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The Dooley Debate Rages At UT; Sources Claim He Talked Buyout Last Year

Tennessee’s Derek Dooley is in one messed up situation.  First, when he took over the Tennessee program, he became the school’s third coach in three years.  Phillip Fulmer’s ouster and Lane Kiffin’s unexpected exit led to so much attrition that it was thought Dooley would get three or four years to turn things around.

But since that hiring:

 

1.  Tennessee has hired a new athletic director who did not hire Dooley.  Many of the same boosters who helped decide on Dooley are still in Knoxville and still writing checks, but Dooley is not AD Dave Hart’s “guy.”

2.  The coach lost to Kentucky to end last season which led many Vol fans to make up their minds about Dooley well before the end of any third or fourth season.  Tennessee hadn’t lost to the Wildcats since 1984.

3.  Hart has made it abundantly clear that due to past buyouts and parting gifts paid to ex-coaches and ADs, the athletic department’s reserve fund is running on empty and UT has a massive debt at the same time.  Think of the Tennessee program as Greece.

 

With all that in mind, can UT afford to buy Dooley out, pay off a number of his assistants, pay a new coach’s buyout from his current school, and offer up enough cash salary-wise to lure in a name coach who’ll have to be UT’s fourth coach in six seasons?

Or with its current budget can UT afford not to dismiss Dooley.  The lifeblood of any athletic department is football-related — tickets sold, donations given, concessions, parking, merchandise, etc, etc.  Those will all surely drop further next season if Dooley returns.

Alabama’s Nick Saban is clearly aware of his ex-assistant’s situation.  He actually opened his own press-conference after the Tide’s 44-13 win over Tennessee on Saturday with this statement:

 

“I think Tennessee’s team really played hard.  I think that Derek is doing a fantastic job.  They have been better and better every year that we’ve played them.  We were fortunate today that our defense played well enough to keep their high-powered offense to just 13 points.”

 

A nice gesture, but it likely won’t carry much sway in the Smokies.

All things being equal, the guess here would be that Dooley’s team — currently 3-4 overall and 0-4 in the SEC — will lose at South Carolina next week and be pretty fragile mentally heading down the stretch with Troy, Missouri, Vanderbilt and Kentucky.  But if Dooley does somehow make it to 7-5 and reaches a bowl, it might make selling the Vol job even harder for Hart.  “Sure, Dooley took over a bad gig and actually led the team to two bowl games and we still fired him after three years, but you – you — we’ll stand behind.”  That’s a tough sell unless someone’s already gotten word to Hart that he’ll take the job.

As is the case in Arkansas, the name Jon Gruden is being kicked around all over Tennessee.  Gruden was a grad assistant at UT in the 1980s, married a UT cheerleader, and has told a number of people that Tennessee and Notre Dame would be the two college jobs he’d consider taking.  But would a longtime pro coach really take less money to do more work (meaning: recruit)?  If Gruden has a choice between an NFL gig and a college job, it’s hard to imagine him picking the lower-level opening.

Overall, you see the blurry picture.  In one way, Dooley already appears to be warming under a heat lamp like a dead duck at your local Chinese buffet.  At the same time, there are several mitigating factors that could lead to his survival.

And apparently the coach’s survival was even an issue after last season, which puts yet another twist on this issue.

Two sources very close to the Tennessee program have told MrSEC.com that Dooley actually discussed a buyout with Hart and Tennessee after last season’s loss to Kentucky.  A third source further confirmed that story yesterday.

Knowing that his team quit on him versus UK and that fan negativity was growing, Dooley — as the story goes — approached the school and offered to just hit the road if they’d give him his buyout.  Tennessee officials reportedly told him they would not buy him out for $5 million since he was the guy asking out.  Dooley wouldn’t negotiate down the buyout, UT tried to call his bluff by not offering contract extensions to his assistants, but Dooley stuck it out anyway, hired new seven assistants — who had to be given multi-year contracts anyway — and tried to fix his program.

If that information is correct it’s hard to imagine Dooley surviving in Knoxville.  (Whether those discussions took place or not, don’t expect UT or Dooley to confirm them.)

But this is all part of the back-and-forth of Tennessee’s current “Dooley debate.”  There are those in the Tennessee administration who feel it’s time to make a change.  There are others who believe the school must give Dooley one more year in order to avoid jumping right back onto the coaching carousel.

One UT official asked me this morning how long it took Steve Spurrier to turn around South Carolina.  Hint: Longer than three seasons.

