If Derek Dooley was faking his newfound confidence at SEC Media Days this year, he did an excellent job of it. And to be sure, there are several reasons to think that Vols could be the surprise team of the year in 2012, some of which Dooley checked off in his remarks to the beat writers.
The Vols are going to have a full roster for the first time in Dooley's tenure. The experience level is much higher now than it was in either of the coach's first two seasons at the helm. But Dooley also injected a note of realism -- asked what Tennessee needed to improve on in 2012, Dooley response began:
Well, we need to improve on just about everything, because we really weren't good at anything.
That, ladies and gentlemen, is the stuff championships are made of.
But, again, confidence seemed to be Dooley's modus operandi this year. Gone were the lawyerly bobs and weaves or the reordering of years so that last year, Dooley's second in Knoxville, should somehow be counted as his first. And while Dooley came nowhere near the sheer wattage of arrogance that Lane Kiffin emitted in his sole appearance in Hoover as head coach of the Vols, there were a couple of bold pronouncements, none more bold than when Dooley waxed Nixonian.
It's been a tough four years in Tennessee. I know, of course, the SEC has enjoyed taking advantage of our tough times. But there's a nice mood on our team right now that you're not going to have Tennessee to kick around anymore.
As usual with Dooley, his choice of historical metaphors was interesting. Richard Nixon originated that phrase after losing the 1962 California gubernatorial election, suggesting that it might be his last bid for public office. Of course, Nixon rebounded and eventually came back to be elected president of the United States a few years later. (If the football offices in Athens or Columbia are burglarized, we'll have an interesting bit of evidence here.)
It's clear that some of that confidence is shared by the players on that finally complete roster. Tyler Bray, who is expected to lead an offense that could shape Tennessee's chances this year, identified winning the SEC East as one of the team's goals.
Our team knows we can hang with anybody, we've just got to put it together and execute.
If they can do that, then perhaps Dooley will start looking like Richard Nixon did in 1968, the first in a stretch of GOP victories in five of six presidential elections. But it's worth noting that Dooley was quoting from a concession speech -- and if Tennessee doesn't improve, Dooley is likely to be giving a farewell address of his own.