Posted by Jerry Hinnen
It's Valentine's Day, so what do you get for the new college practice facility that's already got everything? If you're Derek Dooley and Tennessee, you get it a mixed martial arts fighting cage.
That's not an exaggeration or a typo; among the many details revealed regarding the Volunteers' new $45 million practice facility during the Knoxville News-Sentinel's Dooley-guided tour is that the Vols will be able to sharpen their MMA moves against each other from the comfort of their own weight room. From the News-Sentinel story:
Players will be able to walk straight from the 120-yard practice field into the new weight room — a 22,000 square foot "multilevel thunderdome of power," as it's called in UT's promotional video for the facility. Along with the standard free weights, machines, cardiovascular training equipment — which will be situated on a deck that overlooks the weight room — and a nutrition bar, it will feature a mixed martial arts cage "so we can go in and fight and all that stuff," Dooley said.
The important details for Vol fans are all covered in the story -- the facility will open in July, feature a "Peyton Manning Room" that will document and celebrate the Volunteers' "tradition in winning," and, yes, should be more than state-of-the-art enough to give Dooley's recruiting efforts a boost -- but it's that paragraph we keep coming back to. So many questions need answering:
1. So Dooley not only isn't forbidding his players from fooling around with amateur martial arts combat, he's actively encouraging it within the walls of his own practice facility? Apparently, unless there's some hidden disapproval we can't find when he says the cage is there for them to "fight and all that stuff."
2. What happens if a player is injured in the cage? We have no idea, but if it happens, the fallout should be ... interesting.
3. Was this Dooley's own personal idea? The News-Sentinel reported that Dooley asked for a number of changes to the facility's plans upon his hire in 2010, some of which "initially rubbed prominent donor Charles Anderson, who pledged $8 million toward the project, the wrong way." Not that Dooley shouldn't have had a major say in the final construction (it being his future offices, after all), but the image of him poring over blueprints and asking Anderson "But where's the mixed martial arts cage?" is one we find irresistible.
4. The "multilevel thunderdome of power"?!? It appears, to coin a phrase, you can separate the program from Lane Kiffin ... but you cannot separate the Lane Kiffin from the program.
Of course, the only question that matters for Dooley is whether or not the facility -- MMA cage and all -- is going to help him win the games he needs to keep his job, and from here it appears that answer is soundly in the affirmative. And if one of the defensive linemen can pick up a bit of additional footwork while grappling with a teammate in his downtime, so much the better.
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