Monday, November 19, 2012

Nice try, Coach.

As a lifelong Tennessee fan, it pains me to see the once stable Tennessee football program become a coaching hornet's nest. There were many good years with Johnny Majors back in the 1980's, and then other extremely good years under Phil Fulmer, both of whom ran clean programs and won some games here and there. Fulmer got unceremoniously run out of town, leading to an unfortunate series of events. First, it was the Lane Kiffin disaster. In 10 months, he completely trashed the program. Derek Dooley was hired. In retrospect, Dooley was a bit of a panic hire. He had only coached about 4 years, but the Dooley name carries weight in the SEC. 

Jimmy Towns of the Knoxville News Sentinel sent this image out via Twitter after the Vanderbilt loss. It sums up the Dooley tenure nicely with the added bonus of what is possibly the most epic mullet hairdo in the history of Tennessee sports. 

To be fair, Dooley was hired much like Mike Shula was hired at Alabama before the current Saban years: someone to clean up the program and bring stability (and hopefully win some games), come what may with NCAA sanctions 
not of his own making likely to be handed down. Dooley, like his father, was a good Southern gentleman, which is exactly what Tennessee needed after the Lane "The Rules don't apply to me" Kiffin fiasco. Sadly, Dooley was just overwhelmed by the cutthroat nature of SEC football. In the current "What have you done for me lately" sports culture, Dooley just did not win. I felt he made progress this year because there were some competitive games that Tennessee would not have even been competitive in last year, but the win-loss record does not reflect that. However, if you don't win at all costs, you lose your job. This is one of the reasons why I have stopped watching college football almost entirely. Men of integrity are axed after not even getting 3 full seasons.

Personally, I think a coach needs at least 5 seasons to judge whether he is effective or not.  It is not until your 5th year that you really have a full team of players you yourself recruited. Up to the 4th year, you still have player holdovers who were recruited by the previous coach for offensive and defensive schemes that you, as the current coach, may not even use. Different schemes call for different talent sets. Given Kiffin's recruiting class basically washed out due to academic or disciplinary attrition (when you recruit thugs, you get...well...thugs), Dooley inherited a complete mess. Granted he did not make enough progress and got the can. I don't feel too sorry for him because he will still get paid 5 million dollars on his remaining contract for doing nothing. I wish I could get a job, get fired in 3 years for incompetence, and be set for life. But that is a whole separate issue. 

Ironically, Tennessee is still paying the buyout for the previous football coach (and the basketball coach they recently fired as well, though there was reason in that case), and was running almost a 4 million dollar operating budget deficit this year before firing Dooley. With the hiring of a new coach, Tennessee will in effect be paying for 3 head coaches simultaneously with money coming from who knows where. And the Tennessee administration says Dooley was incompetent... 

At this point, I don't know what coach would take a job at Tennessee if he was sane and not either some ego maniac or inept coach or both. I hope it works out well for Tennessee, and I understand the logic of firing Dooley. I think if Dooley had had about 5 years more experience, he could have possibly made a go of it, but in the cutthroat SEC, you have to hit the ground running.  This is a shame because Dooley was trying to run the classy kind of program that Tennesseans want: one with class and family values. Sadly, in this "What have you done for me lately-win at all costs" football culture, apparently class and sportsmanship is only an added bonus that is requested but not expected. 

No doubt Tennessee will try to hire someone who will win games, with standards and ethics and mentoring taking a back seat, if not the trunk, of the Tennessee sports machine. A part of me is saddened by that, but the cynical part of me says, "Well, if that's what the fans want..." 

Just remember, Tennessee fans, be careful what you wish for because you just might get it. 

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