The man known as Derek Dooley barely glances from his paperwork at the intrusion and seems almost bored in his response. A cat leaps down and hides in the darkness.
"You can knock once in a while Sal. It is still a customary formality."
Sal scrunches his face as if in deciding if Derek is insulting him or not.
Derek seems to notice this and peers over his glasses.
"Yes, Sal, it is a joke. You may laugh."
Sal grins broadly and then plops into one of the leather chairs facing the desk unceremoniously.
"Why Sal, please sit down." notes Derek.
"Gee, thanks Boss!" the slight completely lost on him. "Look, boss, I got some real reservations about this plan."
"Do tell?" Derek inquires as he leans back in his seat, his fingers steepled before him.
"I mean c'mon. We smoke North Carolina. Then we play dead for Florida." Sal replies anxiously while rubbing his palms against his thighs. "I just don't think this is how we should play ball."
"Oh really? And what would you have us do?" Derek asks, unmoving.
"Well look, boss. We coulda had Georgia...but you let the clock just run wild on us."
"All part of the plan...." Derek starts
"I know, I know but we coulda had them! Then folks wouldn't be so anxious to fire you!"
Derek waves his hands as if the point were meaningless.
"And then Mississippi State. I mean Boss, we had them right there in the palm of our hands but you let the clock roll again. The fans are ready to burn you at the stake!" Sal gushed exasperated.
"Part of the plan, Sal." Derek responds, unmoved by Sal's pleas.
"And Tyler, telling him to force the ball? All those interceptions? You know he can do better! Why have him do that?"
"Just part of the plan, Sal." Derek replied as if bored.
"Boss, your'r starting to sound like a Dan Fogelberg record!" Sal begs. "We gotta give them something substantial! Or we'll all be out of a job around here!"
"And we shall, Sal. We shall." Derek says calculatingly, rising from his chair holding a cane for balance.
"He loves video tape. You know that as well as I do, Sal." Derek says as he looks out the window upon Neyland Stadium. "He lives for information. Gathering. Looking. Calculating. He's like the Aleksander Shelepin of the SEC."
Sal looks confused. "Aleks who, Boss?"
Derek sighs rolling his eyes to the window but does not turn around. "It doesn't matter. You know what he's like. If we gave him anything, even a little bit, he would use it against us and crush us like he does everyone else. You know what happened last year."
"Well Nick's..." Sal starts to say when Derek growls "Do not say that name in my presence!"
Sal stares wide eyed. "But.."
"Always the best man and never the groom," Derek mutters. "Walked in his shadow my entire career, practically!" his voice growing louder in crescendo and he thumps his cane on the floor for emphasis.
Sal seems more confused than ever but blubbers "Then why let Raijon break free last game? Why not keep him off the field at all if you didn't want him to know?"
"Because we had to be convincing. Sure we didn't want him hurt. But we needed people to buy in that we were still struggling, give them glimpses of hope before we fling the door wide open."
"You think this will work? I mean we just threw three major games here just to keep him from thinking we can play football. This ain't nuthin like I ever did before." Sal says dubiously.
"It will work." Derek mutters. "It must work. We have fooled our opponent in to thinking we are weak. Do you know the story of Pershings 3rd Armored Division in World War II? The so called Duel at Dessau?"
"Dessie? Wasn't he Lucille Ball's husband?"
Derek bites his lip before turning to respond. "Pershing had one of only two tanks, categorized as 'Super Pershings', that were ever built. It was an experimental tank, and only ever saw roughly 10 days of combat action. On April 21, 1945 it went head to head with what was considered the most mechanical marvel of a tank ever built: the German King Tiger. The King Tiger had the advantage, it waited in ambush and fired the first shot."
Sal, riveted, almost held his breath. "What happened, boss?"
Derek turned back to the window. "They missed. The Pershing tank returned fire, and the first shot caused no damage what so ever."
Sal, on the point of causing some serious damage himself, leaped to his feet and exclaimed, 'Well what kind of analogy is that? Couldn't you at least use Rommel or something? Something where the good guys actually WON!?"
Derek turned slowly, his cane thumping upon the floor. "Ahh but you, much like our fan base, have grown impatient. You do not wish to see the whole picture. The entirety of what lies before us. The Pershing crew had no such problems. They calmly reloaded, with an Armor piercing round, and fired again blowing the turret complete off the King Tiger."
Sal, somewhat settled. "But how is that a comparison to us?"
Derek sighs as he slowly eases back in to his chair. "There were over 25 Tiger II's or King Tigers built and put in to production. They had planned, and designed and plotted for every eventuality for the design by comparing it against existing units in our own arsenal. But a special tank, they they knew nothing about and that only two were ever made, cleaned it's plow like it was nothing." Derek pauses as he looks over his glasses. "We are that Super Pershing, Sal. We have kept it hidden. We have played and plotted. We have schemed. And everyone, everyone, has bit even our fans."
Sal, pale, "If they realize what you did.....you'll be fired for sure!"
Derek scoffs as he turns back towards the window in his chair.
"You know so much about SEC football, Sal, but so little about Tennessee."
Derek breathes deep and finally pushes his glasses up his nose as Sal, shamed slowly exits the room.
"If we beat Alabama, they will forget every loss, every slight, every mistake in a single game."
A large feline jumps into Derek's lap as he stares out the window and begins nibbling upon his pinky finger. "Yes, Precious. They will forget all once we beat Alabama."
Maniacal laughter filled the room as Sal gently closes the door behind him, a look of terror upon his face.