In the end, all of this will likely come down not to black and white, but to green.  If UT’s administration feels keeping Dooley will provide greater long-term financial benefit, they’ll keep him and put up with a season of empty seats in an effort to let him prove himself.  If those same folks feel the school can’t afford to fall further behind financially in the short-term and/or that Dooley isn’t heading in the right direction, then he’s a goner.

For the sake of Tennessee’s recruiting, that debate needs to end soon.  Hot seat coaches usually don’t sign hot-shot recruiting classes.

 


44 comments
quirkyjoe
quirkyjoe

Coach Dooley has improved the team each year and he deserves the 4th year for all his hard work to show itself. As mentioned in the debate, Spurrier didn't turn South Carolina around in 3 years. And we all know how good a coach he is. Give coach Dooley his 4th year and just maybe he will prove all the haters he is right man for the job. Turning around a football program that was left gutted by kiffen isn't a quick fix, so quit looking for all the negatives and focus on the positives. GO VOLS!

HoustonVol
HoustonVol

You also have to go back and look at the environment that Dooley was hired under. Two weeks before signing day. The program was under a cloud from the NCAA, so no one knew if any sanctions were going to be handed down. Kiffin's first class was looking to be a wash out, which it was. The second class was good on paper - but how many of them would show up when the ink was dry. Plus Kiffin was publicly caught trying to recruit many of those players out to USCw. You add to that, the UT fan base expectations, the pressure of winning in the SEC and having no control over your first recruiting class. Don't forget that by that point it was clear that Hamilton himself was on thin ice as an AD. Everyone knows that a new AD wants his/her coach in charge of their meal ticket programs. One of Hamilton's biggest mistakes was not promoting Kippy Brown. After all of the big name hires said no to stepping into a no win situation (which it was), Hamilton hired a coach from a WAC school. Dooley, the lawyer, stepped up and signed a sweet heart 6 year deal with a huge front loaded buyout. Dooley, more than most, knew what he was stepping into and dictated the terms. Most Vol fans don't want to admit that the program had unraveled that far that fast, but it had. Dooley has done a great job of rebuilding the fabric of the football program. Even if we had hired Gruden, Kelly, Peterson, or any other big names three years ago, there is no guarantee that they would be better than 3-4 right now. Unless Hart has a home run hire that is able to increase revenue $10+ million next year through ticket sales and donations (which that is a short list, and judging by my facebook page Patrino is not on Vol fans home run hire lists), I don't see a change happening on Rocky Top this season. I fully expect a year to be added to Dooley's contract, BUT there will be no increase in the buyout. This will give him a four year contract for recruiting purposes (which is important), but will not cost the University more if they part ways next year. I know that Dooley does not want to be let go, but you have to give the man credit. He took a $400k/year job and turned it into a $2+million a year job that had little to no chance for success. He then wrote a sweetheart deal that would have a $5-6 million buy out. So in three years he would have taken a job that he would have made about $1.2 million and turned it into a $10 million payday. He has not damaged his coaching rep, because anyone in the business knows that UT was a lost hope these last couple of years. Someone on the CUSA/MAC level will gladly take him and let him start over. At the very least he could sit on a staff somewhere for a year or two before getting another HC job. Either way, he is taking it to the bank.

Mr85
Mr85

Petrino? What's the best he finished in the west? Third. So we want a guy who couldn't beat Bama? Plus his mind is on something other than football (while getting paid millions to just coach). If we don't can Dooley then Sunseri definately gotta go! He's Dooley's version of Dave Clawson. Instead of the defense showing some improvement as the season goes on they have gotten twenty times worse! Look at the Akron game. Those guys have not scored that many points in some of their MAC games. Wished Bama took Sunseri back to Ttown on their way out Saturday night.

mchapman
mchapman

I think it maybe time because the program is stale to say the least. The question has been asked before but are we any better now then we were 1 yr or even 2 yrs ago? I think Dooley is good coach and believes in the team. But does the team believe in him? Look at the breakdowns this year alone.It isnt like these guys are all freshman. Regardless of what they stories are about Bray, and that Hunter is wanting to leave, eventually you got to ask why. What is causing it. Dooley was handed a crappy situation and i commend him on working through it and trying and in some cases making it better.But the name of the game is winning. There can be only so many morale victories. Either the players respond or they dont. I think the question is, do U.T. fans want to hover around mediocrity another year or cut our losses and start fresh. In all honesty we are no better off than when Fulmer was fired. I think that is evident. I respect Dooley and his staffs effort, but wins are what count. And the longer we do not improve, then the more top tier teams pull away from us and the longer it will take.

