KNOXVILLE (AP) — Tennessee’s coaching staff doesn’t consider Derek Dooley’s move to the press box a major hindrance as the Volunteers prepare for Saturday’s game at No. 19 Mississippi State.
Dooley, 44, underwent surgery on his fractured right hip Tuesday afternoon and will work from the press box Saturday for the first time since his 2005-06 stint as the Miami Dolphins’ tight ends coach.
This will mark the first time a Tennessee head coach has worked a game from the press box since Johnny Majors did it during a 40-0 victory over Cincinnati on Sept. 26, 1992, while recovering from heart surgery that forced him to miss the Vols’ first three games that season.
“For us as a staff, we’re trying to maintain our responsibilities the same way we always have,” said offensive coordinator Jim Chaney, who also will be in the press box as part of his usual game-day routine. “I talk to Derek on the headsets. Now he’ll be sitting beside me. I don’t anticipate any difference, quite honestly, when it comes to game day.”
While Dooley missed Wednesday’s practice to recover from surgery, his assistants downplayed the effect his move to the press box would have on the game. They don’t expect the situation to change their own responsibilities much.
“He’s going to be talking to me when the defense is on the field,” defensive coordinator Sal Sunseri said. “He’s going to be talking to Jim or one of the other coaches on offense when the offense is on the field. We’re going to manage it just fine. Coach has it totally managed. We’ve already talked about it as a staff. We have a plan and we’ll execute our plan.”
The assistants don’t expect any communication problems in regard to calling timeouts or deciding whether to accept or decline a penalty.
“It’s real simple,” Sunseri said. “We’re all on the headset. If Coach says he wants a timeout, we give him a timeout. If he doesn’t want a timeout, we don’t give him a timeout. If he wants to accept the penalty, we accept the penalty. It doesn’t matter. He could be standing right next to me, and we’re on the headsets and he says, ‘We’re going to take it,’ or ‘We’re not.’ Whether he’s here or he’s up in the press box, it really doesn’t matter.”
Defensive line coach John Palermo has experienced this type of situation.
Palermo worked as an assistant head coach at Wisconsin in 1999 when Badgers coach Barry Alvarez worked seven games from the press box and spent one game in the hospital while recovering from knee surgery. Palermo served as acting head coach during the game Alvarez missed, a 20-17 overtime victory over Minnesota.
Wisconsin went on to finish 10-2 and win the Rose Bowl that season.
“He was in the Mayo Clinic, and we talked on the telephone,” Palermo said. “He had a feed to his (room). And the next two games he was up in the press box and he pretty much ran the show. It’s just on the field, I took care of things for him.”
Although university officials said Dooley had experienced increasing pain over the last two months, Tennessee’s assistant coaches were surprised to learn the severity of his injury. An MRI on Friday revealed a fracture that required surgery.
“Coach is a tough guy,” special teams and tight ends coach Charlie Coiner said. “He isn’t going to show you a whole lot. You could see him limping a little bit, but it surprises you because he’s a young guy. That’s why I’m glad he got it done. He’s 44 years old. He’s got a lot of life to live. You don’t want to mess around with that.”