KNOXVILLE — Derek Dooley truly spared no detail in helping design Tennessee's nearly-completed football training center.
The Volunteers' coach even made sure he managed the smell of the program's shiny new toy.
Dooley stopped in the locker room of the complex during a media tour of the new building and described the smell and musty aroma in a typical football locker room.
"Not one of the scents you want to smell," he deadpanned.
The new building, which is covered with Dooley's fingerprints, has a solution. There will be a shoe-drying room right next to the door leading to the Vols' outdoor practice fields. Each individual locker features chargers and a ventilation system that removes the bad air outside and blows in new, clean air.
Those amenities are only the tip of the iceberg in what Dooley says will be the "gold standard" for facilities in college football.
"When you walk in," said the Vols' third-year coach, "you've got to be able to say, 'Wow.'
"If we're going to spend $40 million, we're going to do this thing without issues. Everybody was supportive once we cleared a little hurdle internally, and we've all worked together as a team."
The fundraising for the project began when Mike Hamilton was UT's athletic director and Phillip Fulmer was coach, and Dooley took some criticism for wanting to put his hands on the building's redesign upon his arrival. But the meticulous coach is proud of the final product, which will cost roughly $42 million, about $5 million less than originally estimated. The football program will move into the building in phases that begin next month and end by December.
Dooley's biggest emphasis was the building's "flow," as the coach wanted to group the players' areas and coaches' areas together for better efficiency. The complex's technology is advanced, yet the layout is rather simple. The walls will be covered with graphics detailing UT's football tradition, as Dooley felt such a tribute was missing when he took the Vols' job.
"This is also going to be the museum of our history, whether it's great players, championship teams, great moments in Tennessee football, great coaches," he said. "All the walls in these players' and coaches' areas are going to be strategically designed to represent the storied history of Tennessee. It's polishing the diamond."
The two-level weight room will feature "science-driven training" with computer technology at each station. Every rep or lift is recorded digitally with a camera system that will allow strength coach Ron McKeefery to provide feedback, measure speed, power and explosion and correct technique. Weight-room records now will be recorded so players can go and watch the record-setter's actual run or lift.
There will be an iPad at each station detailing the day's workout regimen and the exercise's proper technique. A cognitive-awareness chamber will allow McKeefery to train players mentally. The second floor of the weight room will have cardiovascular equipment and a "tumbling area," which was originally labeled as an MMA cage that received national publicity.
A restaurant, the weight room, adjacent nutrition area and training rooms can be used by all UT athletes, but the football team's locker and equipment rooms are designed to avoid any crossover.
"It's got to be logistically sound," Dooley said. "There's a lot of moving parts. When you're talking about 120 big football players going from meetings to training rooms to the weight room to the locker room and all the equipment — it's got to flow well."
UT's new hydrotherapy room includes two plunge tanks, a lane pool for rehabilitation and two "underwater treadmills" of adjustable depth and speed. Six cameras in that room provide different angles for evaluating techniques and creating more efficient rehabilitation. It's one of many Dooley's so-called "showpieces" in the new facility.
The training area includes a rehabilitation clinic, which features a balance unit so UT's medical staff can conduct individualized baseline concussion tests for each athlete. There's two examination rooms, including a diagnostic ultrasound unit for MRIs and an X-ray room, that will allow the Vols to keep everything in-house. The building even has an in-house state-licensed pharmacy.
The football team's meeting area and players' lounge is upstairs from the weight and locker rooms. Each room has a camera and a microphone, and every meeting is recorded. Players can access a network to watch film or revisit a meeting at any time.
The last piece to Dooley's puzzle is still in the works. He said athletic director Dave Hart and chancellor Jimmy Cheek are "working through" what to do with the space opened up by the winter demolition of Stokely Athletic Center. UT could double its practice space with two more practice fields (one grass and one FieldTurf) adjacent to the current Haslam Fields.
The new training center is a spectacle that serves many purposes, but Dooley readily admits UT has much more to sell.
"This is all great," McKeefery said. "We have a ton of resources, and we're very fortunate for that. But it's not what defines us.
"The people here define our program. ... It's not about all the flash; it's about the effort and the accountability."
Patrick Brown has been the University of Tennessee beat writer since January 2011. A native of Memphis, Brown graduated from UT in May of 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism/Electronic Media and worked at the Knoxville News Sentinel for two years on the sports editorial staff and as a freelance contributor. If it’s the NBA, the NFL or SEC football and basketball, he’s probably reading about it or watching it on TV. Contact him ...
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