BillRauhuff
BillRauhuff

What really makes me mad is when Kiffin  left in the middle of the recruiting season Mike Hamilton had a great interim coach in Kippy Brown who Mike Hamilton said he would interview for the job because Kippy was a Tennessee guy who had just moved back Tennessee to coach for Lane Kiffin. All he got was lip service from the AD and then he was quickly hired as an assistant at the Seattle Seahawks. He should have hired Kippy for at least a year if not permanently and then a lot more of the recruiting class would have been saved in 2010 and I think he would have done a better job than Derek Dooley. Now for financial reasons they have to keep Dooley for at least 1 more year

sojourner
sojourner

i'd say bite the bullet and hire petrino.  he knows how to do something dooley hasn't been able to do in his career--win.  to be sure, there'd be howls of anguish about how the vols have sold their souls and you could plan on reading the sanctimonious editorials from one coast to the other (the same stuff the hogs put up with).  then, he'd begin to win and win big, and all you'd hear or read is what a genius he is.

HoustonVol
HoustonVol

I am not in favor of letting Dooley go, unless the team quits. There is a chance that any coach could be 3-4 right now with our schedule, players, and new coaching staff. We have played four top 12 programs that have 1 loss among them halfway through the season. Three of those games the Vols were still in the position to win it in the fourth quarter. That is a big improvement over the last two years. Looking at what UF did to USCe this weekend, Dooley might get that first ranked win. We have played better on the road than at home. If we finish 7-5 and a bowl game, I am in favor of them getting an extra year. Most of the offense will be back, because we know that Bray needs another year before the pros. The defense looked like it was starting to get a clue against Bama, but it was hard to tell. I have stated all year that UT is not a program that can be re-built in a season or two. We don't have that pipeline of talent in-state that Bama, Florida, Texas and OU enjoy. There are not a lot of 5 star athletes growing up wearing UT orange. I believe that this turn around job is closer what Majors inherited than anything else. It took Majors 8 years to get the program back into the top 25 consistantly. That was in the era of 100+ scholarship classes. The budget issues are a no-win situation for Hart, it will hurt both ways. However Hart has to look 3-4 years down the road at what will be the best solution. I actually trust Saban's eval regarding Dooley. Saban is not one that wishes for Tennessee to remain down. He wants as many top match ups as possible. While Saban's blessing might not sit will with the fans, it should sit with someone that knows him and probably trusts his opinion - Hart. 

To give an NFL anology. Two years back there was a huge debate here in Houston if the Texas should keep their head coach - Kubiak. Well the owner asked people around the league their opinion that he trusts. Their opinion was for him to stay with Kubiak and that they were on the right track. The fans complained. Two years later, we have our first playoff victory, and this year a team that is competing for a Super Bowl. No one would complain with where the Texans are today, but two years ago they were ready to run Kubiak out of town.

I don't think it will come down to finances for the next two years for Hart. Regardless the finances look bleak. Spend 7-10 Million on extra coaches salaries or lose 7-10 million in possible revenue. The question is 3 years from now - will the team be better with staying the course or charting yet another new path. That is what Hart has to decide. I think it depends more on who could we hire? If there is a slam dunk hire that would excite the fan base and increase sales and donations more than the surcharge of making a change, then Dooley's days may be numbered. However if there is not someone out there he could hire that would excite the fan base, then expect Dooley to stay.    

kdlewis04
kdlewis04

So who do we believe? John Pennington who says sources told him DD wanted a buyout or DD who says that it never happened and is "absurd". Who to believe?

WillieT
WillieT

After talking to several UT fans, it seems to me that they are satisfied with the way the offense has performed. While not outstanding, it is definitely capable of putting up points on just about anyone. So while folk around Knoxville may not be happy with Dooley, they seem to want to keep Jim Cheney.  From a defensive standpoint, fans seem to like Sal Sunseri. They seem to understand the difficulty in transitioning to the 3-4 defense and so I'd say the jury is still out on coach Sal. What fans DO seem to realize is that if you change head coaches and bring in a completely new offense & defense, the turmoil could be more harmful to the program and result in even further degradation.

 

So the real question is this. What exactly is the problem with Dooley? Is it lack of discipline? Is it organizational? Is he just in over his head? 

 

Dave Hart is definitely in a pickle. Let's assume that the decision is that Dooley must go, But we'd prefer to keep Cheney & Sunseri. Most Head coaches would prefer to bring in their own guys as assistants. People they've worked with and trust. At least on one side of the ball anyway. So, I'll float a name - Kirby Smart, Defensive coordinator at Alabama.

 

Hart knows Smart. Smart knows Sal. Smart will only leave Bama for a HC position. Smart knows the SEC. Saban has a tremendous amount of confidence in Smart. The question mark on Smart is how would he be different than Dooley, another former Saban assistant? 

