With a loss that showcased many of the problems which have plagued the Vols over the last three years, Derek Dooley is out of chances to earn our trust.
First, and most importantly: thoughts and prayers to Marcus Lattimore, his family and his community. Lattimore is a great player and is clearly well respected, and we all hope he recovers as soon as possible and goes on to great success in football and in life. The show of respect from both Tennessee and South Carolina when Lattimore went down was a bright light in a dark moment, and we all needed to see it.
Second: congrats to the Gamecocks, who rebounded from two tough losses to beat Tennessee 38-35. Connor Shaw went for a career high 356 passing yards in what turned into a spectacular quarterback duel, and the biggest difference was Shaw's mistake didn't really hurt his team. His interception on 4th and 4 late in the fourth quarter gave the Vols the ball back with a chance to tie with three or win with six. But Tyler Bray - 27 of 43 for 368 yards and four touchdowns - fumbled in the Carolina red zone with victory yet again in sight. It was the first big play Jadeveon Clowney made all day, but it was the game's most important play. And so what should still stand as Bray's best game against a ranked opponent goes up in smoke at the end.
And vanishing with it is any chance Derek Dooley had left to earn our trust and our confidence this season.
I both respect and appreciate Derek Dooley. If you've been involved in our community, you know we have argued for patience with great passion. We have argued that most of what happened during his first two years wasn't really his fault, but instead demonstrated the scope of the mess he inherited. His work in stabilizing the program after Lane Kiffin left was vital, and he has recruited in such a way to bring talent back to Knoxville, which was clearly on display offensively yet again today as the Vols went for 472 yards, 66 more than any other team has put on the Gamecocks this season.
But Derek Dooley is now 0-15 against ranked teams in three years, with no ranked teams left on the schedule and none coming in whatever bowl game 7-5 teams play in, if the Vols are able to win out. Tennessee should win out. We are better than everyone left on our schedule. But when you have a defense that gives up 454 yards per game and 524 yards per game in conference play, you're never assured victory over anyone.
The defense is the biggest problem. Sal Sunseri is giving Dave Clawson a run for his money for worst hire of all time at this university, and that's truly impressive. But at this point in the game, the buck stops with Derek Dooley, and he knows that.
I don't want to hear about curses. We already won in the Georgia Dome. So yeah, it's unfortunate that Devrin Young fumbled against Mississippi State. It's unfortunate that Tyler Bray turned it over twice in the fourth quarter in Athens. And it's unfortunate that the first pick in
next April's draft the 2014 NFL Draft (because he is terrifyingly only a sophomore), who was stonewalled all day in a truly impressive effort from the guys in white, made his one and only play at the very end of the game.
This is football. That stuff happens. And good teams rise above it. Play for and make the breaks, and when one comes our way score.
The truly unusual things that happened to Dooley at the end of games his first year and the injuries to great players that hurt the Vols last year have nothing to do with what we're seeing this year. This year, Tennessee's defense sucks in astounding historical fashion. It sucks every week with no improvement. And I dare you to call me a liar.
With a defense this bad, an offense that goes for 456 yards per game breaks even by two yards. As such, Tennessee has more NFL talent on offense than we've seen in at least four years and probably much longer than that, and we're 0-5 in SEC play. The offense has a razor thin margin of error, and going against the schedule we've faced it hasn't been enough. You want to get on Tyler Bray for the fumble, make sure you do it in the same breath you mention what a great game he was playing up to that point.
Tennessee has had chance after chance to overcome adversity. Under Derek Dooley they have never done it against a ranked opponent, 0 for 15. They couldn't do it against Kentucky when their 26 predecessors could. Opportunity has been now here for Saturday after Saturday. It knocks constantly in the SEC. And under Dooley, the Vols never walk through the door.
Plain and simple, there is no evidence to suggest Derek Dooley can win meaningful games at this university.
The "keep Dooley" argument seems to exist only in a vacuum. Give him four years because that's the fair thing to do. Give him another year for this defense to get better.
First of all, what on earth makes you think Sal Sunseri's defense is going to get any better at this point? Don't give me an argument for teams in the first year of a 3-4. They were never this bad, never gave up so many big plays, and were never such a direct liability to success. There are even fewer reasons to keep Sal Sunseri than Derek Dooley.
And two, understand that the Vols are more than likely going to start over offensively next year anyway. Whether you think they should or not, the tea leaves seem to suggest Tyler Bray, