Throughout the summer I have read repeatedly that Tennessee football coach Derek Dooley is No. 1 on a very tenuous list. With Tennessee’s first game less than a week away, virtually every college football “expert” is predicting that Derek, starting his third year after going 11-14 in his first two seasons, is leading the country with “the hottest seat” among college coaches.
The truth is that not many seers expect UT to have much better than a break-even season, and when that is added to Dooley’s current 4-12 record in SEC play, the “Legion of the Miserable” doesn’t give Derek a cut dog’s chance of wearing those bright orange trousers of his much longer than December.
When troubled receiver Da’Rick Rogers was indefinitely suspended on Thursday, it only added to the cacophony.
So as the Vols put the final spit-and-polish on the team’s high hopes before Friday night’s opener in the Chik-fil-A game against N.C. State in Atlanta, I think it is imperative for the Big Orange Nation to bear witness to the much-larger picture of what the personable Dooley has done for the badly-rattled program that he inherited after Lane Kiffin left UT in virtually a state of ruin.
Derek Dooley has accomplished his primary mission. He has cleaned up Tennessee’s tarnished football image and, as most of the glittering recruits that Lane brought to Knoxville have now gone down in flames, Da’Rick Rogers’ ouster means that Tennessee has lost virtually an entire recruiting class that Dooley has been forced to stomach as one after another of the dubious characters has self-imploded.
Lane Kiffin – of all people – says that what is happening to Dooley is unfair. In an interview with a Georgia fan site called DogBites.com several weeks ago, Lane bemoaned what Dooley is going through. “It is the nature (of college football.) It’s very unfair,” Kiffin said.
“You look at his situation; there’s been so much attrition from the roster from the day he got there to now,” explained Kiffin. “I don’t think it’s fair. He needs more time from all the changes and now all the coaching changes he’s gone through. He’s got to be able to have more time to show what he can do.”
I feel the same way. While I think Tennessee will be lucky to win seven of the 12 games on this year’s schedule, the Vols’ attrition problems are something that Dooley could never do a whole lot about. Yes, Derek signed Da’Rick but it was in a package deal that Kiffin had set up before he bolted for Southern Cal and it is doubtful Derek would have signed many of the others who became headaches.
When you lose an all-conference player to early attrition, that becomes something akin to a death rattle in the highly-competitive SEC. Here’s what I’m talking about. Pat Dye was among a handful of legendary SEC coaches attending a touristy gathering called the SEC Beach Bash in Gulf Shores, Ala., this weekend.
Dye, who was a Hall of Fame coach back in the ‘80s, was explaining why Auburn has been picked so low in the SEC West preseason polls. “We're still playing with freshmen, sophomores and juniors rather than playing with juniors and seniors and a few sophomores and freshmen. It makes a difference in this conference, believe me.
“Playing an experienced football team with the talent level they've got at schools in this conference, it's tough to win with freshmen and a first-year quarterback,” Dye explained, “and we're still playing both."
While Tennessee’s quarterback is a highly-regarded junior – Tyler Bray – the latest Vol depth chart lists only five seniors as starters. As Dye and Dooley both know far better than most, teams that have seniors with experience generally dominate the SEC’s winning column and, if injuries become a factor, a conference that boasts five of the top 10 teams in the nation is not warm and cozy on the weekends.
In this Friday’s opener, Tennessee will have 11 juniors who will start, which gives you hope, those but two sophomores starting at linebacker and a deep vein of inexperience on the two-deep chart hardly bode well, especially when conference play at UT begins against Florida on Sept. 15.
Derek Dooley shouldn’t be on any hot seat. He still needs and deserves time. He also deserves some sort of humanitarian medal for doing all he did to help the type of kids that Lane Kiffin brought into Knoxville because I believe Da’Rick Rogers – even though he ultimately got canned – is a better person today than he was before Tennessee first tried to save him.