheme and he knew it. LaTroy was getting a little shaky in December and I told him I’m going to fix it. Be patient because you are going to fit in perfectly with what we are about to do. He was patient and he was great. It was good.
Lewis is from my area, and he missed much of this season with a broken foot. Another guy on his team is going to Nebraska and had more stars, but many people who watched them both think Lewis has the most up-side.
On Hot Sauce:
Take a guy like Danny O’Brien up there in Michigan. I don’t know if anybody got assaulted like he did every week. He is a far away guy, but I’m going to tell you, incredible character. I also believe that it is how you recruit these guys because we don’t sell a recruiting coach. It’s not about a recruiting coach. It’s not just about me. We sell Tennessee, we sell the program, we sell the team, we sell the university, we sell our structures and when you recruit it that way I believe you don’t have a lot of fall out. Now, when you recruit on hot sauce and emotion and chest bumping and I’m a great position coach, when things get disruptive, naturally it is going to go because it is built on sand. Our recruiting efforts, in my opinion, are built on rock. It is built on relationships and selling the right things that are going to impact their lives. When you do that you have very few (de-commitments). Last year we had zero. Now, what is the converse to that? Why doesn’t everybody do that? Well, you’re not going to get some guys because a lot of people like the chest bumping and the hot sauce in recruiting.
When I think of Hot Sauce and recruiting, I think of this guy:
On Anchorage Alaska, and having fun there:
That was number one with our team because nothing is more important than the guys they’re going to be playing with. I tell them, `You can be in Anchorage, Alaska and if you like the guys you’re around, you’re going to love it. You can be in the nicest house, the nicest stadium and if you don’t like the guys you’re around, you’re going to be miserable.
I could not agree more on this. I would meet my best friends in a wheat field in North Dakota, and enjoy myself. I’ve been stuck in New York by myself, and it wasn’t fun. Hot sauce gets people confused.
On recruiting great players:
I think nobody thought we would get CP (Cordarrelle Patterson) because of what we have coming back. You know what I’ve found? Great players don’t care who you have because they have confidence in their abilities. I tell our guys `We’re going to have great players every year. If you’re scared to come in and compete, you don’t need to be here. You need to go to some other school.’ I also say, `To be a great team, you need a lot of great players.’ I sell that to our team and they do a great job of recruiting because of that.
Do you think Justin Hunter and Da’Rick Rogers are worried about Patterson? Me neither.
On the wide receivers:
They all bring different skill sets. Wideouts come in all shapes and sizes. Some can do things others can’t. I’m not going to speculate what they’re going to look like next fall. You guys know how I am. I don’t try to build these guys up because I don’t know what they’re going to look like in the fall. I have to get them in here, develop them, coach them and see what they can do. We’ll see how they play when the lights come on, but we feel like we have a pretty quality class at that position.
Tanslation: Man, I think they’re good, but if I say it, and I’m wrong you guys will skewer me.
On LeDarrell McNeil
I was extremely nervous. You look at indicators because he took a visit to Oklahoma State. Are you nervous? Are you kidding me? I mean, yes. He comes back and he’s going to take another visit, but then he cancels it. When that happens, you get a little peace. But are you nervous? Yeah. You’re calling them 28 times before signing day. `Are you there? Is everything OK?’ `Yeah, coach. What?’ You don’t hear from them in two hours and you’re in a panic. He’s just at a movie. That’s the challenge of recruiting far away because the worst time of the recruiting period is when it goes dead – Sunday, Monday and Tuesday. You don’t know what’s going on, on the street…We liked everything about him. He has great character too. Do I think he has all the skill sets back there? Yeah, I do. He’s physical. He’s fast. He’s rangy. He’s big. We’ll see.
Translation: I think he’s gonna be great too, and I didn’t want to lose him to Mike Gundy. He’s a man, he’s over 40.
On the running backs:
I feel like we signed guys we think will be (dynamic). You watch the film. There are not many more out there that are more dynamic than what a couple of these guys are. Alden (Hill) was our first running back commitment. He brought size that I felt like we didn’t have coming back. We signed Q (Quenshaun Watson), who has some explosive qualities that not many guys have. He’s incredibly fast. He’s a 10.5 100-meter guy, state champion almost in track. He also brings return ability. We only had one returner last year and you all forget that. He (Devrin Young) went through a little period where he was getting hit around. You have to have a lot of guys at a lot of positions. He can do some things in the backfield when you get him the ball in space. Davante (Bourque), to me, is that all-purpose every-down (back). He’s big. He’s fast. He has great instincts. How all those three guys will help us, only time will tell. They’re all going to get a great opportunity to help us, as will the guys on our roster who are going to be more mature and more seasoned. We’ll see how it plays out.
All three of these guys won’t pan out, but hopefully one of them will. They definitely have varied styles. Best case scenario for Hill is Montee Ball. Best case for Watson is Darren Sproles, best case for Bourque is Montario Hardesty. I’d take any of them.
On the multi-year scholarship:
I don’t really have an opinion on that other than I’m against those. I think that will be more discussions in our head coaches meetings. I don’t know. We forget this is a contract, a two-way street. I think it’s humorous that the academic institution can give an academic scholarship and take it away when a student doesn’t perform at a certain GPA-level, but it’s absolutely the worst thing you can do as a coach – it’s so wrong what you do to these young people – when he doesn’t do what he’s supposed to do. I’m still trying to figure out what I’m missing. You have these contracts. It’s called quid quo pro. We give you this. You give us that. But if they don’t give us that and we decide not to give them this, then it’s the worst thing you can do. I’m still struggling to understand that issue. I’m not smart enough to figure it out. I have to spend more time on it before I give an opinion
I’ve never heard this point made. It’s not politically correct, but it is rational and logical. Will Muschamp offered four year deals. It’s an interesting situation. Nick Saban won’t be for sure.
On the 25-man rule part 2:
It’s hard because you want to be honest with them. You don’t want to misrepresent. You have to tell them, `Look, I can’t send you an NLI right now, but if another guy doesn’t come, I’ll send you one.’ `Boy, you really want me, don’t you coach?’ And these other schools are saying, `We want you. You’re our guy.’ So it’s hard…He doesn’t have to, but what would you tell your son to do? This is what makes it hard. You could sign guys and when you oversign them, you still give them the opportunity to come to Tennessee. I think that’s where a lot of the confusion happens. People think when you oversign, you just kick guys on the street and they can’t go to college. That’s not what’s happening. That’s not what’s real. What we’ve done is we’ve taken one or two rare exceptions, rare circumstances where it wasn’t managed properly and we’ve turned it into a national crisis. It’s what happens, you overreact. We had a good rule in place that was in place for one year.
AKA: I hate you Bobby Petrino. But I have to say, if it was my kid, I’d encourage him to the sure thing. But that’s just me.