In his inaugural outing at SEC Media Days, Derek Dooley got quite a few questions -- as you would expect to be the case for a first-year coach who has never had a head coaching job in the SEC. Five were about his parents. Those, Dooley was more than happy to answer.
His mother is an icon. Yes, of course he's going to seek his father Vince's advice. And he's going to try to get his father to wear orange at some point.
Five questions were about Lane Kiffin. Those, Dooley was less than eager to deal with.
Throughout Media Days, others were more than willing to talk about Lane Kiffin -- whether through words or by way of a telling "no comment." There was a palpable sense of relief whenever the former Tennessee coach came up that he was now the Pac-10's PR nightmare.
Commissioner Mike Slive:
The other head coaching change took place at Tennessee when Derek Dooley's predecessor left to return to his western roots. I want to welcome Coach Dooley back to the SEC. And when I say 'welcome,' I mean welcome.
Urban Meyer smiled the broadest, most frightening smile you’ll ever see when asked if he enjoyed watching Kiffin’s Southern Cal team hit with a two-year bowl ban and significant scholarship reductions.
I'll let the commissioner handle that one. How is that? No, no comment. Sorry.
And Steve Spurrier found perhaps the most elegant way of putting down Kiffin: Declining to use his name or admit that he even kept an eye on the former coach’s antics.
But the former Tennessee coach, I didn't really pay a lot of attention. We had our own problems. We got our own problems over there at South Carolina. I didn't pay a lot of attention to him, to tell you the truth.
When Dooley wasn’t outright dismissive of the questions about Kiffin -- which was almost always -- he was quick to pivot away from actually talking about the man. His discourses with reporters who dared mentioned the other guy’s name showed a lawyer’s ability to not answer questions he didn’t want to.
Q: In what shape did your predecessor leave the program, in your opinion?
COACH DOOLEY: Well, I don’t know, ‘cause I don’t know how it was before he got there. All I can do is see where we are now and where we need to go. So I’ve never relaly looked back. You know, I wasn’t here to analyze what Coach Fulmer did or what Lane did. That wasn’t what my job was.
My job was to see where we are, what we need to do to get back what Tennessee fans expect and our university expects, and that’s all we’ve done.
It should be noted here that Dooley’s answer to that question, unlike some of the others, is patently ridiculous. He was asked in what shape Kiffin left the program -- which had nothing to do with "how it was before he got there." It is an objective, or at least subjectively objective, question. It is not a comparative one.
Q: Have any of your fellow coaches thanked you for not being Lane Kiffin or not being anything like him?
COACH DOOLEY: No, no. I mean, how do you answer a question like that. [Pause] Y’all are just waiting for me to say something, I guess. Let’s go to the next one.
Q: In all seriousness, was there anything you did like about the way Lane Kiffin handled your job?
COACH DOOLEY: That I did like? I didn’t evaluate the job Lane did, so I don’t know. All I know is I got to Tennessee, here’s the situation, here’s the roster, how do we move forward?
So I didn’t have any time to analyze all the decisions that the prior coaching staffs made. I don’t know any other way to say it, you know.
[Followed by generalities about coming into a new program.]
Q: Have you spoken at all with Kiffin? When you reached out to both Phillip and John, what kind of input did you get from them?
COACH DOOLEY: No, I haven’t spoke with Lane. It’s just ‘cause I don’t know him. So it’s not anything more than that.
I did reach out to Coach Majors and I did reach out to Coach Fulmer because I have just an incredible amount of respect for what they mean to the University of Tennessee. ...
And that might be as close to an answer as you’re going to get from Dooley about his controversial predecessor. He didn’t reach out Kiffin "‘cause I don’t know him." He did reach out to other Vols coaches of the past out of "respect for what they mean to the University of Tennessee." You can probably fill in the rest.
Dooley’s comments also passed over a more subtle jab. Looking over the transcript, Johnny Majors is always "Coach Majors." Phil Fulmer is always "Coach Fulmer." Lane Kiffin is always "Lane." Again, if Dooley won’t answer the questions, we have to gather what we can from what he does say.
Of course, it’s Dooley’s right to not answer any question he doesn’t want to. And no one will care much about Lane Kiffin one way or the other next year.
For better or worse, all they will want to talk about will be Derek Dooley and his football team. Those questions will be impossible to dodge -- though if preseason predictions are to be believed, Dooley might want to.