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Vols head coach Derek Dooley met with the media


"I know you wanted to visit with me about a few issues and I certainly wanted to come speak on a couple of things just to clear up some of the confusion, so what I'd like to do is kind of start with some of these high-item issues that have been floating out there and at least clear them up.

"Let's start with DeAnthony (Arnett). Over the holidays, I got a message and a phone call from his brother. Of course, it was a little bit of a surprise. I had never met the father. Our typical response in these, as you guys know, is that we don't release guys especially in their first year out of the NLI (National Letter of Intent) and certainly not to competitors. But we felt like at least the initial emotion of it, we should at least start the conversation by carving some exceptions to allow him to get home.

"I want you guys to know that the most important concern for me is the welfare of our student-athletes. That's number one. I also have a responsibility to Tennessee, and so I needed some one-on-one dialogue with DeAnthony. These are big issues. They're complex. They're emotional. Like every issue that we deal with our players, it's no different than a parent and a son trying to talk through and sort through the heart of the problem and help him make a good decision that's the right decision for his future. Over the last five weeks or two weeks I guess, I've had some real good one-on-one conversation since all that hit out there on the social media.

"I'm very comfortable carving out an exception for him when he makes his request, which is not until today because our offices have been closed. That's another reason there's been a delay in releasing him where he wants to go close to home to get back to his father. There was a lot of confusion on what had happened there and that's why I just wanted to clear that up. I'm really supportive of DeAnthony. He has a great future as a person and as a player. He's been very mature through this thing during a tough time and an emotional time. Once we started the one-on-one dialogue, it's been very comforting for both of us. I'm wishing him well there when that time comes.

"Coaches, let's jump to the coaches issue. Of course, it's that time of year as we know every year. I was counting today, seven schools in the SEC alone are going through coordinator changes. That's kind of the nature of our industry. I've said all along that when people are wanting your coaches, despite what a lot of people think, we're obviously doing something right. All three of those guys (Eric Russell, Peter Sirmon and Justin Wilcox) came from the Pacific Northwest, so it was a chanced for them to get back home. I understand it and I really appreciate the work they gave us the last two years. They put their heart and soul in this program and the program is significantly better today than it was when we all came here 22 months ago. Those guys played a big part of it. Like any coaching change, we use it as an opportunity to get better. And that's what we're going to do here because as much of the good things as those guys brought, there's always areas where we can improve. We'll begin that search to try to get the right fit and we're in the early stages of that."

"The third issue that I want to visit with is just some big picture recruiting. As you guys know, I really can't talk specifically on recruiting, but I do want to address some of the challenges that all of our schools are facing in the SEC right now. As we all know, the months leading up to signing day, it's really a journey for families. It's a journey for schools to try to find the right fit where the school, the player and the families, this is going to stick. This is going to be a great fit. The most important thing for me in recruiting has always been honest and frequent communication with the recruit and the family. Nothing is more important than that. Here are the challenges that we're facing that this year it's a little bit new given the restrictions that we've put on ourselves on signing.

"Number one is academic risk. In the past, when you get your mid-term grades here - which is a great indicator of whether a recruit can qualify or not - it was OK if he was a big risk because you could sign him and if he didn't qualify, you could help him. You could help him go to a junior college. You could help him go maybe to another school and get him back to reach his dreams. You can't do that anymore. When there's a high academic risk at the mid-term, the communication has to be that the limits that have been placed on us prevent us from continuing to help. That's unfortunate. It's one of the reasons, of course, our coaches were so opposed to it.

"The second thing is trying to have continued dialogue on having the right fit. Again, if you find yourself in a position where you're overloaded at a position because you've extended some offers, you could delay enrollment in the past. When you have 25 and you can't go over, the delayed enrollment thing is kind of out of the picture there. There are a lot of challenges there that we are facing on that. I think at the end of the day, I'm really excited about all of the interest that we're having again for our second full recruiting class out there. I can't really talk any specifics on that.

