IF you don't like it, change it. If you can't change it, change the way you think about it." Those are words Coach Derek Dooley lives by.
It's also the attitude he took when he describes a memorable family vacation: Disney World, 2009:
"It was important to have a ‘team' meeting - a family meeting - about what we were heading into. Like life, things we encounter affect our patience and our attitude, but you can't let them affect your happiness. So we spent the week, while we waited in hour and a half long lines and intense heat, looking at families to see who was handling it well and who wasn't. We knew it was gonna be hard going in, but we were not gonna let it affect our joy.
"We had so much fun. It was one of the best vacations we've ever had. "
That's also his strategy, which resonates both on and off the field. Whether Coach Dooley and his wife, Allison, are negotiating with their three kids -- John Taylor, 11, Peyton, 8, or Juliana, 6 -- or negotiating with his young football team, he will tell you he's judging kids on effort and attitude. "If you get those and they're good, then you can live with the results," he says assuredly.
So how has settling into Big Orange Country been for the Dooley family? "We love it," they say genuinely. "How can you not?" adds Coach. "Look around. It's beautiful here." The kids also seem to be adjusting well since the family arrived full time the first of March. Peyton and Juliana will resume the school year at Sequoyah Elementary while John Taylor will start middle school at Webb.
Since the boys are also football players, Allison is not quite sure what game days will look like for her just yet. "We used to have three football games to go to on Saturdays - the boys' and then dad's -- but I hear a lot of the kids' games are during the week, so we'll see." That's in addition to her other game day duties: cooking, entertaining guests, getting kids ready and making it to the game.... "Saturdays are hard for Allison," says Coach. "Everything falls on her, and I am absolutely no help." Allison calls out her Type A personality, but laughs, "At the very least, I just try not to have to serve fast food to my guests."
Originally from Texas, Allison draws upon the similarities of Knoxville and Fort Worth when she was growing up as "a big enough city with a small town feel." Knoxville is also reminiscent of the University of Virginia where the two went to school and first met. It's important to Allison to establish roots and a sense of community wherever she lives. She says, "When we move, I approach it as if we'll stay there forever." A testament to her sense of community is a fundraiser she launched for Susan G. Komen while they were in Louisiana to raise money and awareness for breast cancer. Both Derek and Allison's mothers are survivors. "The closest resources were 30 minutes away, so I wanted to do something locally," she says.
Allison views Louisiana Tech as a good transition to her new role as a high profile SEC coach's wife. "There's more company, more entertaining, more time being put into my husband's job," she says, "but it's the high profile that's the interesting part now," as she relates comments from her youngest, Juliana.
"I don't understand why people keep coming up to dad," Juliana said.
"Because dad's the head coach of Tennessee," John Taylor answered, to which Juliana's rebuttal was, "So?"
No surprise, as the youngest Dooley dances around the living room amidst lights and cameras, oblivious to the four strangers who are focused on her parents. She's just interested in the popcorn.
Keeping their kids grounded is essential to both Allison and Derek. Some insight came several years ago during a game at Southern Methodist University where Derek was coaching. Allison recalls the moment when, with just a couple of seconds left, SMU tried for a field goal. The children of the Special Teams' coach were there and, with their back to the field, began praying the kicker would make the goal so their dad wouldn't get fired.
"At that moment I realized I never wanted my kids to think football games were life or death," she says. "We're not going to define our lives by wins or losses. I want them to realize we're just people like everyone else." Coach adds that he tells his kids, "The attention you get publicly is because of the position we're in, not because we're something special."
It's evident creating balance on his home turf is as important as preparing for game days on the football turf. "When you come home you have to ask yourself ‘what are your hours like?'" he explains. "They may not be as many hours as I'm spending at work, but I'm improving on not being consumed and picking up my Blackberry every minute."
As for the adage, "This marriage has been temporarily interrupted for football," Coach replies, "We try not to follow that rule. You have to make time for relationships and families in order to grow. You can't just say ‘stand-by for seven months out of the year.'"
Allison works hard with Derek and the other staff wives to create time for family during football season. Mondays mean "Family Night." When the team and coaches come off the practice field, all the wives, kids and other family members are waiting so everyone can have dinner and spend time together.
Allison, who is an OB/GYN physician, gains much perspective from being a doctor. "I've seen so many awful things that impact how you look at life. I love football, and I want to win, too, but it's still just a game. I want my kids to understand that."
But try and tell certain Vol fans "it's ‘just' a game'" and you might be met with a little push back. Coach recognizes, however, that pressure is an inevitable part of the position. "There's the same pressure everywhere because obviously everyone wants to win. It's just more vocal here," he smiles.
The obvious question wherever Derek Dooley goes is if he's constantly in the shadow of his dad, legendary Georgia Bulldog football coach, Vince Dooley, who he admits "was excited for me" upon hearing Derek was being considered for the Tennessee coaching job. While Derek says they share some philosophical similarities, he admits, "You can't shake it, and there's certainly benefit from it, but I want to prove my own mettle as a coach. My biggest stride so far was coaching under Nick Saban. He didn't keep me around because of who I was. He only keeps people around that do a good job. So the way I know I can shake (the comparisons) is to prove my own mettle - in time."
And part of proving that mettle is getting Tennessee football back on solid ground. "I want to reestablish what made this program so special, and that's winning and stability," Coach says.
Given what's happened over the last couple of years, Coach talks about his team's potential at this point. "There's been lots of attrition, so going in, our roster has a lot of youth and inexperience. It's not where we want to be, but it will be fun to watch this team grow."
Coach Dooley has already established a new school of thought: the VFL - Vol for Life. "I am about investing in players' personal growth," he says. "I draw from my own experience that I was no different than a lot of these players, but I realized that you learn from listening, or you fall hard. We changed the culture at Louisiana Tech when I was there, and I'm proud of that."
It is clear, now, Coach Dooley is ready to kick off a new culture at UT. He doesn't have any traditions, superstitions or rituals that he's planning to introduce to the team or Vol fans, though he says he's big on routine. "It builds confidence," he says. "It goes back to creating stability."
There's little question Volunteer fans will jump on Coach Dooley's "Vol for Life" bandwagon. For many, being a Vol already is their life. Yet others will simply look to Dooley to breathe new life into the Volunteer spirit and bring a winning Tennessee tradition back to life. That, rest assured, has been "Dooley" noted.