 

IMHO Dave should talk with Kirby. If Kirby agrees to come to UT, fire Dooley, if Kirby says no, keep Dooley.

I4Bama
I4Bama

John is right.  It is the proverbial catch-22.  If he stays, how hard will it be to recruit?  If he cannot recruit, how will he ever compete against Saban, Spurrier, and Muschamp?  Then again, how difficult will it be to sell this situation to anyone other than Petrino?  Take what you see on the surface now, and then throw into the mix that, oh, by the way, we are flat broke, at least for the next two to three years.  What would canning Dooley do to that bottom line?  Sort of reminds me of when Mike Price was fired.  I have enjoyed winning since 2008, but I still hate that Shula walked into that mess, and I still wish that Saban could be a little more personable in public, though I think there is a chance he is more kind and caring behind the scenes than he gets credit for being.  Some signs are there - hard to tell.

kdlewis04
kdlewis04

I understand Spurrier was a big named coach, it still took time to recruit quality and depth. He now has it. Look, I'm not sure what to think now because I want Dooley to succeed. I think TN fans want championships like they want their food, fast and right now. This fan base is arrogant and borderline narcissistic and the media is feeding off of it. Hell this environment is making them money. Why not stoke the fire. I've always believed that you can fight through adversity and overcome if you keep pushing and keep grinding. I believe this team can do that and this coaching staff can do that.

VolTN
VolTN

The difference between Spurrier at South Carolina and Dooley at UT was that Spurrier was a successful coach coming into a program that had never had real SEC success.  The fanbase at SC was totally behind a big name coach coming in and they were going to give Spurrier as long as he needed to turn South Carolina into a legitimate SEC contender. 

 

Dooley, on the other hand, was a coach who hadn't really succeeded at La tech (17-20) and was the 4th or 5th coach that UT had interviewed in the January 2010 process.  Of course the fanbase isn't going to wait around for him to show some success. 

kdlewis04
kdlewis04

I don't know for some reason I'm behind Coach. I feel this program in this state is more of a four year job. Let him have a full class and see what happens. Like you said John if you fire him after three and the next coach considering the job may think twice. I know the fan base is important but it seems to me that the media and fanbase are making the decisions. I don't like it.

badbadhoggie
badbadhoggie

Its hard to believe that UT is dead broke but i guess it is what it is...what if they decide to "hold their nose" take a PR hit and hire Bobby Petrino?  I know his personality and reputation leaves a lot to be desired, but i think he could win big at UT and he's unemployed so theirs no buyout to worry about and like u said, between Dooleys buyout, the new coaches buy out and 3+ mil a yr salary, sounds to me like Petrino may be an option...We all know he's gonna coach somewhere next yr, UT, Auburn, UK...maybe out west!

kdlewis04
kdlewis04

 @HoustonVol Couldn't have said it any better myself. I think you're spot on. To add I believe Dooley has laid a good foundation of players on this team and added depth that will pay off in the long run. If he adds some running backs and quality corners, safeties, this team will be far more competitive. Even Hart said in an interview that he didn't realize how bad it was at Tenn. I believe that, I think it's alot worse than the fans realize and I truly believe Dooley is on the right track. 

kdlewis04
kdlewis04

 @WillieT If Hart brings in Kirby Smart instead of a big time Head Coach this fanbase will revolt. There is no way you can replace DD with an assistant coach who has never been a head coach. It's insane.

kdlewis04
kdlewis04

 @badbadhoggie we don't need him. He leaves a mess everywhere he goes. Championships aren't worth hiring the likes of Petrino.

VolTN
VolTN

 @kdlewis04  @WillieT Actually, I believe hiring Kirby Smart is about the best UT can hope for outside of the dream that is Gruden.  Kirby Smart is a heavily sought after coach on all coaching hire lists.  Having Hart here makes it a no brainer.  I think Kirby Smart as defensive coordinator at Alabama is a better hire than Dooley out of La Tech was. 

gobigorange5001
gobigorange5001

 @VolTN  @kdlewis04  @WillieTI meant(and I think you knew this) that we dont need to hire another assistant.  Some UT fans are pushing for Peyton Manning and HE is one who hasnt been a coach!

 

VolTN
VolTN

 @gobigorange5001  @kdlewis04  @WillieT First of all, no one has said anything about hiring a "NON coach".  Every person we have discussed so far is a coach. 

