Dooley Facing an Uphill Challenge at UT

HOOVER, Ala. -- One thing new Tennessee coach Derek Dooley won't have trouble dealing with is high expectations in his first season. His first visit to SEC media days began with him learning the assembled press had predicted his squad to finish fifth in the Eastern Division, ahead of only Vanderbilt.

Even though the Volunteers are Dooley's squad now, it seemed he spent most of his time being asked about stuff that has nothing to do with the 2010 team.

Dooley was asked 26 total questions in the main press room. Six dealt with Dooley's parents, including the leadoff question about his mother. Variations on the Lane Kiffin theme - have you talked to him, do you agree with what he did, could you beat him in a fight, etc. - were also asked half a dozen times. When Dooley actually got the chance to talk about his team, he sounded some optimistic notes.

Matt Simms is currently considered Tennessee's starting quarterback. Dooley describes the junior college transfer as "very mature physically" and believes he has matured as a person too. Simms began his career at Louisville and transferred after a marijuana related issue. Dooley also likes freshman Tyler Bray's potential.

"It will be fun to watch both of their progress. I think both of them are extremely talented and have a great future."

What type of offense will Dooley have his quarterbacks trying to execute? He describes his approach as "a little bit of the traditional pro-style mode" and says he will build it around the Volunteers talent from year to year. This season the Vols appear deeper at receiver and tight end, although running back Tauren Poole reportedly looked terrific in the spring.

There's no question fixing Tennessee will be a multi-year task for Dooley. It's not known how much fallout there will be from the bar fight investigation that has already led to dismissals and suspensions, although he says none of his players have lied to him during the process which he considers encouraging.

"It's tough. It's challenging. There's a lot of things that can always pull your program off track. that's your job, to keep it moving in the right direction."

Dooley acknowledged that Tennessee has a limited in state recruiting talent pool compared to a school like Alabama that has had to rebuild recently. His approach is to stress that eight states have a shared border with Tennessee and plan to target players from a three to five hour radius of Knoxville as he looks for guys that fit their program.

There are still controversies for Dooley to deal with, including the still unresolved status of mega-hyped running back Bryce Brown, but he seems to be optimistic heading toward the start of the season. With Oregon and Florida waiting for him on weeks two and three, that will be sorely tested early.

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