"Going forward, I was going to talk to you guys next week on our roster so I just don't want to go down that path until the players are back as far as all of the issues on our team. I can tell you this; I've never been more excited about an off-season in all of my coaching career because as disappointed as I am about how the season ended, I'm equally optimistic about our team and our program heading into next year. For the first time since I've been here, we have 19 starters returning. We have considerably more experience going into the next season than we've ever had. We have a group of young people who I've been talking to over the holidays and met with before we broke who believe in Tennessee. They believe in the program. They believe in our future and they're fired up about going to work next season. I'm excited about it. It's allowed us to really sharpen our focus as coaches. We have a great off-season plan and that's all our focus is going to be when our players come back, is the next eight weeks of work. I've spoken my peace on some of these issues and now you guys can tell me what you want to talk about."

(On whether he's surprised that Wilcox or Sirmon left so close to signing day)
"No, not at all, because this is really when all of this happens. It happens after bowls. There are a lot of different time periods. It happens right after the season when there's movement. IT happens around that New Year time when the bowls over. With the NFL season ending, there's another spike and then there's another spike after signing day. The whole coaching movement, the profession is from December 1 until the end of February. That's when it happens and it happens all over the country. Sometimes, you hate losing them. Sometimes, it's good that you lose them because sometimes turnover is a healthy thing. Either way, it's a great chance to say, `Hey, where can we get better through this?' And that's what we're going to do."

(On the timeframe of hiring new coaches)
"I wish that I could put a timeframe on it. It's really complex, given you have to invest time in recruiting and some teams are still playing in the NFL. It's really hard to say. Certainly, the quicker, the better. What we're not going to do is try and compromise who we get to try and hurry it up."

(On the perception of Tennessee's program)
"I think it's understandable why there could be a perception that it's not that good right now. But I'm not concerned at all about what's real. What's real is this program has been put in the last 22 months on as good of a foundation as we could ever do. I think that going forward, our team is excited. There's a lot of continuity on our team for the first time. We have a lot more experience on our team for the first time so I think that there's a lot of excitement internally. What a perception is, is not always what the reality is on the inside. I can't control what people think and perceive. I can only control what's happening and going on inside the building. I think if you talk to Justin, Peter, Eric and DeAnthony, I think they'll all feel the same way that we're doing the right things, we're heading in the right direction, the success is going to come and the worst is behind us."

(On whether DeAnthony Arnett will be granted a release to play at Michigan or Michigan State)

(On whether he's started the process of looking into hiring new coaches)
"Yeah, certainly. You start gathering information. Of course, it's Tennessee. It's unbelievable the amount of interest that coaches have wanting to come here. I think they understand that it's a great time to come to Tennessee. It's certainly a much better time than it was two years ago when we came to Tennessee, and all the coaches our there know that, especially on defense. We finished 28th in the country on defense, we have nine starters returning and we have a great mid-year signee to boot. That's pretty appealing."

(On whether there have been `formal' discussions with potential coaching candidates)
"I'm not sure what the difference is. I've had a lot of conversations with a lot of people. That's all I can tell you. I don't really have a formal conversation and an informal. I just talk to them."

(On team chemistry being an issue)
"I think that's a fair thing to say. Probably the biggest challenge I had all season and we had - I shouldn't say I - was team building. And that's the biggest challenge every year. The fact of the matter was we had a very small group of upperclassmen, and many of them didn't play. We had a sophomore class who played a lot and whether or not they were ready to take ownership of the team and the chemistry, probably we weren't ready for it. Then we had a freshman class who was extremely talented with some great players, but has never really been in an off-season to merge with the sophomores or the upperclassmen. It was a challenging team dynamic from the beginning, and I knew that going into the year. I think that's as important as a thing we can do in the off-season. I don't think we're going to have any issues next year, but that's a challenge for every coach is team building.

