Saturday in Neyland Stadium, Derek Dooley and the Tennessee Volunteers let another opportunity for a marquee SEC win get away. The Vols slipped to 3-2 with the toughest two game stretch in the country looming on the horizon.
The No. 1 team in the nation, LSU, is coming to town this Saturday. Following this game a trip to Tuscaloosa to take on No. 2 Alabama awaits the Vols. I really don't think that Dooley will get his first big win as the Volunteers head coach in the next two games, but that is ok.
Derek Dooley was hired from Louisiana Tech where he served as head coach from 2007-2009 and was named as the athletic director in 2008. His records at Louisiana Tech were 5-7, 8-5, and 4-8. Year two was more of an upperclassmen laden team that he coached to 2nd place in the WAC behind Boise St, and an Independence Bowl victory over Northern Illinois.
In 2009, his talent wasn't as good but the schedule was much more difficult, but he managed to push his team into competing with No. 5 Boise, losing by only 10, and No. 11 LSU, losing by just eight points in a game the Bulldogs led at the half inside Tiger Stadium.
Three of the other losses came at a combined score of five points. There were some embarrassing losses sprinkled in, but in year three at Louisiana Tech after inheriting that disheveled program, it appeared he was headed in the right direction.
It's no secret that he wasn't Tennessee's first choice in a head coach, but he was on their list for a reason.
Derek is the son of Vince Dooley, and a disciple of Nick Saban. He was Nick Saban's recruiting coordinator at LSU after having served as the assistant recruiting coordinator at SMU.
Saban thought enough of Dooley to bring him along to the Miami Dolphins when he took the head coaching position in 2005. Saban is a workaholic that expects nothing less of his staff and perfection is at the top of his requirements list. If Dooley didn't know what he was doing, he wouldn't have lasted under Saban. That in itself should keep people at ease for a short time. Anytime you have the blessing of a coach the caliber of Nick Saban, you are pretty darn good at what you do.
The attrition caused by three coaches in as many seasons at Tennessee was astronomical. The program has lost over 45 players in three years. That is something no program can withstand. I don't care if it was General Neyland himself, Nick Saban, Urban Meyer, or any other "upper echelon" coach roaming the sidelines; they would all struggle with the current situation.
Not to mention that since Dooley has arrived, he has had to remove Darren Myles, Jr. who was an outstanding safety prospect as well as Janzen Jackson who needs no explanation. The only returning offensive lineman with any experience was the late Aaron Douglas who requested a transfer before spring practice in 2010. One of the nation's top recruits in 2009 running back Bryce Brown also decided he wanted out. Dooley also had to dismiss Montori Hughes who could have turned into a very solid defensive lineman, as well as numerous others.
Due to the attrition in the program, Dooley and his staff had to play 17 true freshmen in 2010. Most of them played significant snaps and some even started.
This was also the 3rd defensive system the team had to learn, and the only point of familiarity was Jim Chaney's offense because he was the only holdover from the Kiffin's tenure. Tennessee wasn't expected to make it to a bowl game in Dooley's first season but they did just that. They were also extremely competitive in the first halves of every game they played except for Georgia, where multiple first half turnovers doomed the team early in Athens.
They were leading, tied, or down by a possession at the half against the likes of Oregon, Florida, Alabama, and LSU in 2010 until the lack of depth started to rear its head late in games. There is no reason bigger for the early success in games against superior opponents than good coaching.
2011 presented more challenges as this was still a very young football team, and even younger in the starting lineup than 2010 with the departures of Gerald Jones, Denarious Moore, Luke Stocker, Nick Reveiz, Chris Walker, and Gerald Williams. These were good to very talented players that were no longer part of the team and replaced by sophomores or upperclassmen that had only played their position for one season.
In the spring of 2011, most fans and pundits alike thought a record anywhere between 6-6 and 8-4 was very likely, but wouldn't be surprised if it wasn't a bit worse just do to the abundance of unproven talent, inexperience, and youth. The general consensus was that even though the record may not improve, the on-field product would.
Everyone had high hopes for the offensive trio of Justin Hunter, Tyler Bray, and Da'Rick Rogers. They also had high hopes for an offensive line that is comprised of four sophomores and a junior that took a lot of lumps as freshmen last season.
