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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.

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UT’s Dooley To Coach From Press Box After Hip Surgery

An MRI on Friday revealed why Derek Dooley had been feeling pain for several months — he had a fracture in his hip and needed immediate surgery.  That surgery came yesterday.  And because of it, Dooley’s fracture may be a bad break for a second reason.

Heading into what’s possibly the most important game of his career Saturday night in Starkville, the coach will miss practice today and could miss practice again tomorrow.  He’ll also have to coach Saturday night’s game against Mississippi State from the press box.

For a team desperate for a win, the Vols will now have to deal with not having their head coach on the sideline with them.

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Fulmer, Slocum, Alexander Elected To Hall Of Fame From SEC Schools

Three coaches and 14 players were elected to the College Football Hall of Fame today and three of them have connections to schools now in the SEC:


Former Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer – who posted a 152-52 record at his alma mater before being forced out — joins a host of Vols already in Hall, including ex-UT coaches Robert Neyland and Doug Dickey.

Former Texas A&M coach RC Slocum — who posted a 123-47-2 record before being forced out  – says his election is “validation of the players, the assistant coaches and the entire staffs I was so fortunate to work with here at Texas A&M.”

The election of former LSU tailback Charles Alexander — a two-time All-American and Heisman Trophy finalist — “is an important recognition for one of the legendary figures in LSU athletics history,” according to Tiger AD Joe Alleva.


Congratulations to all three men.  You don’t get much higher honors than being voted into your sport’s hall of fame.

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Writer: Dollars Could Save Petrino

Gregg Doyel of isn’t my favorite writer.  I believe he is brash and abrasive for the sake of being brash and abrasive… because that kind of thing is what stands out, grabs pageviews and equals dollars into today’s media world.

Ironically, Doyel writes today that it could be dollars that save Arkansas football coach Bobby Petrino.  There’s nothing new in what Doyel opines and — to be honest — it’s a little surprising that he didn’t immediately wonder if Petrino’s value to Arkansas might save his hyde.  Most everyone else did.

That said, here’s part of his take on why the Razorback administration might be dragging its feet on giving Petrino the boot:

“Maybe Petrino won’t remain in his job for long, once Arkansas concludes its review of his motorcycle crash/cover-up, but I’m not hopeful.  Which is to say, I’m not naive and gullible.  Not anymore.  Not as naive and gullible as I was a few days ago, anyway, when the news first broke of Jessica Dorrell’s position under Petrino (ahem) and I fired off a scathing missive that said of course Petrino would be fired.  Because I was under the illusion on Friday that real-world rules applied to the Candyland that is college football.

Don’t I feel dumb.

Over the weekened I did some research, read everything I could read about the marriage in question, and realized Arkansas probably can’t afford to divorce Bobby Petrino.  He is the biggest provider for the Arkansas athletic department, and not because he’s the football coach — but because he’s the best football coach in Arkansas history.  Since Petrino got the Hogs rolling in 2009, accoridng to Forbes magazine, the value of the Arkansas football program has increased more than any football program in the country (59 percent), all the way to $89 million.  That value will skyrocket ever higher once the school completes construction on its 80,000-square-foot football facility, a facility that will cost at least $35 million, a facility helped along by Petrino’s run of success.

A facility that has not been paid for, as yet.

The school has commitments for much of the money, but a commitment is not cash.  And those commitments were made by donors under the impression that Bobby Petrino would be the coach working in that new facility.”

Whether it’s a crime or a college athletic department, always follow the money, folks.  If Petrino were losing games in front of a partially-filled stadium he would already be gone.  That statement should shock no one.  And it works the other way, too.

How many times have we written on this site that the fans — not the ADs and presidents — hold the futures of their favorite schools’ coaches in their hands?  If attendance drops and donations dry up, forget the positive track record, the A+ NCAA compliance, and the positive influence stuff.  None of that matters.  If a coach isn’t putting rumps in seats he’s a goner.

See: Rick Stansbury this season.  He is the winningest coach in Mississippi State history.  But disappointed Bulldog fans stopped coming to games and he “retired” after the season.

Go back to 2008 and the end of Phillip Fulmer’s reign at Tennessee.  He’d won a national title and two SEC crowns in 16 seasons at his alma mater, but when Alabama fans took over Neyland Stadium in 2008, we wrote that the clock was ticking down on his tenure.  Turns out, Fulmer lasted one more game before being forced to announce his resignation.

