Tennessee Volunteers head football coach Derek Dooley held an impromptu press conference Tuesday morning. Absent was a self resignation, the sight of any new defensive coordinator [GASP! No Randy Shannon!!] or even the on-camera presence of athletic director Dave Hart.
Instead, it was spinning time in Tennessee, and Dooley addressed plenty of news-of-the-day items ... and even hinted we might not be finished with the not-so-savory news. Despite the pumping of orange sunshine and smell of orange roses, there was little positive news for the football program. Instead, it was a hodge-podge catch-all of the things he'd not gotten to discuss with the media since the season-ending loss to Kentucky.
So, let's run down a list of the topics addressed, and if I miss something, please feel free to catch it in the comments.
DeAnthony Arnett. Whether it was caving to media pressure, changing his mind once all the facts were gathered or coming to an alternate conclusion after meetings with Arnett and his family, Dooley has decided to back off the conditions in Arnett's release and grant him an unconditional departure from Tennessee. He cited his comfort level with making the change after having discussions with the Arnetts. The former four-star receiver who had the second-most catches of any freshman receiver in UT history will be allowed to transfer near his Saginaw, Mich., home to wherever he wants -- including Michigan or Michigan State. This comes less than a week after Arnett told ESPN and other media outlets that Dooley was limiting his transfer possibilities to MAC schools near his Michigan home. [On a personal note, I know it makes Dooley look weak to backtrack, but I don't care. This is what is best for Arnett, and this is the right move in my opinion. This will be best for everybody in the long run.] Per KNS reporter Andrew Gribble's twitter, here is Arnett's statement: "I will never be able to express fully my appreciations and gratitude for his decision. I want to ensure that all recruits, current players and fans know that Tennessee is headed in the right direction. UT has always surpassed the rest, and I believe in due time they will be back to the number one program in the SEC. I just want to thank Coach Dooley and Tennessee for leaving a footprint in my life that will never be erased. I have developed a friendship and bond with so many people at Tennessee that I will never be able to replace."
The Departure of Justin Wilcox and Peter Sirmon. Dooley said he harbors no ill will to those guys -- or special teams/tight ends coach Erik Russell -- for heading back home. He said those guys worked their butts off for Tennessee while they were here, and he understands this is a business. He never got into any specifics about the conversations he had with those assistants leading up to their departure or the parameters surrounding it. He also said this is also an opportunity to get better. Dooley spun the departures as those guys wanting to get closer to home, which I'm sure did have something to do with it. There was no discussion about whether or not UT tried to keep them. Later in the press conference, it seemed he indirectly was addressing the departure of Wilcox and Sirmon when he said something along the lines of "if you don't feel like you're absolutely in and bleeding orange ... you should go." He also stated seven schools in the SEC are seeking coordinators.
- What? No Randy Shannon yet? Kevin Steele? Of course, there were no new coaches to be introduced at the press conference, ending rampant speculation that a hire had already been made. To my knowledge, Dooley didn't mention any specific names at all throughout the course of the press conference as candidates. He did acknowledge that he would act "the quicker the better" in hiring a defensive coordinator due to the sensitive time before signing day, etc., but he would "not compromise" in making that hire. He'll still go through the process of interviews, etc. He also said he didn't know the difference in discussions and "formal" discussions but indicated that he has had conversations with candidates. Dooley stated that "the most trying month of a head coach is January because coaches are free agents and recruits are free agents."
- The State of the Program. Dooley noted the nine returning defensive starters on a unit ranked 28th in the country and also said the entire program was "in great shape" compared to where it was 22 months ago and this is the most excited he has ever been entering an offseason. He said the team continuity is better than it has ever been, and he's not worried about leadership. He said that was a problem last year, but he isn't concerned about it right now. He said he had a two-hour conversation after the Kentucky loss with Tyler Bray that went great, and Dooley said nothing negative about any of his players other than the fact that the days following the UK loss were emotional for everybody. "We're on our way... the worst is behind us."
- Da'Rick Rogers. Dooley adamantly said Rogers is still on the team. He isn't suspended. Nothing's going on with that. "Da'Rick's fine," Dooley said. "Da'Rick's on our team -- he hasn't been suspended." The coach said he doesn't want to talk about the roster right now and what went on in team meetings "but Da'Rick is on our team, and he's good."
- The New Media. Dooley said part of the reason he met with the media today was to address all the rumors, innuendo and speculation out there. He compared 24-hour news media and the atmosphere it has created to soap operas. He even mentioned "my retirement" being greatly exaggerated in one of the more light-hearted moments of the press conference.
- Recruiting. Though he didn't mention names, he prominently stated the issues facing coaches with the signing 25 rule, indirectly addressing UT's recent decision to be up front and honest with commitments Imani Cross, Khalid Henderson and Keithon Redding in asking them to look around because UT was going to look around. In a cryptic moment, Dooley said something about academic risks on recruits and MID-TERM GRADES having an impact on these decisions. When questioned later about the roster, Dooley told a reporter that he didn't want to speculate on roster movement right now until next week. "Give me a week on that," Dooley said. "When they all come back to school, I'll sort through any changes." It seemed to me that this indicated Dooley was still expecting some changes and possibilities that some players didn't pass the required hours to be eligible at the start of next season. If they didn't pass six hours, players will have to sit the first four games of next year, according to new NCAA rules.
- His Relationship With Dave Hart. I mean, what is Dooley going to say? But he did mention he has had great dialog with Hart and that Hart "100 percent believes in what we're doing and where we're headed." Dooley said he didn't think UT could have made a better hire.
- On New Running Backs Coach Jay Graham. Dooley briefly mentioned that Graham is everything you're looking for in a coach and person and that UT was lucky to have him.
I may have missed something important. If so, please feel free to include it in the comments, but these were the high points I gathered from this morning's press conference.