University of Tennessee Athletic Director Dave Hart, at a press conference on Sunday afternoon announcing the firing of football coach Derek Dooley, said, "It was a tough morning."
He said he met with Dooley early Sunday morning after an embarrassing 41-18 loss at Vanderbilt on Saturday night.
Hart said it was Dooley's decision not to coach the final game of the season - versus Kentucky on Saturday at Neyland Stadium. Offensive coordinator Jim Chaney will serve as interim head coach for Saturday's game.
"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," said Hart. "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."
Hart said he does not plan to use a search committee and is in no hurry, but he said December "is a critical month" in the hiring.
"I am sorry we could not generate enough wins to create hope for a brighter future," said Dooley. "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."
Hart said coaches "understand the expectations" and are not as affected by a firing as the spouse and children." He stated, "Derek is not at all bitter."
He said he attended an emotional meeting with Dooley on Sunday morning in which the decision was announced to the players. He said almost all the players attended the hastily-called meeting. He said, "Derek did a great job. He said the right things and said meaningful things." Hart said, "A couple of players were tearing up. It was very emotional."
He said it was Dooley's decision to go ahead and do the TV coach's show on the Vanderbilt game. "He felt it was his responsibility."
Hart said, "Derek's a good person. He did a lot of things to help set a foundation. But what people see is Saturdays. We had a lot of those that you couldn't put your arms around and hug - in terms of performance."
The Dooley payout for the early cancellation of his contract is $5 million.
Hart said Tennessee athletics has just a $1.9 million surplus in its athletic budget, which he called "unheard of in the Southeastern Conference. Some schools have $50 to $100 million."
But he said some supporters are willing to step up and, "We will not let finances be a deterrent to hiring the best coach we can."
He stated, "We have a long way to go to bring Tennessee football back to where we want it to be."
The AD also said, "We can't put it all on the coach." He said Tennessee has "some historical disadvantages, which we are dealing with."
Dave Hart is the father of former UTC Athletic Director Rick Hart.
Dooley's record in three seasons at UT was 15-21, including 4-19 in the conference.
Here is the bio on Derek Dooley from UT Sports:
The youngest son of Georgia legend Vince Dooley, who coached the Bulldogs for 25 seasons and claimed six league titles and the 1980 national championship, Dooley never accepted the predetermined path to success. He played his college football at Virginia, turning down scholarship offers elsewhere to walk on and later earn his own scholarship from Cavaliers head coach George Welsh.
As a wide receiver, Dooley earned that scholarship after his second season and went on to help the Cavaliers to three bowl appearances and the 1989 Atlantic Coast Conference championship. In 1990, he was named first team Academic All-ACC and helped Virginia to a Sugar Bowl bid against Tennessee. During his playing career, Dooley caught 41 passes for 604 yards and three touchdowns. His level of play was such in the 1990 season that he was invited to and participated in the Senior Bowl.
He graduated that year with a bachelor's degree in government and foreign affairs, and then went on to earn his law degree from the University of Georgia in 1994. Before embarking on his coaching career, Dooley practiced law at a private law firm in Atlanta for two years.
After a successful start to the legal profession, Dooley switched gears and returned to his love of football, beginning his coaching career in 1996 as a graduate assistant at Georgia under defensive coordinator Joe Kines. He then served from 1997-99 as wide receivers coach and co-recruiting coordinator at SMU, where Dooley helped the Mustangs to the school's only winning season over a 20-year stretch.
Dooley joined the staff at LSU under Nick Saban in 2000, serving as recruiting coordinator and tight ends coach from 2000-02 and then running backs coach and special teams coordinator from 2003-04. He helped the Tigers land No. 1 classes in 2001 and 2003.
The Tigers won SEC championships both of those seasons, claimed the BCS national championship in 2003, and Saban promoted Dooley to assistant head coach for the 2004 campaign. Dooley then left with Saban for the Miami Dolphins, serving as tight ends coach from 2005-06. During his two years in the NFL, Dooley oversaw the continued development of tight end Randy McMichael, who ended his Dolphins career as the team's all-time leader in receptions by a tight end.
Dooley is married to Dr. Allison Jeffers Dooley, an OB/GYN and Fort Worth, Texas, native. They have two sons, John Taylor (13) and Peyton (10) and a daughter, Julianna (8).