KNOXVILLE – A week after having a more somber and reserved tone at his weekly press conference, coach Derek Dooley came out swinging this week.
Quarterback Tyler Bray and the website MrSEC.com were two of his main targets.
John Pennington, a writer for MrSEC.com, posted a story on Monday claiming that sources had told the website that Dooley was in negotiations for a potential buyout after the Vols lost to Kentucky and finished 2011 with a 5-7 record. Dooley laughed when asked about the report.
“That is exactly why I don’t read those websites,” Dooley said. “That is absurd. Who wrote that? Who is he? Who are the sources? That is absurd.”
Dooley then countered with an anecdote about his high school football coach attempting to resign every season despite rarely losing a game.
“His point was he doesn’t want to be here if they don’t want him,” Dooley said. “Of course, he never left. I haven’t had the courage to do that right now. So maybe one day I will do that but I am not doing that right now. So that ought to answer your question. I would be a real dumb— to do that.”
He also expressed disappointment in Bray’s decision to not speak to the media after the Vols’ 44-13 loss to Alabama on Saturday. Bray had one of the worst games of his career, completing 13-of-27 attempts (48.1 percent) for 184 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions.
“I have no defense for that kind of behavior,” Dooley said. “He is the quarterback and there is a level of responsibility that you have to the team, to the fans and to the media. If you don’t like it, don’t play quarterback. That is how it is and I told him that. That is the first time we’ve ever had a guy do that and that is unacceptable in our program. Man up. That is what you have to do. That is life.”
Bray will be on a shorter leash when the Vols (3-4, 0-4 SEC) travel to face South Carolina (6-2, 4-2 SEC) this week. Backup Justin Worley relieved Bray early in the fourth quarter with the game out of reach on Saturday.
Worley, a South Carolina native, could see action on Saturday if Bray has another poor performance, Dooley said. The redshirt sophomore started three games in 2011 with Bray missing time because of a broken thumb. He completed 48 of 87 passes for 604 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions.
“If he is loose with the ball, he is coming out of the game, and I told him that,” Dooley said of Bray. “He is too loose with the football and he’s been too loose. That’s the way it is. We can’t win, we can’t beat these teams turning the ball over. There are going to be inevitable turnovers in the game, so when there is one, make them make a great play to get it, not serve it up to them, which is what we do.”
Boos, angry calls not bothering Dooley: Boos rained down from Neyland Stadium multiple times on Saturday. One heavy round came when the Vols, down 13 before halftime, opted to run a draw play instead of taking another shot at getting into scoring range.
“I understand the boos because I have always been pretty aggressive before the half,” Dooley said. “In that moment in time, given how our quarterback was playing, we were sitting there and I felt like we had played very poorly on offense and we were down 13 to the No. 1 team in the country.”
Some fans also disliked Dooley’s decision to kick a short field goal when trailing 44-10 in the fourth quarter.
“I thought the boos because we were down 44-10, not because we kicked a field goal,” he said. “It’s either 44-10, 44-13 or 44-17. (Kicker Michael) Palardy was doing good, so let’s get something positive out of it. I don’t know. I can’t say that was the right move or the wrong one. I can say it is insignificant either way.”
Dooley also confirmed he’s received some voicemails from angry fans, but he’s unsure how they got his phone number.
“I am not upset that people are angry and screaming at the coach,” he said. “You haven’t been in the business if you don’t expect otherwise.”
Injury update: Right guard Zach Fulton (ankle) is doubtful for South Carolina. Marcus Jackson or Alex Bullard are candidates to start in his spot.
Running back Rajion Neal (ankle) is likely going to play this week, but Dooley said he won’t be 100 percent.
Dooley (hip surgery) will probably remain on the sidelines. He’s hoping to be able to move without crutches on Saturday.
Daniel Lewis covers Tennessee football for Nooga.com. Follow him on Twitter @Daniel_LewisCBS.