It had become apparent that it was a matter of when and not if that Derek Dooley would be fired as head football coach at the University of Tennessee.
That "when" finally came Sunday.
On the heels of the Volunteers getting embarrassed Saturday night by host Vanderbilt to the convincing sound for Vandy and demoralizing tune to UT of 41-18, it was time for the Dooley three-year experiment to come to a merciful end.
Sure, he inherited a mess. But Dooley only contributed to it.
Whether you agree with the decision or not five years ago, the premature jettisoning of favorite son Phillip Fulmer as head coach before the season was complete was totally botched by then-athletic director Mike Hamilton. And then came Lane Kiffin as head coach for one season before he strolled off for the bright lights of the top coaching position at Southern Cal.
Funny how revisionist history allows Vols fans to now remember with disdain the Kiffin era of one season. They sure loved them some Lane at the time. And had Pete Carroll not departed the mess he made at USC for the greener pastures of the NFL at Seattle, then we very well could be cleaning up another mess had Kiffin stayed.
After all, it was just this Friday that the NCAA levied more sanctions on the UT football program for indiscretions during Kiffin’s tenure. How that should now stick with UT with Kiffin long gone is another commentary for another day.
So, back to Dooley, who was fired Sunday by Tennessee athletic director Dave Hart and will not coach the season finale at home Saturday against Kentucky, a team that contributed mightily to the head coach’s departure after using a receiver-turned-quarterback to embarrass the Volunteers in the 2011 season finale for its first win in the series in 26 years.
In a classic case of the results don’t lie, the Vols under Dooley went 15-21 overall and 4-19 in the Southeastern Conference, including a 4-7 overall record and a historic 0-7 league record this season for the first time ever. As a point of nagging reference, second-year Vanderbilt coach James Franklin has more SEC wins this season than Dooley produced in three.
A more glaring measurement of lack of progress under Dooley for the Vols, who should rightfully consider themselves a Top
25 program or better, is that they did not beat a Top 25 team in 15 tries. And recent home struggles in a close win over the Sun Belt Conference’s middle-of-the-pack Troy and SEC newcomer Missouri only compounded the final outcome for Dooley when his team up and quit during the second half of the loss to Vanderbilt.
“We very much appreciate the effort and energy that Derek Dooley and his staff have poured into our football program at the University of Tennessee,” Hart said in a statement released Sunday. “Derek and I met early this morning, and I informed him that I believed a change in leadership, despite the positive contributions he has made to the overall health of the program, was in the best long-term interests of Tennessee football. We will immediately begin the search for the best possible candidate to assume this leadership role.”
The hard part of this for most Vols fans and casual observers with no dog in the hunt is that Dooley is a really good guy and a class act. Guess the acorn didn’t fall far from the tree in that regard for the son of legendary former Georgia football coach
and athletic director Vince Dooley.
“I am sorry we could not generate enough wins to create hope for a brighter future,” Dooley said Sunday in the same release. “Although progress was not reflected in our record, I am proud of the strides we made to strengthen the foundation for future success in all areas of the program.
“During the last 34 months, I’ve given my all for Tennessee, and our family appreciates all this University and the Knoxville community has given us.”
As it stands, Tennessee football will now have its fourth head coach in the last six seasons. Meanwhile, the top of the SEC has left UT in its wake by winning six straight national championships and is back in contention for a seventh following Saturday’s national results.
The SEC is better when Tennessee is better. For Vols fans, they hope to move on as quickly as possible for what now can be dubbed the lost years for UT football.
Greg Pogue is host of the Wendy’s First Quarter on 102.5-FM The Game ESPN Radio Nashville. E-mail him at GregPogue@1025thegame.com.