The Derek Dooley Era at Tennessee would last no longer than two years if many Vol fans had their say. Saturday’s loss at Kentucky — the first UT loss to the Wildcats since 1984 — has set off a wave of rumors and bad will that threaten to undo the Vols’ latest rebuilding job before it truly gets started.
So what’s all the turmoil? Try this:
* After the loss to Kentucky, more than one outgoing UT senior claimed that some members of the Vol squad care more about their stats than the team. They suggested that not everyone wanted to play this past Saturday.
* Some Volunteers weren’t ready to volunteer for duty at a “lesser” bowl game according to one upperclassman. “Why play hard in Lexington if the reward is simply a trip to Memphis or Nashville?”
* Rumors abound that the suspensions of four backups prior to last week’s game led to a near revolt among players as practices in Knoxville devolved into little more than walk-throughs.
* The team lacks adult supervision from within. Only 14 seniors were on Dooley’s squad this year. Of those, none were standouts. (That’s a by-product of the 18 players lost during the Phillip Fulmer and Lane Kiffin transitions.) So the younger players on the team — and the team was made up mostly of freshmen and sophomores — had no proven, elder leaders to follow.
* With no veteran leaders, players began to follow the best players on the team and unfortunately for UT fans, players like quarterback Tyler Bray and receiver Da’rick Rogers aren’t believed to have the best attitudes on the squads.
* To make matters worse, Dooley himself helped to create an air of negativity by spending a heckuva lot of time in the press ripping his players. Reports from those close to the program say more than once players were ready to walk away from Dooley’s program as a result of being thrown under the coach’s bus. (Like him or not, there’s not much about Derek Dooley’s demeanor that reminds one of his father, Vince.)
Suffice to say, Vol fans aren’t happy. Even though they should have known this was coming.
The Tennessee media and many across the SEC — including this site — expected two straight years of so-so football as Dooley tried to dig out from the mess created by his predecessors. But college football fans aren’t much for patience, even when they’ve been told they’ll need to have some.
Now, many people are calling for Dooley to be fired immediately. “Why prolong the obvious,” they ask?
For one, because a long-term view suggests that UT’s best bet is to stick with Dooley for at least one more season and allow him to further stabilize the program from a roster standpoint. Tennessee will have depth and experience for the first time in three years in 2012. And the Vol coach is likely to bring in his third-straight Top 15 recruiting class next February.
To blow him up now would mean more turnover, further attrition. In other words — a deeper hole for the next guy to dig out of. Before hiring Dooley, Tennessee tried to throw money at Will Muschamp and even gave a call to Jon Gruden. But Gruden had no interest and Muschamp told the Vols they would be looking at a three-year rebuilding project (he knew what he was talking about).
So what would potential hires say to new AD Dave Hart if he asked them to become the school’s fourth head coach since 2008? Probably something similar to what Muschamp said.
There’s nothing on his resume — other than his last name and a connection to Nick Saban — to suggest that Dooley is the right guy for Tennessee. But that doesn’t mean he won’t become the right person. Certainly his first two seasons were negatively impacted by the work of his predecessors (though some troubles were exacerbated by his own poor moves).
But even if Dooley isn’t the right guy for Knoxville, Vol fans had better hope Hart doesn’t listen to their complaints and follow the lead of Kansas and Memphis and fire his coach after two seasons. There’s a reasons those programs are Kansas and Memphis.
If Tennessee were to fire Dooley now, it would only set back the school’s rebuilding efforts. Again.