Ron Higgins of the Memphis Commercial Appeal, has a fantastic article on GVX with several very insightful points that really put Lane Kiffin's exit and Derek Dooley's challenge into perspective. First, to put things into historical context, Kiffin leaving Tennessee after only one year marks the first time an SEC coach has done that to a school since the 1940s. Having done it so close to National Signing Day means that Dooley "has basically three weeks to hire a staff, evaluate what's on campus, keep the kids committed who have already committed and then go out and close what's left on the board."
But his biggest challenge? Convincing the current players to buy in yet again to yet another staff:
Perhaps Dooley's biggest challenge, according to Scott Kennedy, national recruiting director for Scout.com, is gaining the trust of returning players who were hurt by Kiffin's here-today, gone-tomorrow career decision.
"Dooley's biggest sale job right now is to a team full of jilted kids," Kennedy said. "There's got to be some mistrust there. It's like being a child in a divorce. Every time your mom or dad dates someone new, you don't want to get too close, because they might be gone. I always think it's more important what a coach is doing with the players that are already there."
That is a great, frightening point, especially when you consider the entire history of most of the players on our roster. They had the Kiffin Chimera in 2009, who burned the bridges behind the players and then up and left themselves. Most of them also had the Clawfense in 2008, which was excised immediately after the season. And before that was David Cutcliffe in 2007, who left his coordinator position at Tennessee to take the head position at Duke. Each of these staffs undoubtedly preached buy-in and trust and then went poof. What's Dooley supposed to say? Yeah, but I really, really mean it?
To make matters worse, our chief rivals are absolutely rolling. Urban Meyer's sudden retirement for major health concerns in December has turned into an "extended leave of absence" to a regular old "leave of absence" to "less travel." Alabama's coming off a National Championship, and Georgia's Mark Richt finally cut his defensive staff loose and still managed to retain Rodney Garner. Florida and Alabama currently have top three recruiting classes again for this year, and Georgia's in the top ten. Meanwhile, our guys have gone from temp to temp to temp, and we've struggled getting talent to come to and stay in Knoxville. Sure, we had a top ten class last year, but we struggled in 2008 (#35, Rivals), and the #3 class in 2007 has been decimated due to multiple players leaving for various reasons. Dooley's got only three weeks to put together this year's class, and he's already behind on next year's. Not to be too much of a downer, but I fear we're looking at a multi-year rebuilding project, Vol fans.
So could anyone blame these kids for throwing up their hands in frustration and "not wanting to get too close?" Dooley's got his hands full here. All he can do is tell them that he understands what they've been through, that he will be different, and that he knows the only way to prove it is to do it.
And then he must do it. One day, and one season, at a time.