 

And again, where would Oklahoma, Florida, Florida State, Oregon, Georgia, Mississippi State, and Louisville (all in the Top 25 right now btw) be right now if the AD had the idea that only current head coaches should be considered for the schools head coach position?  Seriously, Mike Hamilton went out and got a current head coach with Dooley (@ La Tech) and you see how well that has turned out.

gobigorange5001
gobigorange5001

If the head coach position comes open, I say offer it to Dan Mullen.  He has proven himself!

 

gobigorange5001
gobigorange5001

 @VolTN  @kdlewis04  @WillieTIts "couldnt care less" and I would be one of the fans who would revolt if a NON coach was hired to be the heard coach.  Sorry but that idea is just plain stupid.

 

mchapman
mchapman

 @I4Bama  @VolTN  @kdlewis04  @WillieT 

 

i agree. I think it maybe harder to find a coach that us fans really want or dream about having than we want to believe. I am a u.t fan through and through, but i think it will be harder to get some of the coaches that i have been hearing about.

I4Bama
I4Bama

 @VolTN  @kdlewis04  @WillieT

 Tennessee is a great program.  No disrespect.  Smart has been very picky to this point.  I don't see him passing over some of the ones that have been open in the past few years and taking this one.  You are correct.  No situation is perfect.

daveandjude
daveandjude

  @VolTN  @kdlewis04  @WillieT How long have you been stuck on stupid, we don't need another bama assistant my good gracious let us please hire a proven HC I am tired of seeing more losses and no good wins!!!!!!!!!1

VolTN
VolTN

 @I4Bama  @kdlewis04  @WillieT l4Bama, it depends on how much he wants to be a head coach.  Any head coaching offer he gets is going to be to a school in a bad spot unless a great teams head coach retires.  There are worse places to be a head coach than Tennessee, especially now.  Dooley may not be a great on field coach, but he has done pretty good with recruiting talent, he definitely has it better off than when he found it. 

VolTN
VolTN

 @kdlewis04  @WillieT Ok, so let's both pretend it's too early to say one way or the other since this season isn't over.  If Tennessee can win out, I say Dooley keeps his job 100%.  If Tennessee loses to South Carolina and then wins out, I'd say it's about 50-50 chance of keeping it.  If Tennessee loses to South Carolina and one of the other remaining games (namely Missouri or Vandy), I say he loses his job because 6-7, 5-7 and 6-6 does not show any progress at all. 

kdlewis04
kdlewis04

 @VolTN  @WillieT If you can't be a success at Florida with all that talent than somethings wrong. I'll give you Florida's defense but that offense is all Driscoll. Other than that I'm not impressed. Other than that I'm not sold on Kirby Smart. Like I said he hasn't done anything to show me that he deserves the opportunity to be the head coach at TN. Let's say he does become HC if we're not contending for SEC Championships in three years do we fire him. This is a fickle arrogant, narcissistic fanbase. They're living in the 90's. That time has passed. I think DD should have four years. 

VolTN
VolTN

 @kdlewis04  @WillieT Having never been a head coach doesn't tell you anything about whether he can do it or not.  Muschamp was never a head coach before Florida, Jimbo Fisher was never a head coach before Florida State, Mark Richt was never a head coach before Georgia.  Dooley has a losing record at both schools he has been the head coach of.  And he isn't showing progress at the school he is at.  Hell, he was playing more competitive against top teams his first two years than he is this year. 

 

I could care less if they give Dooley another season or not, but I'm not about to spit in the face of the best assistant in the country (Smart) if Tennessee wants to hire him.

kdlewis04
kdlewis04

 @VolTN  @WillieT I don't see how Kirby is a better hire when he's never coached. He doesn't have a record. Regardless of Dooley's record at this point I'll take him over a current coordinator who has no equity.

Trackbacks

  1. [...] wanted out ??? Per UT source….. The Dooley Debate Rages At UT; Sources Claim He Talked Buyout Last Year Intersting read. Dooley wanted out but Hart would not pay the buyout. Wow…..says wonders about [...]

  2. [...] wanted out per 3 UT sources….. The Dooley Debate Rages At UT; Sources Claim He Talked Buyout Last Year Interesting read. Says a ton about our coach or lack there [...]

  3. [...] The Dooley Debate Rages At UT; Sources Claim He Talked Buyout Last Year [...]

  4. [...] Originally Posted by berryvol Also said that 3 sources confirmed that Dooley asked to be bought out at the end of last year. He spoke of this from John Pennington: The Dooley Debate Rages At UT; Sources Claim He Talked Buyout Last Year [...]

  5. [...] More leakage, painting a picture here…….. The Dooley Debate Rages At UT; Sources Claim He Talked Buyout Last Year [...]

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