Derek Dooley wants everyone to know he's got a mind of his own. That's why he chose not to play football at Georgia, where his father made his name coaching. Or stick with Nick Saban as he built another championship program.
He struck out on his own, and after three years of coaching at Louisiana Tech and two years of working as the Bulldogs' athletic director, the son of Vince Dooley is looking to build his own championship program at Tennessee.
"This is the program," Dooley said as he was introduced Friday night as the Volunteers' new coach. "How could you ask for anything more than the University of Tennessee? I've never been more excited about my future for my family and for a program and for living than I am right now."
His work begins immediately as he's tasked with salvaging the recruiting class that Lane Kiffin left behind when he bolted for Southern California just three weeks before national signing day.
Dooley met the current Vols on Friday night and told them he would try to earn their trust rather than demand it. He also asked that they bear with him as he spends the next two weeks focused on recruiting.
Freshman wide receiver Bryce Brown, who was the most prized recruit in Kiffin's class a year ago, admitted he was shocked when Kiffin left but said he liked the way Dooley seemed to relate to players.
"He's obviously a players' coach," Brown said. "As a player you definitely want a players' coach because it's easy to talk to them and they understand."
Dooley was offered the job late Friday afternoon. He resigned as coach and athletic director of Louisiana Tech, and flew into Knoxville for the late news conference.
Like his predecessor, Dooley comes with a short head coaching resume.
He went 17-20 in three seasons at Louisiana Tech and was the only coach in major college football to also serve as the AD. He holds a law degree and previously worked for several years under Saban at LSU and with the Miami Dolphins.
Tennessee athletic director Mike Hamilton said Dooley agreed that coaching the Vols is a destination job. He praised him for a five-year apprenticeship under Saban and for helping the current Alabama coach land two No. 1 recruiting classes at LSU.
"I've talked to a number of folks over the past 24 hours," Hamilton said. "He's been described as very intelligent, intense, disciplined, hard-nosed, a tenacious recruiter, a family guy and extremely well-organized."
Dooley's limited head coaching experience _ like Kiffin, whose only head coaching stint had been a brief, bad one with the Oakland Raiders _ makes him a risky pick. But his experience as an assistant is stronger.
Dooley worked as LSU's recruiting coordinator and tight ends coach from 2000 through 2003's signing day, landing classes rated No. 1 in 2001 and '03. He coached LSU's running backs and special teams in 2003-04, followed Saban to the Dolphins as tight ends coach in 2005, and left for Louisiana Tech in December 2006.
Dooley talked about how he learned early that Tennessee represented the essence of college football, and remembers watching the weekly television shows of former coaches Johnny Majors and Phillip Fulmer. He also promised he will not try to sell Tennessee in a sound bite, perhaps taking a shot at Kiffin, who was reprimanded by the Southeastern Conference for brash comments.
"Everything we're going to do is going to be done with a foundation of integrity with every aspect of the program," Dooley said. "We're going to represent this institution with class on and off the field."