It’s all about the money.  If a school’s making it, then a coach is hard to touch (Petrino).  If a school’s revenue stream starts to decline, any coach can be given his walking papers.

If Petrino is ousted, it will because there’s so much dirt behind the scenes and on the horizon that the school can’t possibly find a way to save him.  Because they most definitely want to save him.  Doyel’s right on that one.  Petrino’s too valuable not to save.

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Ex-UT A.D. Hamilton Says He Received Threats Before Stepping Down

Former Tennessee athletic director Mike Hamilton will go down in Volunteer history as a villain to many Big Orange fans.  He fired Phillip Fulmer and replaced him with Lane Kiffin.  He fired Bruce Pearl.

That’s dumb and dumber in many folks’ minds.  And some of those people let Hamilton know about it in a ridiculous manner — with threats.

Speaking to The Chattanooga Times Free Press, Hamilton said he “received several threats and it reached a point that I moved my family out of Knoxville for several days last spring and I was even assigned police protection.”

Surprising?  Not in the least.  Kiffin’s family claimed they received death threats on the way out of Knoxville as well.  Just this past week, San Francisco 49er Kyle Williams received death threats via Twitter after fumbling away his team’s shot at a Super Bowl.

In the age of the internet, everyone is anonymous.  That cloaked status encourages decent people to behave like children and imbalanced people to behave like criminals.  If booze makes folks feel 10 feet tall and bullet proof, the anonymity of the internet allows some to view themselves as the biggest, baddest asses in the world.

Well, at least the ass part is true.

Hamilton — who’s now working as the president of a Nashville-based charity — says he has no regrets about the way he did his job, including the hires of Kiffin and Pearl.  “Lane was the right person for the job at that time.  I hate how things worked out in the end, but there was no way of seeing that when we made that hire.”

“I know every move I made while I was at UT was made with the best interest of the university in mind.  I have confidence in the decision to hire Lane, and Bruce had an unbelievable run.  Again, I hate how things ended with those two examples.  I’m like anyone else and there are times when you reflect on decisions and what you might have done differently.  In any area of your life, all you can do is your best every day, and some days I felt better about my decisions than others.”

In this writer’s view, Hamilton deserves heat from Tennessee fans because ultimately the buck stopped at his desk.  But in terms of his individual decisions, he wasn’t the clown he’s often been made out to be.

He fired Phillip Fulmer, but Fulmer had had two losing seasons in his last four and hadn’t won an SEC title in a decade at the time of his dismissal.

Had Hamilton hired a good replacement, no one would be claiming today that Tennessee should have held on to its legendary ex-coach.  Interestingly, Hamilton did — it seems — hire a darn good coach.  Kiffin and crew have done an excellent job at Southern Cal so far (though they’re about to feel the brunt of recruiting restrictions and NCAA penalties).

Hamilton’s mistake with Kiffin was not weighing the possibility that Pete Carroll might leave Southern Cal and the Trojans might come after the ex-Carroll aide.  (In truth, though, who at the time would have foreseen all that?)  But that’s exactly what happened and Kiffin left Tennessee high and dry.  And that burned the Vol football house to the ground.  Two years of attrition and a coaching change right before signing day aren’t appealing to prospective coaches.

Will Muschamp turned down millions to replace Kiffin.  Only the likes of Derek Dooley would take such a job.  So while Hamilton is pilloried for “finding” Dooley, in reality, his candidate pool was going to be awfully shallow simply due to circumstances.

As for Pearl, the ex-coach took Tennessee basketball to unseen heights, but he blew his career apart with a lie to NCAA investigators and a phone call to a prospect’s father in an attempt to keep the person quiet about a barbecue.  The idea that Hamilton is to blame for Pearl’s downfall is laughable.  Ditto the notion that UT could’ve kept Pearl and his staff.  Hard to do that when the coach lands a three-year show cause penalty and recruiting ban.

Hamilton oversaw a comedy of errors, yes, but fate and the actions of other people played a large role in his demise.  Had Kiffin not abandoned him after a year and had Pearl not found it necessary to cover up what would have been a secondary violation, Hamilton might still be Tennessee’s athletic director overseeing a pair of healthy programs.

