SEC Media Days 2011: Derek Dooley's Late Questioner Speaks

Maybe it gave Derek Dooley a brief flashback when he was approaching the end of his press conference and the microphone for the final question was handed to your humble correspondent. "You had a couple of games last year that ended peculiarly," the question began, at which point Dooley cut it off.

"I almost got out of here," he quipped, then pointed across the room, site of the previous question. "Did you say that was the last question over there."

Then Dooley, who has no reason to recognize me except for a quasi-obnoxious question I asked last year (and one he probably doesn't remember), played along with the question.

"I told everybody I was 8-7 in post-game handshake last year," he said. "It was a remarkable feat." A few moments later, Dooley acknowledged something that was part coachspeak but also a bit revealing.

I told our team, once I was able to gather my emotions, that when things don't go your way in life, in football, whatever it is, before you start pointing fingers, you better look in the mirror and ask yourself, "Is there anything we could have done better to change the outcome, is there anything I could have?" ...

There was a ton that we could have done, that I could have done, our coaches could have done, our players could have done. We had a lot of opportunities in both those games to not let it get to that.

Which is all true. But it also has the appearance of being genuine, not just rehearsed. "Once I was able to gather my emotions" is a phrase that makes it clear that Dooley isn't just trying to tell a story that makes him look like the calm captain of a ship in a typhoon. He was whirling around as well. But he had to regain control and turn chaos into a teachable moment.

I went into Media Days having a decidedly negative view of Dooley. His dancing around completely legitimate questions about Lane Kiffin last year bugged me. So did his handling of the Bryce Brown situation, which is still puzzling.

But this year's Dooley was a far more impressive character. He had the zen-like approach of Nick Saban. ("I think at the end of the day all I've ever asked this time, once we turn the page, was to come to work every day and try to make the program, the organization, themselves better today than it was yesterday.") He had the self-deprecating humor in response to the late-games question. And his answers to the questions about the NCAA wasn't petulant or critical, though it's probably easier when you know the investigation is looking into the guy before you. (Dooley "appreciated ... the NCAA's willingness to listen," thought the Association has "been great," and "understand[s] their challenges.")

Maybe it's just that the events of the last year have made it easier to appreciate a guy like Dooley, who at least appears to be playing by the rules and trying to do the right thing. Or maybe it's just because he answered my question this year. (Really, I'm not that shallow.)

For whatever reason, I have a newfound respect for Dooley. That means absolutely nothing to him, I'm sure. But it was a nice surprise for an SEC Media Days that tended towards the boring far too often.

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