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Thursday, August 11, 2011
Second time around for Dooley, Phillips

By Chris Low

Tennessee's Derek Dooley and Kentucky's Joker Phillips are the SEC's two head coaches entering their second seasons.

Both cut their teeth in the SEC before getting their own gigs last year.

Dooley worked under Nick Saban for five seasons at LSU and had a bird's-eye view of the Georgia program as a youngster when his legendary father, Vince Dooley, was coaching the Bulldogs

Phillips played at Kentucky and was Rich Brooks' right-hand man before being named the Wildcats' coach-in-waiting and then taking over the program in 2010 when Brooks retired.

Here's a closer look at each coach, how they fared in their first year on the job and what's expected in Year 2:

Dooley: There was nothing easy about the situation Dooley stepped into after Lane Kiffin bolted for Southern California mere weeks before signing day in 2010. There had already been massive attrition under Kiffin, and Phillip Fulmer's last couple of classes ended up having more misses than hits. Dooley was able to scramble and put together an impressive class, and he followed that up with another top 15 class this past February. On the field, the Vols suffered through their third losing season in the past six years. They started three true freshmen in the offensive line. True freshman quarterback Tyler Bray started the final five games of the season, and they had to dig their way out of a 2-6 hole. To their credit, they played their way into a bowl game, where they lost a controversial 30-27 decision in two overtimes to North Carolina. The good news for Dooley is that his team didn't lie down and quit when it was 2-6. The bad news is that Tennessee didn't beat anybody that counts last season. That's the next step for this program in the second season under Dooley, to win a game or two that nobody expects and play with more consistency the entire season. The Vols will still be extremely young with 70 percent of their team being comprised of first- and second-year players. They're probably still a ways off from contending in the East, but look out in 2012. There's good young talent in this program, and the offensive line has a chance to be special down the road if the Vols can keep everybody together. Here's the other thing: The East might never be this weak again. It's imperative that Dooley and the Vols make their move while the opportunity is there.

Phillips: One of the major upgrades Brooks made to the Kentucky program was improving the talent level and building more depth, particularly on defense. Phillips, who's an excellent recruiter, was a big part of that push. The Wildcats are never going to reel in a truck-load of five-star prospects, but they've been successful at pinpointing players that fit into what they want to do and then developing those players. Obviously, that will remain one of Phillips' greatest challenges. The Wildcats finished 6-7 last season, losing 27-10 to Pittsburgh in the BBVA Compass Bowl. It wasn't a good way to end a season that never completely took off despite veteran playmakers on offense. Quarterback Mike Hartline had the best season of his career. Randall Cobb earned first-team All-America honors, and running back Derrick Locke and receiver Chris Matthews were both big parts of the offense. All four players are gone, and junior Morgan Newton takes over at quarterback. Phillips also brought in Rick Minter to run his defense, a system designed to create more turnovers. Phillips has been outspoken about competing for championships. But after losing the firepower Kentucky did on offense, just making it back to a bowl game for a sixth straight season would be an accomplishment for the Wildcats in 2011. They will lean on a veteran offensive line and have some promising talent at the running back position in sophomore Raymond Sanders and true freshmen Marcus Caffey and Josh Clemons. One of the next big steps for Phillips and the program is finishing the season stronger. Kentucky lost four of its last six games after knocking off South Carolina last season. It was a similar story in 2009 when the Wildcats lost their last two after winning at Georgia. And in 2008, they lost their last three regular-season games.