"One thing I do want to add is after a game like that (at Kentucky), it's emotional. It's hard, guys. Everybody is emotional. It's especially emotional for a senior who is playing in his last game. It's hard. I think it's important not to overvalue a comment or two that a player makes or even a coach makes during that time in the heat of the moment because it's hard. I think when you have time to reflect and look back, you think about all of the positive things that were going on and there were a lot."

(On how the team will respond to losing coaches)
"I don't think losing coaches really impacts team chemistry. I think the most important thing is how can we help them build team chemistry? Team chemistry, first of all, is them learning to play for each other, learning to play for Tennessee and learning to have a great trust with each other, with the coaching staff and with everybody in the organization. That takes work. I think anybody who is a part of any team, whether it's in business, the military or sport, it's always a challenge. We have a lot of things that we're doing in the off-season to help that. We tinker with some things, but I think more than anything, it's growth and maturity. That's what it is. The more you invest in something, the more important it is to you. That's just a fact. That's why seniors are so much more passionate about the success of a team than freshmen. It's just human nature, because they've invested four or five years in the program. The more you invest in something, the more it hurts you and the more important it is. It's human nature. I think time is going to fix that more than anything."

(On saying the coaching staff needed to trust each other more after loss to Kentucky)
"I don't remember that, Brent. I don't know what I was referencing there. Look, after that game it starts with us taking responsibility as coaches and there was a lot we could have done differently and a lot we could have done better. I don't ever run from that, even though some people take some comments and think that I do. Nothing is more important than that. Probably what I was referencing is that we have to do a better job as coaches, starting with me and we are going to do that. I think it is just part of building that team and trust is a big thing with that. It is going to come over time."

(On seniors saying the team lacked leadership)
"I think we have a ton of guys who have incredible leadership ability and I think they are going to take ownership of that this year. I'm really not worried about leadership this year. Like I said, part of becoming a good leader is the time you have invested, it's your commitment level to the program and it's your willingness to take the role of saying, `By God, we are going to do this thing.' And we have a ton of guys, I've already had great conversations with them, that just can't wait to turn the page and start over."

(On importance of getting the coaching staff in place before National Signing Day)
"I think that is a fair statement. Of course the quicker you can bring them in, but the most important thing is getting the right guys that can help you win next year. That is the delicate balance in all of this, Jimmy. You want guys quickly but you can't compromise what it is going to look like on the field next year just to get them before National Signing Day. That's the challenge. It is hard.

(On whether his criteria for hiring a defensive coordinator have changed)
"I'd hate to sit here and box myself in because when you start this dialogue, sometimes you think you know what you want but suddenly someone appears and you go, `Gosh, this is a pretty good hire right here.' I have some ideas, but the most important one is what can help us win the most next year. That is going to be my focus from the beginning. Certainly you want somebody who understands the challenges of the SEC because it is a challenging league and there are a lot of different challenges than there are in other leagues."

(On whether the new defensive coordinator will have to keep the same scheme)
"I wouldn't say we are going to go radically different, but we were pretty multiple in what we did so I think our personnel can fit a lot of different things."

(On hiring Jay Graham)
"Jay has every quality you would want in a coach. He is certainly a great person, he cares about the student-athletes, he has done a remarkable job in his short career of coaching players, motivating them and getting them to play well, and then add to it what he has done at this place. It was pretty much a no-brainer for me. We are glad Jay is back to his family and he is going to have a big role for us moving forward."

(On the pressure to win)
"You feel it every year in this league. It's not just this league, guys. Akron who we play next year, Kansas and Memphis all parted ways with their coach after two seasons. If that doesn't say, `Hey buddy, every year you are on the line.' That is the way it is and that is part of the profession. What you can't do is get so drawn in to that, that you lose your focus of what's important. What's important is what we are doing every day to help us go out there and play better next season. That is all we are focused on."

