Sunday, November 18, 2012

That's the end of that chapter

It's mercifully over for Derek Dooley (and everybody in Tennessee):
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) -- Derek Dooley is out at Tennessee.

The university announced the anticipated firing Sunday after Dooley posted the storied program's longest run of consecutive losing seasons in over a century .

Dooley, 44, had a 15-21 record that included an 0-15 mark against Top 25 teams. Dooley was 4-19 in Southeastern Conference competition during his three-year tenure and had lost 14 of his last 15 league games.
That last graf pretty much says it all: 4-19 in the SEC and no wins against ranked teams in three years at freakin' Tennessee. BTW, Tennessee is coming off a three-touchdown loss to Vanderbilt -- which will be going to a bowl game despite playing in the OMG SEC -- and, regardless of what happens next week against Kentucky, will finish the year without having beaten an SEC team other than Vanderbilt or Kentucky since destroying a terrible Ole Miss team in 2010. Upshot: At no point has Tennessee been legitimately competitive against anybody other than the dregs of the SEC under Dooley.

He'll leave with the worst winning percentage of any Tennessee coach in close to a century, three straight losing seasons (the first time that's happened at Tennessee since before the forward pass was invented) and a program that has unquestionably regressed from "second tier" to "gack." My initial reaction to the Dooley news was that his tenure was basically the RichRod-at-Michigan tenure 1,200 miles to the south, with any semblance of success masked by a general inability to field a defense and win meaningful games. The difference, really, is that this was a much more obvious firing because Dooley didn't even have the tangible signs of progress (from 3-9 to 5-7 to 7-5); just the opposite, really.

He also didn't have the career track record of winning BCS games and whatnot. Remember when Dooley got hired and everybody went "lolwut" because Tennessee was replacing Phil Fulmer with a guy who'd had one winning season in three years in the WAC? Granted, he had some success (an 8-4 year) at Louisiana Tech and largely built the team that Sonny Dykes now has doing amazing things, but he left with a 17-20 record and the only real signs of progress being close losses to Boise State and LSU, and his prior experience consisted of positional coaching jobs and being a really good recruiter, basically.

I wrote this when Dooley got hired:
Dooley is basically a smarter, less douchey version of Lane Kiffin ... but the fact of the matter is that his career record is 17-20. It remains to be seen whether that says more about Dooley or the difficulty of doing any better than .500 at Louisiana Tech.
In hindsight, it said more about Dooley. Tennessee gambled and lost and is now looking for its third coach in four and a half years, with the draw being a program that hasn't had won more than seven games since 2007 (the year before Phil Fulmer got fired) and is now looking up at a good half of now-more-difficult SEC in terms of talent.

So who's next? According to everybody who wears orange seven days a week, Jon Gruden, because Jon Gruden is contractually obligated to be rumored as the No. 1 (with a bullet) candidate for every single coaching job that becomes available. According to everybody else, there are a few possibilities of debatable merit, specifically (in no particular order) Kirby Smart, Charlie Strong, David Cutcliffe, Sonny Dykes and maybe even Fulmer himself since he's been talking for a while about getting back into coaching and at this point probably/maybe seems far superior to another Dooley.

The problem: There are problems (or at least potential ones). Smart's probably the only viable coordinator candidate out there but might get some backlash given the lack of head coaching experience and Tennessee's just-completed experiment with bringing in a Saban protege as head coach and an Alabama assistant (Tino Sunseri, in this case) to run the defense; you know how that worked out. Dykes is a Louisiana Tech guy with zero history of being able to field a defense, Strong is reportedly interested in the Cal job and Cutcliffe is approaching 60 (and has a career sub-.500 record).

That said, any of those guys would be at least a short-term upgrade since ... I mean ... the three straight sub-.500 season and 4-19 record in the SEC. The bar is set as low as it's ever been set at Tennessee; whether that's a legitimate selling point or not is debatable, but there will be some viable candidates (probably at least one from the above-referenced group) interested.

Tennessee used to be, like, really good. And could be again. Tennessee is still Tennessee in some regards, and there are coaches who can win there (and win big). This would be an optimal time to find one since the rebuilding job after five years of mediocrity is a lot easier than the hypothetical one that'd be needed after 10 years of mediocrity.


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