Volunteers' Dooley makes pitch near Gamecock turf

New Tennessee football coach Derek Dooley, in his first offseason recruiting, was in the land of the SEC rival Gamecocks on a stop of a barnstorming booster tour.

COLUMBIA -- It was quite the contradiction here Tuesday evening, the roomful of orange not more than a block away from Williams-Brice Stadium.

But there was some method in Tennessee's madness of scheduling an alumni event, replete with new football coach Derek Dooley, a mile or so from the heart of South Carolina's campus.

"You know, we were in Atlanta not long ago," said Dooley, in town with the Volunteers' barnstorming booster tour dubbed the Big Orange Caravan. "We're trying to bleed a little orange into Georgia. We're trying to bleed a little orange into South Carolina, hopefully have a little presence.

"We've got to recruit here, too."

Dooley, who played at Virginia, once played at Williams-Brice. (The receiver's team was clobbered, in 1987.) He coached, too, against Steve Spurrier's Florida teams as a member of LSU's staff. (That went Spurrier's way.)

So perhaps Dooley was in town in search of good mojo.

Of course, Spurrier is no stranger to the Dooley family, considering Derek's father, Georgia icon Vince, was still working in the school's athletic department as Spurrier frustrated the Bulldogs year after year in the 1990s.

Oddly enough, Derek once found himself indirectly thanking Spurrier.

Vince was from the school of coaches that thought golf was a complete waste of time. Once, he called Derek to learn the young coach was on the course.

"You've got no chance to be anything good if all you're going to do is play golf, Vince told his son.

Derek responded, "Well, it's working pretty good for coach Spurrier."

So, in that moment, he tipped his cap to the Ball Coach. Dooley did the same Tuesday regarding Spurrier's impact on the league upon arrival at Florida.

"I wasn't exactly a Florida fan, but I was always a Steve Spurrier fan, in some ways," Dooley said. "He's been a pioneer in this league. He made all the teams better."

Dooley's got his work cut out just making one team better.

Rocky Top has been all but leveled. Dooley is the man assigned the job of rebuilding the mountain, one chunk of earth at a time. Frankly, it's a dirty job. Some might call it an unenviable position.

But Dooley doesn't shy from it. He volunteers for it, even. (Pun intended.)

"I'm very comfortable in this role," he says.

One of the primary functions of the Big Orange Caravan events -- Dooley is scheduled to appear at 12 in the month of May-- is to allow Dooley to quell concerns about the program's direction.

Calm, cool and charismatic, Dooley's lineage as SEC football aristocracy is the perfect picture to cast to Tennessee fans that have threatened to leap from ledges all over the Volunteer State.

"I hope they come away with a good sense that we're going to be OK," Dooley said. "What's happened the last two years, we can't pretend like it didn't happen, because it does leave some effects we can't quite fix right away.

"But the program is in good hands and we're laying a foundation to re-establish what Tennessee has."

As Dooley repeatedly points out, the Vols - in Johnny Majors and Phillip Fulmer - had two coaches that worked at UT for 30 years. Dooley is now the second coach of the team in two seasons, thanks to Lane Kiffin's very noisy one-and-done tenure.

"We're putting (aside) all the dissension and disagreements, or whatever we didn't like about the last few years," Dooley said.

In a way, you think about it and Dooley's whole life has built toward this job. There's been a steady, gradual compilation of SEC files in Dooley's hardwiring.

As he says, he was an unofficial shadow to his dad's quarter-century run of success at Georgia. After dabbling with law, starting with Columbia-based Nelson Mullins' Atlanta office, Dooley eventually found his way to the family business.

Latching on with Nick Saban for his LSU years (2000-04), including the national-title season in 2003-04, certainly upped his SEC knowhow.

After three years in his first head-coaching gig, at Louisiana Tech, Dooley was tabbed to pick up the mess Kiffin left behind.

Knowing the league and the South will have its advantages, Dooley says, but the job extends well beyond that. These therapy sessions with fans only go so far, too.

Coaching football, you know, is also required as part of being a football coach.

"At the end of the day, it gets down to how well you coach and support your players and how well you recruit," he says. "That's what we've got to keep our attention on."

As for 2010, Dooley tempers, in totality, any kind of expectations Volunteers fans might have.

He immediately starts with the disclaimer that Tennessee, which went 7-6 and played in the Chick-fil-A Bowl last season, will have to replace all five offensive lineman, its quarterback and its running back.

"Other than that, we're in great shape," Dooley deadpans, using a line he'll repeat later for the 200 or so gathered inside the Seawell's banquet hall. "I don't think that's ever happened in the history of this league, where you have all that being new faces. You're naturally going to have some growing pains."

In something of a stunning development, Derek's mom, the very personable Barbara Dooley, came dressed in orange to the UT Atlanta event. (A half-dozen Uga mascots rolled over in their doggie graves at that thought.)

Derek wasn't altogether surprised. "It's my mom," he reasoned.

The real shocker, he said, would be if Vince ever dons Tennessee colors.

"It's like our program. It's a process," Derek said. "Give me some time. I'll get him there, eventually."

Reach Travis Haney at thaney@postandcourier.com, check out the Gamecocks blog at postandcourier.com/blogs/gamecocks and follow him on Twitter (@gamecocksblog).