KNOXVILLE, Tenn. | New Tennessee coach Derek Dooley promised his players from the day he was hired in January that he wouldn't demand their trust.
Dooley found himself in what he described as a “delicate situation” as the Volunteers' third coach in as many seasons.
“I told them I'm never going to ask them to trust me because I do think that's something that you have to earn in time,” Dooley said in a Thursday teleconference. “That trust is built over time and in the consistency in how we treat them and in the consistency in how we coach them and the fairness and respect that we do it with.”
Dooley held 14 spring practices sessions before the team's annual Orange and White scrimmage, and the Vols worked on installing new schemes – the third in three years for the defense and fourth in four years for the offense.
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The former Louisiana Tech coach replaced Lane Kiffin, who unexpectedly left after one season to coach Southern California. Players voiced frustration about how Kiffin ran his program after he left.
Dooley realizes that time spent with the players during March and April was valuable in rebuilding players' confidence in a coach.
“I feel like our players have made a big jump in the last two months in how they feel about our coaching staff, but at the end of the day it's our job to get them to trust us, not us to demand that they trust us,” Dooley said.
Linebacker LaMarcus Thompson said after the spring game that that approach to trust has already earned him respect from many players.
“It was nice to hear that, and it made you want to respect him from the jump,” Thompson said. “He wasn't coming in here just telling us what's up. He told us he knew what we'd been through, and he just asked us to open ourselves up to trusting him.”
Dooley said the Vols had great spirit and a strong work ethic during spring drills, setting the tone for Tennessee's summer workout program and fall practice period.
“I think the biggest thing is that the players now have a good feel for us as coaches and what our expectations are, and we have a better feel for our players and our personnel issues,” he said. “I was real pleased with how we came out of spring, but we certainly have a long way to go.”