Of course, just for suggesting that, I’ll probably get a couple of death threats.

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Turmoil At UT As Fans Turn On Dooley, Stories Of A Divided Team Leak Out

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.

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Could Fulmer’s Faults As A Coach Hurt His A.D. Chances At UT?

The more people that state their non-interest in Tennessee’s open AD job, the better the odds become for distant fallback candidate Phillip Fulmer.  But David Climer of The Tennessean wonders if some of the things Fulmer was criticized for as a coach might hurt his AD chances:

“… there were some significant hiccups on his watch as football coach — and I’m not just talking about an inability to beat Florida.  He had 11 players arrested or cited by police during a 14-month period in 2004-05.  That’s a red flag at a program where discipline finally is being stressed.

Also, Fulmer was loyal to his assistant coaches — often to a fault.  He was slow to make changes on his staff.  These days, you can’t afford to hang onto an underachieving coach.”

Climer’s piece is a column and therefore it’s one man’s opinion.  Our opinion is a bit different.  While we believe Tennessee would best be served by avoiding candidates who bring baggage to the job — as Fulmer would — we don’t think a string of arrests during a 14-month stretch of a 16-year coaching run should submarine the ex-coach’s chances.

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Don’t Expect Fulmer To Be UT’s Next AD

Earlier this week Phillip Fulmer told ESPN that he and his family would discuss their plans for the future and wait to see if the University of Tennessee administration would approach him about its soon-to-be vacant AD position. has learned that Fulmer will need to apply like anyone else if he’s to get consideration.  And even then that consideration is unlikely to be too strong.

Sources have confirmed reports that UT chancellor Jimmy Cheek is interested in finding an athletic director candidate who is currently serving in such a post elsewhere.  And while the Vol job is a tough sell at the moment — NCAA probation on the horizon, lengthy contracts for football and basketball coaches that a new AD will have to inherit — the school’s decision to combine its men’s and women’s athletic departments was a step taken with the express goal of making the job more appealing to “name” candidates.

While Fulmer certainly has ties to Tennessee as well as the support of many fans and ex-players, it would be an enormous surprise if the ex-football coach landed the AD gig.  In fact, it would likely take the schools’ biggest boosters swinging their wallets around to force Fulmer into the AD’s office.  And that’s not going to happen.

We believe in saying “never say never” and we’ll toss that caveat in here, too.  But according to this site’s sources, Fulmer does not fit the criteria put in place for Tennessee’s search.

As we wrote last night, we at expect UT to soon announce that a search firm has been retained in an effort to track down a proven candidate.

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Dooley Says He’s Watching What UT Is Paying Recruiting Services

Everybody does it.  When it comes to hiring recruiting services to provide videos of players and contact information, that’s pretty much true.  Every school pays them for info and game tape.  (In Oregon’s case and a few others, questions have arisen regarding what else the services might have provided, but that’s a different story.)

Tennessee — traditionally — has had one of if not the highest recruiting budget in the SEC.  As one of the “big six” programs in the league, the Vols have competed with Alabama, Auburn, Florida, Georgia and LSU while having the weakest in-state recruiting base of the bunch.  So it makes sense that they would spend the most money on outside services. 

But according to Derek Dooley, he’s careful about what he spends and where he spends it:

“We’re not trying to be cheap, but also there’s a little bit of fiscal responsibility in not being grossly excessive.  It’s easy in these kinds of programs because you’ve got so many people and plenty of money not to have that oversight.  That’s where excess can happen.

There’s obviously no abuse and we’re getting good return on investment.  I think every year we need to revisit it, and that’s what we’ve done.”

The Knoxville News Sentinel reports that Tennessee’s pay-outs to recruiting services has risen from Phillip Fulmer to Lane Kiffin to Dooley.

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SEC Headlines – 6/2/11 Part Four

1.  Mike Hamilton says the Tennessee contingent in Destin will convene tomorrow morning before deciding how to vote on oversigning.

2.  Former UT coach Phillip Fulmer says players should get more money because “they’re having to sacrifice a lot… like their health.”

3.  Andy Kennedy says Murphy Holloway — who is transferring back to Ole Miss — has already signed with the Rebels “so there is no going back to South Carolina.”

4.  Mark Emmert tells The Macon Telegraph that the NCAA will confront the integrity issues it currently faces.

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