Dooley has work cut out for him
New Tennessee coach must try to salvage what was a top-10 recruiting class
Derek Dooley, who was named as Tennessee's new head coach Friday, might not have been the Vols' first choice, but he has a good recruiting background and a great coaching lineage, traits that will help him as he tries to save what was a top-10 recruiting class.
Dooley, the son of former Georgia head coach Vince Dooley, had a good reputation as a recruiter when he was at LSU under current Alabama head coach Nick Saban. Dooley was the tight ends coach and recruiting coordinator at LSU from 2000 to 2003 and coached special teams and running backs in 2004.
LSU's 2001 class was one of the top 3 in the country, and the 2003 LSU class was widely considered the best in the country and the foundation for LSU's going 43-9 between 2004 and 2007, with a national championship in 2007. Dooley was on that staff with current Tennessee assistant Lance Thompson and Texas head coach in waiting Will Muschamp, who turned down the Vols job earlier this week. NFL players of note in that class were safety LaRon Landry, wide receiver Dwayne Bowe, quarterback JaMarcus Russell and wide receiver Craig Davis.
A source with a working knowledge of Dooley's abilities as a recruiter at LSU said the 41-year-old Dooley was a "good recruiter" who served as Saban's "right-hand man" in that department during his time in Baton Rouge. Another SEC assistant coach described Dooley as a "good guy that could probably run for governor and win."
Dooley will need every bit of that salesmanship and recruiting prowess to salvage a crumbling recruiting class in a very short period of time. The Vols had the sixth-ranked class before Kiffin and several member of the staff took off for USC, but since then, several top players have decommitted and left the class reeling with less than three weeks to national signing day. The quiet period ends Saturday, and Sunday marks the first day coaches can have live contact with recruits. Dooley and the Vols staff will have to take full advantage of that face time. Dooley wasn't the biggest name on the Vols' wish list, and some recruits and their families aren't as familiar with him, so they're taking a wait-and-see approach.
Keith Ambles, the father of four-star wide receiver Markeith Ambles (McDonough, Ga./Henry County) wants to know more.
"I just heard that Dooley was going to get the job," he said. "I don't know much about him other than his dad coached at Georgia. We are going to sit down and talk to Tennessee and see what type of offense they are going to run. We'll make our decision from there. We'll probably be visiting schools the last three weeks."
Ambles, who is ranked 23rd in the ESPNU 150, is considering USC, LSU, Alabama, Auburn, Ole Miss and West Virginia for potential visits.
Tennessee defensive end commit J.C. Copeland (LaGrange, Ga./Troup) also said he was not familiar with Dooley, but was glad that "we got somebody in there." Copeland had reportedly set up multiple official visits after Kiffin's departure.
The father of former defensive tackle commit Calvin Smith (Hialeah, Fla.) said there is a good chance that his son will now consider recommitting to the Vols. He decommitted after Kiffin left.
According to a report from the Spartanburg (S.C.) Herald-Journal, Under Armour All-America defensive end Corey Miller (Duncan, S.C./James F. Byrnes) has informed Byrnes offensive coordinator Bobby Bentley that he is remaining at Tennessee. A source familiar with Miller's recruitment said Friday that Miller had not spoken with his father or any of his Byrnes teammates in the past 48 hours.
Miller has been in Knoxville since Monday but has not attended class, which leaves him the option to go to another school, according to most interpretations of the NCAA transfer rule.
Like Miller, four-star receiver Ted Meline (North Miami, Fla.) has also been in Knoxville but has not gone to class. Like Ambles, he will wait and see what type of offensive system Dooley wants to run.
Louisiana Tech ran a multiple, pro-style offense under Dooley and offensive coordinator Frank Scelfo. Last season, Tech was 29th in rushing yards per game (184.2), 91st in passing yards per game (203.5), 64th in yards per game (372.3) and 46th in points per game (29.2). Sound familiar? Remember, Dooley is coming from the Saban coaching tree, so that applies to his offensive philosophy and the running game. By contrast, Tennessee last year was 54th in rushing (157.3), 48th in passing (237.5), 60th in total yards (383.6) and 43rd in points per game (29.3).
He'll also need to persuade recruits regionally and nationally to consider Tennessee. Tennessee is not blessed with an abundance of in-state talent. (Only one member of its 2010 recruiting class hailed from the Volunteer State.) To get enough talent to compete, he'll need to land prospects not only from the South, but also from across the country. That's something that Kiffin looked to be doing and something at which Kiffin's predecessor, Phillip Fulmer, was one of the best in the history of college football.
Bigger picture, Dooley will need to help heal the wounds left by Kiffin's sudden departure and the parade of high-profile "thanks, but no thanks" responses from Muschamp, former Tampa Bay Bucs coach Jon Gruden, Air Force coach Troy Calhoun, Duke head coach and former UT assistant David Cutcliffe, and Utah coach Kyle Whittingham.
Dooley, who was raised by an SEC legend and has coached in the SEC, knows how passionate Vols fans are about their program. He'll need to convince them that he's embracing Tennessee, and that it's not just talk. But he has one card he can play to show his respect for the program: One of Dooley's sons is named Peyton.
JC Shurburtt covers recruiting for ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Gerry Hamilton contributed to this report.
KIFFIN BOLTS VOLS FOR USC
Lane Kiffin shocked the football world, agreeing to leave Tennessee to coach USC.