I was very fortunate to attend the Letterman/VIP signing day celebration in the West Club at Neyland Stadium last night. This particular banquet/party occurred after Dooley's media tour and conference but before the longer, more accessible gathering downstairs with Bob Kesling. I had a great time and the access to the coaches and administrators was unparallelled by any event I have been to yet as well as a far more candid setting. I learned quite a bit about what has been going on, what is going on now and where we are going in a media-less setting where things were slightly more unfiltered.
For those that may be interested, here is what I gathered:
First off, let me say that UT knows how to throw a party. I don't know how many limos they may have taken out afterwards a la James Franklin and his #49 class, but last night was definitely a treat. There may have been 50 people in the West Club and a good portion of those were the coaching staff, including Ron McKeefery, and their wives along with various administrators. The rest were former players and boosters along with one wide-eyed wonder trying not to act like a little girl at a Timberlake concert. Food was catered by Club LeConte and was pretty freaking awesome. Power T ice sculptures adorning the tops of shrimp, oyster, and king crab leg tables, open beer/wine bar, carving stations, dessert tables and a nod to the Italians (more on that in a sec) with a meat and cheese table.
Beyond that, I was able to gather a lot of information. Most of you know I'm probably the biggest homer around so all this info may seem overtly positive, but I will lead with one disturbing thing I discovered before the fun stuff. Everything below is paraphrased because I don't have a photographic memory or tape recorder but the content is accurate.
We definitely have issues with Bray and Rogers. Not grades or behavior or crime or drugs, just some serious attitude problems that have been manifesting themselves over the last year. I won't reveal the source for this info, but it is as 100% reliably solid as there is. Neither will likely be dismissed or turned into an example, but when you snub Peyton Manning (yes, you just read that) there is something going on that needs to be changed.
Now, Sam Pittman on the Music City Bowl:
I asked Coach Pittman what he thought of the Music City Bowl. His face went blank for a few seconds before his eyes lit up and he said "those Carolina people cheated our asses!" I got a kick out of that and his reaction led me to think nobody had actually asked him that yet.
Dooley on the class:
Pretty much the same as every other coach in the country in level of excitement, but I do believe he IS pumped about adding this depth to the team. Disappointed with the two losses, but it happens.
Dooley on remaing openings and signing limits:
Very ascerbic comment about the signing limit. Not a fan. Said we are definitely not done with the 2012 class and anticipates a few more but won't just give scholly's out just to give them out.
Dooley on the staff:
I asked if the staff was complete while we were waiting on drinks and received an unqualified yes. No more coaching hires forthcoming and he is stoked (my word) about who he has right now.
Dooley on Sal Sunseri:
Fantastic coach and recruiter. Wanted him all along after days coaching in the past. Defensive philosophies match Dooley's. Calls him the "Big Ragu" in deference to his Italian heritage. Made some jokes with UT President DiPietro about the Italians he is hiring. No nickname provided for John Palermo, but judging by the look and size of Coach Palermo, I wouldn't blame Dooley for abstaining on that one. Man has the prototypical look of a hard-ass D-line coach if you ask me.
Dooley on defensive philosophy:
I asked what roster changes he anticipated this spring as far as DE's to LB's and he promptly (but disarmingly) called me out for assuming we were switching to 3-4. He said that isn't the case but that he wants, badly, a multiple defensive philosophy. He doesn't want to be pigeon holed by being a 4-3 or 3-4 defense and was quick to note that most defenses used now are Nickels and versions thereof with lots of smallish fast guys. Continues on to answer my question that we have, in his mind, been better suited for a 3-4 the last two years in any case. We have just lacked that NT build we needed. Noted that our DT's were too small to line up where they have but were the perfect size for the outside down spots in a 3-4 and our current DE's have been too small but are the perfect size for OLB's in a 3-4. So, I took all that as a "yes."
Dooley on Wilcox:
He continued with the discussion on multiple defenses with a comment I found rather intriguing. He made a point to say that as last season progressed, he got in more and more discussions with the "previous guy" about getting more multiple on defense. The way this was said led me to believe that Dooley didn't make a huge effort to hang on to Wilcox but that is my conjecture I guess.
