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Dooley continues rebuilding Vols

The Associated Press 
Tennessee coach Derek Dooley talks with reporters during SEC Media Days on Thursday in Hoover, Ala.

The Associated Press Tennessee coach Derek Dooley talks with reporters during SEC Media Days on Thursday in Hoover, Ala.

HOOVER, Ala. -- When Tauren Poole arrived at Tennessee in 2008, it seemed like a pretty stable place.

Coach Phil Fulmer had been with the Volunteers more than 15 years, the program was usually at or near the top of the Southeastern Conference and a national title was always the ultimate goal.

Two coaching changes, several losses and an NCAA investigation later, Poole admits it hasn't been a storybook career. But he's got one more year to change that.

''It hasn't gone as planned, but that's just a part of it,'' Poole said. ''Life's not always going to go the way you want it to and you just have to respond in a positive manner.''

Tennessee coach Derek Dooley, who is entering his second season with the program, couldn't agree more. Despite a roster that has just 10 seniors, he said there's no use in complaining about the team's shortcomings in the brutal world of the SEC.

''We've got enough bodies to go put a football team out there,'' Dooley said. ''The only thing that we have right now is just youth. We can't sit there and use that as an excuse not to succeed.''

Tennessee made a bowl in Dooley's first season, finishing with a 6-7 record after losing in the Music City Bowl. Now the Volunteers are trying for bigger things after returning 13 starters including sophomore quarterback Tyler Bray and 1,000-yard rusher Tauren Poole.

Dooley's first season with Tennessee was expected to be rough, and during the first half it was. But a four-game winning streak to close the regular season, coupled with the emergence of Bray, made the future much more enticing.

The 6-foot-6, 210-pound Bray threw for 1,849 yards, 18 touchdowns and 10 interceptions as a true freshman, showing a knack for improvisation and spectacular plays. With that excitement came some spectacular mistakes as well, but Dooley said the good far outweighs the bad.

''It's a little bit like parenting,'' Dooley said. ''They don't always do it the way you want, but then they do it and you go, 'Well, that wasn't too bad after all.'''

Poole had a breakout season as a junior, rushing for 1,034 yards and 11 touchdowns. The 5-foot-10, 215-pounder is often overshadowed by a loaded pack of SEC running backs, including Arkansas' Knile Davis, South Carolina's Marcus Lattimore and Alabama's Trent Richardson, but he isn't concerned about the lack of recognition.

''Those guys are great running backs and they bring a lot to the table,'' Poole said.

''And I definitely love the competition in this league because it makes us all better.''

While Dooley continues to improve the team's personnel, he's also trying to improve its attitude. Much of the 43-year-old's charge during his 18 months in Knoxville has centered on trying to restore the dignity of a once-proud program.

''I do believe that we lost our way a little bit in understanding what it means to play for Tennessee,'' Dooley said. ''So we've spent an inordinate amount of time educating our team, talking to our young players about what Tennessee stands for and what the standard is here.''