Going to Washington isn't a "lateral move".........it's a step up to a storied program headed back in the right direction.
So much for out with everything-that’s-bad-in-2011 and in with promising-hopes-for-2012. At Tennessee, the departures of defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox and linebackers coach Peter Sirmon to Washington — lateral moves at best — have left many in the Vol Nation wringing their hands as if they’d never rung in a new year at all. Many — including some in the press — are barking for a coaching change at the top. Like, now.
Dooley hasn’t been seen or heard by the Vol fanbase since UT’s season-ending loss to Kentucky. That changed today with a press conference on Tennessee’s campus.
But before we get into what the coach said, let’s look at what he’s dealing with on Rocky Top at the moment:
1. His second team had a disappointing 5-7 record, missed a bowl game, and lost to Kentucky to snap the nation’s longest team-over-team winning streak at 26, raising the dander of many a Big Orange supporter.
2. The coach and his school are getting plenty of bad press for their handling of the DeAnthony Arnett situation. The player wants to play at Michigan State to be closer to his ailing father. UT pointed him toward MAC schools instead last week.
3. There are now three slots to fill on the UT coaching staff. And any new coach will want some assurances that he won’t be booted without a buyout should the head coach go belly-up in 2013. So it might not be easy to find a replacement for Wilcox. (Don’t be surprised if defensive line coach Lance Thompson is promoted.)
4. But the three coaches who left — and that includes former special teams/tight ends coach Erik Russell — were rumored to have been upset with the fact that new AD Dave Hart isn’t big on handing out multi-year contracts to assistants. Hart might have to if he wants to land a good defensive coordinator for Dooley. And if he doesn’t, it might just show that Hart isn’t going to go overboard to help a coach that he didn’t hire in the first place.
5. In addition, controversial wide receiver Da’rick Rogers took to Twitter last night and threw this bit of gas on the fire: “So many recruits lost today … wish I could tell you otherwise fellas .. but that’s whats goin on here …”
From that mess, Dooley emerged today to give an “all is well” speech. At his press conference he said:
“The program is significantly better than it was 22 months ago, when we all got here. … I’ve never been more excited going into an offseason. We’re returning 19 starters. … I understand why there’s a (negative) perception, but I’m more concerned with reality. … We’re on our way. The worst is behind us.”
And Dooley is correct. Tennessee’s roster is deeper and older now than it was when Lane Kiffin left, thanks to back-to-back Top 15 signing classes. On paper, the Vols should be better moving forward. And as the coach also pointed out during his presser, there have been coordinators leaving all over the SEC this offseason.
The problem for Dooley is the perception, just as he said. His coaches are leaving on top of a lot of other junk. So it’s not just about the coaches. It’s a quarterback who reportedly wasn’t interested in going to a minor bowl. It’s a team that appeared to fracture at the end of last season. It’s a coach who has rather poor public relations skills when it comes to sending a consistent, calming message through the media to his fanbase. Even today, he opened his presser by admitting surprise over the size of the media throng packed into the UT football complex. Kentucky fans might refer to this as Billy Gillispie Syndrome… a coach who doesn’t quite get just how important his each and every move is.
Dooley will need to do a better job of grasping the fact that at most SEC schools, fans hang on every word uttered from their head coach. Dooley will also need to win and win fast.
With a team lacking in confidence, next year’s opener with NC State at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta — a venue that has become a house of horrors for Tennessee since 2001 — will be enormously significant. Win and things can start to calm in Knoxville. Lose and the wheels could come off the Dooley bandwagon once and for all. (And before someone tosses out Mark Richt’s 0-2 start this year, his players had a lot more reasons to have faith in their coach than Dooley’s would in him.)
A few other notes:
Dooley suggested that Arnett is not excluded from going to Michigan or Michigan State. It would not surprise this writer if UT backtracks for the sake of PR and recruiting and allows Arnett to go wherever with the word leaked that he misunderstood Dooley’s initial ruling. If that were true, of course, UT would have immediately put out a press release saying that he was free to go anywhere he chose when the bad publicity started pouring in last week. The school didn’t.
Next, Dooley said that Rogers — the tweeting receiver mentioned above — is still on the team despite numerous rumors to the contrary.
Also, the coach said he won’t rush coaching hires just for the sake of speed. So UT fans can probably forget the rampant Randy Shannon speculation. (This guy has been “hired” by about 15 different schools in the last two years. He’s become the defensive coordinator equivalent of Jon Gruden, who’s rumored to have an interest in every college job in the country.)
Finally, just a sidenote for those folks who would like to see Dooley blown up after signing day, if you think the PR from the Arnett mess was bad, just try to lure in a whole signing class and then dump their head coach. Tennessee’s new AD should probably focus on putting out the fires he inherited, not starting new ones.