(On conversations with Tyler Bray)
"It has been great. He was crushed after the game. We had probably a two-hour talk a few days after just reflecting. It was awesome dialogue. I think sometimes those hard things are good for you in life. People hate for me to say that, because nobody wants hard things to happen in our program, but sometimes it makes you better. That is what adversity does. It really sharpens your focus and allows you to acknowledge some things you need to work on. It is going to help us as coaches and it is going to help Tyler and it is going to help all of our players."

(On the status of Da'Rick Rogers)
"I don't know why you all keep bringing that up. Da'Rick is on our team and he hasn't been suspended. Jimmy (Stanton) keeps telling me that they keep asking out there. I don't want to talk on our roster issues, but Da'Rick is on our team and he is good. I don't really get it, but it just continues on. I guess it's just like me retiring. We used to get our fix for drama about, I guess, 20 years ago in the afternoon soap operas. That was the only drama that you could really get that got you all stimulated, but know we get it 24 hours a day, man. There is a lot out there. I guess it is a mistake not getting involved in the drama. Thank God I have Jimmy. I used to get my annual chatter update from Hubbs at my radio show, right Brent? That's what we are in and the drama can become a reality if you don't address it. I am acknowledging that and that is why I am here today, one of the reasons I am here today.

(On whether Da'Rick Rogers has requested a release)
"Who? No, no. Da'Rick is fine."

(On whether he said something in a team meeting about Da'Rick Rogers)
"I'm not going to talk about what goes on in our team meetings, Jimmy. I mean, come on. I say something to our team about players every day."

(On his message to recruits about the coaches leaving)
"I think that the important thing is that number one Tennessee has not changed. All of the things that they really fell in love with when they got here and saw it, the program, how we are running the program, what we have done in the last 22 months, the new facility, the support, the game day excitement. None of that has changed. We have the resources and the attraction that is going to get some high-quality coaches. There is a tremendous amount of interest. Just stay patient. When we hire who we hire, you will have an opportunity to meet them because that is a factor, but it is certainly not `the' factor. I've told recruits that all the time. That shouldn't be `the' factor. What I also tell them is that this is an early part of the bad part of our profession that you are going to have to deal with as a player for the rest of your career. If you go to the NFL and play eight years in the NFL, you might have eight position coaches and four head coaches, so the important thing is liking the program, liking the direction, liking the team because ultimately that is what is going to define their experience in college."

(On whether he anticipates any more changes on the coaching staff)
"You know what John, it can happen tomorrow. We could have three more get offers. I know this, I always say that probably the toughest month for a head coach is January because the coaches are free agents and the recruits are free agents and that is how it goes, but that is OK."

(On the urgency to hire a defensive coordinator because of recruiting)
"I have acknowledged that yeah, the quicker the better. I'm not going to sit here and say it's no big deal if we take our time. The quicker we can get somebody in the better, but what I am not going to do is compromise who we get because we have to get somebody fast. I am going to be diligent, but I am also going to recognize that time is important."

(On whether the new defensive coordinator will have a say in the rest of the hires)
"I don't know. That is all going to depend."

(On whether he is surprised on coaching staff turnover)
"My whole career has been like that. We had about four a year leave when I was at LSU. Every year, we averaged about three or four coaches a year. When I was at Miami we had a bunch leave. When I was at Louisiana Tech we had a lot of turnover. Every staff I have been a part you have turnover. There are a few programs out there where guys are there for 20 years and long stability, but you know what is happening is that the market dynamics are changing that. Money is changing it. Now people are flying all over the country to go coach. It used to be a little more regional and it is different now. You get out there and maybe you don't fit in, I'm not saying that is case in ours, but it is a lot more transient than it has been."

(On whether multi-year contracts are a big deal when hiring assistants)
"I think it depends on a lot of factors. Every assistant their biggest concern is security for their family and it should be. That was my concern as an assistant. You get worried about your family. You'd like to say, we'll give you a five-year deal, but that is not reality because what you don't want to do is box both of yourselves in. That has just not been the way the profession has been."

