Vols AD’s future might rest with Dooley’s success
AP Sports Writer
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) – Tennessee athletic director Mike Hamilton was determined to hold Derek Dooley’s introductory press conference the same day he hired the coach.
Hamilton wanted the Volunteers fans to form their opinions of the new coach based on Dooley’s own words and not his 17-20 record in three seasons at Louisiana Tech.
“The reality is that after Derek got up and did his press conference Friday night I received really good feedback. Now that he’s starting to put his staff together that type of positive feedback has continued,” Hamilton told The Associated Press.
Hamilton took a chance when he hired Lane Kiffin in late 2008 only to find himself in the middle of another coaching search 14 months later and cleaning up the mess the 34-year-old coach left behind en route to Southern California.
If Dooley’s tenure ends in any way similar to that of predecessor’s, Hamilton might be rolling the dice on his own career with Tennessee.
Hamilton has the support of his own boss, though.
“There was kind of a frenzy going,” Tennessee interim president Jan Simek said. “It’s fairly typical, but Mike wasn’t responsible for that. Mike had a very clear mission, a set of people that he was going to talk to that included coach Dooley and that’s what he did.”
One of Tennessee’s most influential boosters, Jim Haslam, seemed pleased with Dooley’s hire. Haslam, the founder of Pilot Travel Centers and a member of the Volunteers’ 1951 national championship football team, said Dooley “is going to do good things” and is “very impressive.”
Hamilton and Simek attributed the fan frenzy to misinformation spread through the internet and by the media.
“The fact that someone says they might have had interest in the job or might have been offered the job is not necessarily true,” Hamilton said. “This is a great job, and there’s great interest, and they need to let us carry it through to the end.”
He hired Kiffin based on his experience as an assistant at USC and in the NFL, the staff assistants he pledged to hire and his enthusiasm.
In Kiffin’s lone year with the Vols, he improved the team’s record from 5-7 to 7-6 and got commitments from highly touted recruits. His staff left the Vols with six minor NCAA infractions and an NCAA inquiry into recruiting practices by student hostesses.
Hamilton is looking into reports that assistant Ed Orgeron, who followed Kiffin to USC, phoned recruits to encourage them not to attend class at Tennessee.
“It was sudden. It took us all by surprise,” Simek said of Kiffin’s departure. “It wasn’t Mike’s fault either.”
While Kiffin’s departure caught Hamilton off guard, he says he keeps a list of potential candidates and Dooley has been on his list ever since Louisiana Tech won the 2008 Independence Bowl.
Dooley’s Southern accent charmed Vols fans as he pledged during his introduction to run the Tennessee program with integrity and referenced beloved Tennessee coach Robert Neyland.
Hamilton said he appreciates that Dooley worked for the past two years not only as coach but as Louisiana Tech’s athletic director and understands how to both coach and manage a program.
Dooley ventured out on his own to Louisiana Tech after six seasons of working as an assistant to coach Nick Saban at LSU and the NFL’s Miami Dolphins.
And Hamilton likes that Dooley took a chance on going it alone.
“You can stay as coordinator for a long time at a premier institution and jump to a premier job or you can choose to go ahead and go get your nose bloody,” Hamilton said. “He did that, and I can appreciate that.”