When a new athletic director arrives on campus, coaches tend to pucker up a bit. That’s because ADs — like most new bosses — often like to put their own people in place around them. In the case of Derek Dooley at Tennessee, it would seem he’d have plenty of reasons to worry about the intentions of his new boss, Dave Hart.
Speak to those close to the Tennessee program and you’ll soon learn that even the assistant coaches believe Dooley’s job won’t be safe unless he wins eight football games this fall. Coming off a 5-7 season, a streak-ending loss to Kentucky, and facing a further decline in season-ticket sales, Dooley’s seat is warm to say the least.
Couple that with the fact that Hart — who came from Alabama (no banjo on his knee, though) — has close ties to new Tennessee defensive coordinator Sal Sunseri and is rumored to be tight with Alabama defensive coordinator/up-and-coming coaching prospect Kirby Smart and you might expect Dooley to be looking over his shoulder these days.
“Dave has had a real re-energizing effect on me in a positive way. He, of course, has a great background of understanding big-time college athletics. He was the son of a coach, so he gets coaching. He gets the day-to-day problems that come with coaching, and he’s just been incredibly supportive of everything we’re doing.
We have a lot of dialogue. We talk at least every week, and he’s very much in tune with our issues. My only hope is that we allow Dave to do his job, and that’s the only hope I have. If Dave’s allowed to do his job, then we’re going to have success as a department…
I think we’re on the same page (regarding expectations), and I think what I appreciate about Dave is that he also understands the world of coaching. He understands that (there’s) things you can control, and certainly we need to show significant improvement on that. He understands things you can’t control that you have to learn to manage day to day.
We’re on the same page, and I’m appreciative of Dave’s kind of taking on this role. I think he’s going to be great for Tennessee.”
Sounds good. But Dooley better get off to a good start this fall and provide proof of progress if his relationship with his new boss is to remain positive.
As for the coach’s odd comment regarding Hart being allowed to do his job, rest assured that some UT fans will wonder if Dooley might be targeting Tennessee chancellor Jimmy Cheek with that remark.