Before summer camp started, the team lost one of their two returning front seven on defense in linebacker Herman Lathers. Then in fall camp defensive lineman Montori Hughes was dismissed as well as all-SEC safety Janzen Jackson. In the third game of the season, superstar sophomore receiver Justin Hunter was lost for the season with a torn ACL. Most recently, against Georgia, the Vols lost Tyler Bray for six weeks.
None of these events are the fault of Derek Dooley or his staff. Period.
With Hunter going down on the fourth offensive play against the Gators, the 2010 Vols would have crumbled and gotten blown out of Ben Hill-Griffin Stadium. The 2011 Vols did no such thing. They made adjustments, rallied, and lost by 10. Yes they lost, but they did not quit and they were in it late in the game.
Against Georgia, after a third quarter in which the Vols were outgained 177-11, the 2010 Vols would have laid down and gotten rolled--remember it happened in Athens last October. The 2011 Vols continued to fight, scoring in the 4th and had a shot with an onside kick--even after they lost starting quarterback Tyler Bray. In 2010, Tennessee needed overtime to beat the UAB Blazers, in 2011 they have dismantled Montana, Cincinnati, and Buffalo just like they should.
What I'm driving at here is that is it utterly absurd to think that Derek Dooley should be on the hot seat at this point in his tenure at Tennessee. It's not his fault that players left, got themselves dismissed, or got injured. None of those events are his fault.
That in itself is a major reason the game against Florida didn't turn out like Vols fans and coaches wanted, as well as the contest against UGA. The fact that the games were close means this program has made progress. You can see the coaching ability just by the improved play from Bray and the young receivers. You cannot say that Dooley should be on the hot seat after 18 games in a program that was nothing short of a dumpster fire.
I know that some writers have strong opinions, and there is nothing wrong with that, but there is one in particular who I'll refer to as "playdough" that put out a "fire Dooley" article shortly after the loss to Georgia last weekend.
That way of thinking is ridiculous and would do nothing but hurt the program--if it were a reality. That article stated that Dooley is only good enough to win half of his games. In three years at a program or less, you really can't tell how good a coach is by his win/loss record--especially when he has inherited two programs in the shape of La Tech and UT.
A smart fan or media member (playdough claims to be one and somehow is the other) would know this. Yes, both UGA and Florida are in sort of a rebuilding phase, but Georgia hasn't been through a coaching change, and even though UF has, the cupboards were stocked full of talent for Will Muschamp thanks to the terrific recruiting of Urban Meyer and his staff.
Dooley is doing a solid job on the recruiting trail, signing two top 15 classes since he has been here. He is recruiting a different character athlete than previous staffs in his attempt to re-brand the Vols and improve their national image.
You see, the job that Dooley has undertaken isn't just one that has to do with the football field. He is rebuilding a program from the ground up. He is changing the image of a university, as well as the on-field performance. He has been given a tall task and has done a great job with it so far. This team has shown vast improvement since 2010, and when they are fully healthy they have a very good offense.
The defense is playing much better than was expected, and no one really looked at 2011 as a year to compete for an East crown anyways. 2012 was the year most anyone with sense pointed to as the year to compete, and by everything I have seen, that seems to be quite accurate.
If your average Joe wants to sit back after a loss and say that Dooley isn't worth a flip then so be it. Fans will be fans and the lunatic fringe will always be a part of every fanbase.
As a member of the media I have learned to separate the Volunteer fan from the employee hired to cover a team. Other members of the media need to learn to do the same.
By putting out garbage articles that fuel the lunatic fringe, you are only making yourself look more foolish than most already think you are and your points are only half-truths twisted to tell the story you want.
If the sidewalk brigade is who you want for a reader base, and a constant coaching carousel or the "splash name hire" is what you want for your program, then you are not a real fan of the program you claim to adore and you are a hack in what you call your career.
There is a bigger picture in what this staff is trying to accomplish. The program wasn't torn to its foundation in a day and it won't be built back up to national prominence in a day either.
So to everyone with any sense that covers and/or cheers for the Big Orange, the time is coming.
Just continue to support this team and be patient. It will be worth it when sustainable success is attained. It will be done the right way by a coach that knows the culture and is intelligent enough to build it from the ground up.
To everyone else, you should be ashamed. You really need to rethink your fan-hood and take a look at things realistically.
Don't let your ego outkick your integrity.