It's hard to criticize much about the first year of Derek Dooley's tenure at Tennessee. After the sudden departure of Lane Kiffin from Knoxville and Dooley's whirwind hire, he still managed to hire a well-respected staff, salvage an impressive recruiting class, and drag the least-experienced Volunteer team in years to a bowl game behind rapidly-developing quarterback Tyler Bray.
Perhaps the only truly debatable decision Dooley has made has been to play hardball with a handful of Volunteers who asked for transfer requests in the wake of Kiffin's departure, notably former No. 1 overall recruit Bryce Brown and former freshman All-America lineman Aaron Douglas. Dooley denied Brown his release, apparently keeping him off scholarship at his hometown Kansas State program, and responded to Douglas's claims that he needed to get away from certain influences in Knoxville by granting him a waiver only on the condition that Douglas transfer somewhere eight hours' drive or further away. Those highly unusual steps -- taken to "protect the program " in Dooley's words -- may have successfuly sent the message that any future Volunteers who wish to transfer will need to be in good standing with Dooley ahead of time, but it also created a good deal of enmity between the program and Brown and Douglas.
Now that enmity may be coming home to roost in Douglas's case. After spending this season at community college Arizona Western, Douglas has transferred back into the SEC, and at the last school Vol supporters would want: Alabama.
For his part, Dooley says he's happy that Douglas has landed on his feet:
But to hear Douglas say that he didn't originally want to play against Tennessee but that "the stipulations with my release opened up everything," it doesn't take a whole lot of reading between the lines to see that responding in kind to Dooley's less-than-accomodating decision was a motivating factor in his choice of new school.
"First of all, I wanted to release him," Dooley said after practice this morning. "I didn't want to deny a release, which is what we normally do. I thought he needed to get away, and I thought it was good for our team that he wasn't close by, too.
"I thought everybody benefited, that we just get away from the deal for a little bit and I think it worked out well for our team and it worked out well for Aaron. Everybody should be happy."
If so, then certainly Douglas is opening himself up to his own charges of pettiness. But that wouldn't change the fact that if Dooley had simply approved a standard release, Douglas likely would have ended up somewhere that wasn't Tuscaloosa. Maybe the message sent to future potential transferees was worth it, but if Douglas plays a role in maintaining the Crimson Tide's recent success in the series (and judging by his play in his one season on Rocky Top, he does), it will have to be asked of Dooley if, maybe, it wasn't.