Dooley's A Summer Hit, But Fall Reviews Key
HOOVER, Ala. -- On pedigree, Derek Dooley is a can't-miss hire as head coach at Tennessee.
His dad, Vince, won 201 games and a national title at Georgia. His last stop as an assistant coach was a seven-year stint under the current deity of college football, Nick Saban.
But pedigree doesn't always translate to the playing field. There have been more misses than hits there for Dooley.
He is 17-20 as a head coach after three years at Louisiana Tech. And of those 17 victories, exactly one (over Fresno State in 2008) came against an FBS team that finished the season with a winning record. The rest of his victories at Tech largely came against the dregs of college football: Central Arkansas, New Mexico State (three times), Utah State (twice), Idaho (twice), San Jose State (three times), Mississippi State in Sylvester Croom's final season, Southeastern Louisiana, Northern Illinois, Hawaii and Nicholls State.
It's true that winning at Louisiana Tech has never been easy. Still, not much in that body of work inspires any certainty that Dooley is ready to take down Alabama, Florida, Oregon or any of the other dangerous opponents on Tennessee's 2010 schedule.
So at this point, Derek Dooley looks a lot like Lane Kiffin did. Which is to say, over-employed.
The great news in Knoxville is that Derek Dooley doesn't act at all like Lane Kiffin did. Which is to say, annoying.
Dooley demonstrated the upgrade Tennessee made in class at the podium here for SEC media days. He declined multiple opportunities to take shots at Kiffin, knowing full well that the media (and commissioner Mike Slive) will do it for him. He spoke frankly about the Volunteers' slide from relevance without disparaging any of the men who came before him -- most notably Phil Fulmer. He paid the proper respect to everyone who earned it. He displayed an appealing blend of humor, confidence, humility, grace, enthusiasm and wisdom.
Clearly, the guy was paying attention growing up in a college football family. And he's still paying attention to his elders now. After an adult life lived between the hedges, Vince Dooley has taken a keen interest in all things Rocky Top.
As Derek tells it: "The first couple of weeks on the job, he'd call me and he'd say, 'Do you know who so-and-so is?'
"I'd say, 'No, I don't know who that is.'
"'What do you mean you don't know who that is? He was all-conference in 1962.'
"I said, 'Dad, I don't even know who my defensive end is, give me a chance.'
"He's all-consumed Tennessee, but that's how he does things. He gets so into it. He's learning the geography of the state, the political history of the state, the great Civil War battles of the state, what's the motto of the state, the history of winning, all the coaches, the records. That's what he's doing.
"So he's a tremendous resource. His perspective has been very valuable, it really has. Certainly where I use him the most is when you have to make tough decisions, which you do all the time. We saw it this summer [when several Volunteers were involved in a bar brawl]. He was very valuable in his input. Like I said here, he was running an organization for 40 years as a leader, and very successful. He's a tremendous resource for me. That doesn't mean I go do what he says all the time, but it's certainly some valuable feedback that I get."
LSU's Jeffersonian Era A Work In Progress
HOOVER, Ala. -- LSU's Jordan Jefferson understands why there was much consternation among fans this spring about his hold on the starting quarterback position.
After all, the hope was that Jefferson would run away from the pack and make it his job. But when the spring game ended, there were more questions than answers.
"I look back and wonder what it would have been if I would have had a better spring game," said Jefferson, who was 7-of-20 for 84 yards. "But that's not something I can really focus on. I'm just ready to take what I didn't do in the spring and put into fall camp."
Jefferson's timing with his receivers was noticeably off in the spring game, giving the passing game that same pedestrian look it had for much of last season.
Part of the problem was that LSU was using just four receivers, and they were playing for both teams in the spring game.
But Jefferson is quick to admit that he wasn't nearly instinctive enough last year at any point. He played much of the season afraid to make a mistake, which equated to the Tigers' passing game going belly-up in key games.
Jefferson passed for 96 yards in the loss to Florida and only 114 yards in the loss to Alabama before leaving that game with an injury.
"I feel there were times I was afraid to throw a pick instead of taking a risk, and I needed to step up in the pocket," Jefferson said. "I lacked that last year. I kind of faded out of the pocket or tried to run. I just need to trust in my O-line, step up in the pocket and let the ball go.
"I'm going to focus on staying in the pocket this year and give my receivers a chance to shine."
Rebels With A Cause
HOOVER, Ala. -- A year ago at this time, Ole Miss was the preseason darling in the SEC.
The Rebels started the season ranked in the top 10 nationally and were being picked by many to play in their first SEC championship game.
As it turns out, they were out of the Western Division race by the time mid-October rolled around.
"I still say it was a good season. We won nine games and won the Cotton Bowl," senior defensive end Kentrell Lockett said.
There are no gaudy expectations this season. In fact, the Rebels were picked sixth by the media Friday in the Western Division after losing most of their offensive firepower from a year ago -- Dexter McCluster, Shay Hodge, John Jerry and Jevan Snead.
"Go ahead and count us out. We've still got a few guys who can play," senior defensive tackle Jerrell Powe said confidently.
And that starts with Powe, who might be the top interior defensive lineman in the league. He's a big reason the Rebels enter 2010 with one of the deepest and most talented defensive front sevens in the SEC.
It's just fine with Powe, too, if the defense has to carry a little extra weight until some of the younger guys on offense come into their own.
"It's like [defensive coordinator Tyrone Nix] always talks about," Powe said. "We only ask for three points. But, yes, I think we can definitely carry this team."
Savage Journey Back On Course
HOOVER, Ala. -- Someone asked the Auburn defensive back if he would be "the old Aairon Savage."