Dooley on the lack of O-line in this class:
He addressed the lack of any committed o-line with the fact that they have gotten 12 in the last 24 months and were focusing more on other positions with this year's class. He isn't worried about losing a large class of o-linemen at once given that our current ones aren't all one class. I get the feeling we'll take a few in 2013 and I know we already have a 3* commit.
Dooley on our current o-line and run blocking:
In a word, weak. He didn't say that of course, but he noted that Coach Mac will be getting our guys stronger. He said they were all big bodies and that was great and all but, in the SEC, you can be big but if you only bench 320 you won't getting many people off the line. Opposing DT's are just a lot stronger right now but that is changing as we speak. I talked to a couple former UT O-linemen last night and they all agreed 100%. Made reference to us having a bunch of big bodies who are no more the "dancing bears" that are great at pass blocking but can't really beat up on anyone run blocking.
Dooley on other teams negative recruiting against Tennessee:
Shameful, but our own fault really as we gave them too much ammo to use against us from the NCAA investigations to staff departures. Anticipates a much better start and ease of recruiting the 2013 class with none of those things and more time to have already been started on these guys instead of playing catch up. Staff spent all day calling Juniors.
Follow-up on the 2012 class and difficulty recruiting:
One of the toughest classes to put together. Despite calm visage last spring, staff and Dooley were in total panic mode with NCAA investigations looming, one commit, and a Junior Day that no one came to. Dooley then made a point to say that if you thought the staff came apart after the season, you should have seen the staff meetings that went on during the time they had no recruits. Everything started coming together and everybody turned out cool, but there were stressful times early on and that is part of the reason Dooley is so proud of what they have put together.
Dooley on Daniel McCullers:
Biggest man he's ever seen and gets bigger every time he sees him.
Dooley on Danny
Fantastic talent that everybody in the country was in on late but O'Brien never wavered thanks in large part to the efforts of Ron McKeefery.
Dooley on Hinshaw, Joseph, and Chaney:
They deserve all the credit for holding the class together with only two decommits.
Dooley on Jason Croom's Mama:
Our best recruiter.
Dooley on upcoming team and season:
Most excited he has ever been about a team anywhere. Admitted that the last 24 months have been very tough and he was very down on things at various times but all that is in the past and the bamboo is going to start growing now. They way he talked, I believe he sees ten wins but who knows.
Dooley on depth and injuries:
No longer in a position where one injury will kill a team or gameplan. No longer in a position with no depth. Excited about what future holds.
Dooley on 2013 class:
Very excited about possibilities for this class. Finally caught up. Negative issues in past. Anticipates an even stronger class that will be easier to recruit.
Dooley on Tennessee:
Fantastic name and place that is still easy enough to recruit to even with all the crap being reported.
Dooley on social media and all the crap being reported:
Nothing you can do about it but he really enjoys the opportunity to meet with the lettermen and boosters that love Tennessee. The way he views it, when you love something like Tennessee you love it like family and although you may get intensly angry at your family, you don't go screaming in public about that person, you handle it internally. My view on this is that's the way I feel, but a large majority don't have the ability to handle things internally and have to lash out. Maybe he was referencing a specific group I didn't quite catch but I agreed with the overall message. Also noted that it doesn't matter who the head man or assistants or players are, when you love Tennessee you support the guy that is there and when he's gone you support the next guy and so on and so on.
Me on Dooley:
I found him extremely intense. Very smart, very driven. Knows what he wants and where he wants to take Tennessee. Wants to build a dynasty at Tennessee and devoutly believes he can. Very businesslike as well. No front, all business. The short one-on-one I got with him restored whatever confidence I may have be letting slip.
Dave Hart on Dooley and staff:
Has done a fantastic job with staff hires and locking down the recruting class. Very comfortable with where the program is headed.
Me on Dave Hart:
We are very, very, VERY lucky to have this guy as our AD. Very lucky.
Me on Jimmy Cheek:
Doesn't deserve the credit we give him but does deserve credit. He's not the nasty person I expected but very nice. Doesn't deserve the negative things we have said about him as it was revealed by some former players that he is really just "Haslam's puppet".
I will probably add to this as I remember more, but there you have it. I gotta get back to work.