(On whether multi-year contracts had on impact on why some coaches left)
"I can't speak for why. Like I said, all three of them are from that area and it was a good opportunity for them. Everybody is different. Every coach's issues are different. It is just like recruiting. We try to really simplify it, but issues like that are complex and guys, they are hard. You are moving families. They are not easy. At the end of the day, and I tell them this, you have to do what you think is best for you and your family. If you decide you want to be here, you have to be 100 percent, dive in and bleed orange. If you don't feel that way, then you should really go. I tell everybody that, if you don't feel like you are absolutely in and bleeding orange, and that is in any job. I told them that at Louisiana Tech. You have to unpack your bags and go. That is what I did as an assistant, I didn't care where I was, and as a head coach. I operated as if I was going to be there the rest of my life and I've got to bust my tail to get it right. I think that is the best approach for any assistant and when you do that you get a lot of opportunities."

(On whether it is inevitable for assistants to move on)
"To me, you just keep your focus on the program. I am really proud of what we have accomplished in 22 months, Rick. I am guys. You look back and in this short of time, with all the things that we have had to face from the state of the roster, from the NCAA stuff that is now behind us. When you look at our football team and what it looks like today and you look at our program and what it looks like today, buddy it is in great shape from where we were 22 months ago. We are on our way. The worst is behind us. I said it after the (Kentucky) game. I hate that we had a game like that and the worst part of having a game like that is you don't play the next week. I've been a part of some tough ones, man. We lost to UAB at LSU, but we got to play Tennessee the next week. You get five days of bad stuff and then you can go fix it. We can't do that now. It's a good lesson. Don't do what you do the last game when you aren't bowl eligible. Bad way to end it."

(On whether he asked Justin Wilcox and Peter Sirmon if there was anything he could do to keep them at Tennessee)
"I don't want to go into all of our private conversations, but I am always very supportive of the coaches. I don't get angry when guys leave. To me, it is a professional dialogue that you should have. There is a mutual respect. Those guys worked their tail off for Tennessee when they were here. Listen, their contracts are good and they are paid well."

(On his message to fans who feel disillusioned)
"I think what I just said. Twenty-two months ago we walked into a tough situation and we have rolled up our sleeves and gone to work every day. Despite some of the hard bumps that you hit along the way, it doesn't minimize the progress that has been made at the foundation-level, it doesn't minimize what the roster looks like heading into next season and it doesn't minimize the excitement that we have outside of this area in recruiting and elsewhere. Listen, I am excited and I am fired up. I don't know what else to say. When you get drawn in to the drama, it is toxic. It really is. It is bad for the soul. When you love something, when you are talking publicly about it, you support it. Whether it is your family, your wife, your school, your program. When you love something, you support it. That doesn't mean that you don't have concerns about it, it doesn't mean you don't air out some things privately if things aren't going the way you want it, you support it. We have one of the best fan bases in the country with a passion that is unmatched. I wouldn't trade them for anybody. When you have some bumps along the way, there is going to be some passion the other way and that is great. It is healthy, but the most important thing is how you move forward and how you fix it. That is all I am focused on."

(On his relationship with Dave Hart)
"Great. I've had as good of dialogue with Dave as anybody I have ever worked for. I have had a lot of dialogue. He is incredibly supportive. Dave has been around a lot of big-time winning football and knows what our challenges are. I think with all of the dialogue we have had, he 100 percent believes in what we are doing and where we are headed. I am thrilled that he is here. I really am. I think it is as good a thing as we could have done when Mike (Hamilton) left. I don't know if there is a better guy we could have gotten for the job. I am fired up about Dave."

(On the status of the four players suspended at the end of the season)
"On the roster Jimmy, give me a week on that. When they all come back to school I will sort through any changes if that is OK."



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