KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- In between everything else on his plate, Tennessee coach Derek Dooley has been doing a little research.
He's still trying to find out if there’s ever been a major college football team entering a season with five new starters on the offensive line, a new quarterback and a new running back.
“I don’t know if that’s ever happened,” he said. “But that’s what makes it fun and challenging, and we’re going to have to do a heck of a job coaching.”
But the players who’ve endured say Dooley has brought a steadying hand to the program and a clearer vision of what’s expected of them.
“He’s a man of character, and he’s there for you ... and not just as a football player,” said junior running back Tauren Poole, who blossomed this spring into the Vols’ most dependable offensive threat after finally getting a chance.
Poole was relegated to mop-up duty last season, as Brown got all of the backup work behind Montario Hardesty.
“There are a lot of guys who feel comfortable going to Coach Dooley about anything,” Poole said. “When you’ve been through what we’ve been through the last couple of years, trust is a big thing.”
Almost as big as staying the course, something that may prove difficult for the Vols over these next few seasons.
Not since the early years under John Majors have the expectations been this low for the program.
The Vols have lost 13 games the past two seasons, the most in a two-year span in the history of the program. The last time they went three straight years and failed to win more than seven games in a season was 1978-80 -- Majors' second, third and fourth seasons on the job.
So while fans and the media attempt to put a number on what would constitute a successful first season under Dooley, he looks at it differently.
“It starts with not focusing on the result to measure yourself, and I know that’s a hard thing in today’s climate,” said Dooley, sounding a lot like one of his mentors, Nick Saban.
“I think the important thing is: Have we done a good job of evaluating our team? Have we done a good job of developing our players? And are we putting them in the best position they can be in to win? If we do those things and our kids are out there playing their hearts out with the kind of intangibles we want to play with, then we’ll live with the results.
“Over time, if you continue to do it that right way and do a good job of recruiting, the results will come.”