Three years have passed since Savage played college football. A knee injury ended his 2008 season in August. An Achilles tendon injury cost him last season. This is his sixth season of eligibility. He signed with Auburn in Feb. 2005, weeks after the Tigers had finished 13-0 and No. 2 in the nation.
Savage will be 24 years old in December. He is "the old Aairon Savage" by definition.
"I feel a lot better, a lot stronger, a lot bigger," the 5-foot-11, 200 pound Savage said. "How crazy would it be to sit on the sideline for two years and stay the same? That would be a waste."
Graduate? Savage already has his master's degree in biomechanics, not to mention the education he has received about Aairon Savage.
"I found out a lot about myself," Savage said. "Keep going. Came up with two injuries. Keep going, persevering, never give up."
He couldn't remember the last game he played. For the record, it was the 2007 Chick-fil-A Bowl against Clemson. He has thought about stepping on the field against Arkansas State on Sept. 4 for a long time.
"We're not going to get caught up in the hype," Savage said. "How selfish would that be? I've been hurt. I'm fine."
Growing Pains In Knoxville
HOOVER, Ala. -- Change has whipsawed its way through the Tennessee locker room for the second year in a row. It is universally recognized that three head coaches in three years is not a good thing. But what exactly does that mean to the players?
"You got a lot of young guys," senior tight end Luke Stocker said. "This is their first time away from home. Stability is something they need. Three head coaches [in three seasons] isn't a lot of stability. Now, hopefully, with Coach Dooley here, it's hopefully secure and stable."
Linebacker Nick Reveiz said the first reaction of the older guys when Kiffin left for USC was, "Not again." The second consecutive year of transition, he said, has served as glue for the Volunteers.
"We've, obviously, you know, had a lot of things happen to us in the past three years," Reveiz said. "It's just caused us to jell together as a team and say, 'You know what? The only people that aren't going to change are the players in the room.'"
That's a pretty hard edge to have obtained at a young age. The 2010 Vols have to grow up fast.
Miles Talks LSU, SEC
One Good Thing
Auburn: Several of the SEC coaches, including Alabama's Nick Saban, have gone after the unscrupulous agents who jeopardize players' eligibility by giving them cash and other impermissible gifts. Auburn's Gene Chizik was singing a little different tune Friday. "A lot of this has to go back on the young guy," Chizik said. "He's got to have an allegiance to his school, an allegiance to his teammates. He's got to have an allegiance to his football team and his coaches and his university. Hey, if they know right from wrong and they choose to do wrong, then they don't really have an allegiance to the people I just mentioned."
LSU: It's been more than a decade since LSU was picked as low as fourth in the SEC's Western Division race. The Tigers were picked fifth in 1999 at the SEC media days coming off a 4-7 season the year before. They went 3-8 in 1999, which wound up being Gerry DiNardo's final season and ushered in the Nick Saban era at LSU. "All it does is give us motivation to fix things," LSU cornerback Patrick Peterson said.
Ole Miss: Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen's refusal to say "Ole Miss" has certainly stirred things up in that state. Mullen refers to Ole Miss as the "school up north." Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt shrugged it off Friday, and so did Ole Miss senior defensive tackle Jerrell Powe. But Powe did offer a prediction. "It kind of gets to the fans, but we're definitely going to get that Egg Bowl trophy back up to North Mississippi," Powe said.
Tennessee: Even though running back Bryce Brown hasn't been a part of Tennessee's program for the last four or five months, there's been a borderline fascination among Vols' fans about his possible return. But Tennessee coach Derek Dooley said Friday he hasn't spoken to Brown, one of the top 2008 prospects in the country, and doesn't foresee a scenario where Brown would be back playing for the Vols. Dooley does expect to meet with Brown at some point next week and anticipates that Brown will ask for his release, probably to Kansas State. Dooley said the only reason the whole thing has dragged out this long is because Brown has yet to ask for a release. "I don't plan on him being on our team," Dooley said.
LSU: Patrick Peterson
Ole Miss: Jerrell Powe
Best Of Day 3
Best Quote: "Chris Walker and I were talking about how we had to Google him the first time I heard his name for the job," Tennessee linebacker Nick Reveiz said of his first-year coach, Derek Dooley. "We didn't know much about him. But as soon as I heard him speak, I knew he was the right guy for the job."
Best Confidence: LSU coach Les Miles almost sounded giddy about his Tigers. "I like my team. I like my team's attitude. I like us in every game, so I can't wait. The fall is here."
Best Urban Legend: Auburn offensive tackle Lee Ziemba was expecting to see a giant when the Tigers' 6-foot-6, 247-pound quarterback, Cameron Newton, showed up on campus this past January. "Some people were saying he was 7-foot tall," Ziemba joked.
Best Talker: Ole Miss senior defensive end Kentrell Lockett is plenty comfortable chatting it up with the media. Consider it on-the-job training. When he's done playing football, he plans on getting into sports broadcasting. Specifically, he's got his eyes on ESPN college football analyst Mark May's job.
Best Advice: LSU quarterback Jordan Jefferson attended the Manning Passing Academy earlier this month as a counselor and had a chance to sit down with both Archie and Peyton Manning. Some of the best advice he received from Peyton was getting to know his receivers better. "He said to make sure you understand your receivers, that every receiver is different and every receiver's style is different in the way they run their routes," Jefferson said. "I've been focusing on that the last few weeks and can tell a difference."
LSU: Kelvin Sheppard
Tracking SEC Media Days
Tennessee: Nick Reveiz
Auburn: Lee Ziemba