On the heels of last season's Rumspringa, the pellet gun and Prius incident, the New Year's Day incident for the basketball team, and last month's bar brawl, we've done a great deal of talking about character here on Rocky Top, and for good reason. Everybody wants to win, but few want to win at all costs, and frankly, we have a reputation to rehabilitate.
The hiring of Derek Dooley was heralded as a solid first step in the right direction, what with his repeated emphasis on character, class, and integrity in his introductory press conference. He's continued to emphasize that theme throughout his short tenure here, bringing Nick Reveiz, Chris Walker, and Luke Stocker -- three guys with spotless reputations -- to SEC Media Days. His recruiting to date has focused largely on character, sometimes at the expense of stars. And he's apparently been interested first in how a person conducts himself and second how that person can help the team win even prior to coming to Tennessee, as the first 45 minutes of his interview with Terry Joseph for a spot at Louisiana Tech didn't even touch on football.
I get the feeling that most Vol fans are on board with all of that in light of our current circumstance, although we know that at the end of the day he's going to have to win as well. Character counts.
One of the greatest challenges of playing the point in such a public stand is that you have to be above reproach or you risk losing credibility by being vulnerable to claims of hypocrisy. It's probably unfair -- no one is perfect -- but it's the way that it is, and Derek Dooley has been the target of such claims the past several days.
Late last week, ESPN's Joe Schad had this to say about Bryce Brown's leaving Tennessee:
But Arthur Brown said reports that Bryce has not met with Dooley recently are inaccurate.
"Bryce met with Coach Dooley on Saturday for about 30 minutes and Dooley asked him not to tell anyone they talked," Arthur Brown said. "I'm really not sure why."
Dooley acknowleged he met with Brown on Saturday but said he was not asked for a release.
Arthur Brown also said his son, one of the nation's top recruits entering last season, did not ask Dooley for a release at that meeting. This week Dooley said that the reason Bryce has not been released is because he "has not come to me, looked me in the eye and said, 'I want a release.'"
Arthur Brown said that's because he has repeatedly told Dooley since April that he has wanted his son released from his scholarship.
That article was read by some (and you can see why) as evidence of Dooley's deception about meeting with Brown.
And today, Inside Tennessee has an article containing similar allegations from recently departed Nick Lamaison:
"There was a report in the media saying that [Dooley] never met with me and I had never met with him," Lamaison said. "That's 100 percent false. I specifically remember talking to him several days after the spring game. I told him all the reasons why I wanted to transfer. I also met with my offensive coordinator (Jim Chaney) on several occasions regarding my transfer, along with my quarterback coach (Darin Hinshaw)."
I really haven't analyzed all of the statements or the time lines in either the Brown or Lamaison case. I don't specifically recall what Dooley's said about either of the meetings or when he said them. Just looking at the quotes in the ESPN article about Brown, though, you can see why people would think there's some deception involved, but you can also read all of the quotes as being entirely consistent with each other although offered in sort of a spirit of disagreement. Dooley was wanting a meeting with Bryce during which he asked for a release. He got the meeting, but not the request because Bryce himself didn't ask for a release. Bryce's father didn't dispute that Bryce didn't ask for a release; he just said that the family has repeatedly done so.
None of that matters much, though, because there is a growing perception over the past several days that Dooley hasn't been telling the truth about his meetings with his players. Despite the fact that people say it all the time, perception actually isn't reality. It is, however, very important, especially when it's directly contrary to the values you're attempting to instill into a program that desperately needs it.
Maybe it doesn't matter. Perhaps Dooley is satisfied that he's told both of these guys and their families the truth, and he simply doesn't want to get into what would probably be an extended dialog about who said what and when and to whom it was said. Perhaps he feels there are better ways -- like preparing the players still on the team to play well a month from now -- to wash away an incorrect and negative perception.
But maybe it does matter, and maybe it matters a lot because the guy demanding integrity from his followers better have it himself. Me, I'm giving Dooley the benefit of the doubt here, but I'd sure love to hear him refute the allegations that he's been less than truthful to Brown and Lamaison.
What do y'all think? Are you bothered by the reports of Dooley's untruthfulness, and what would you like for him to do about it?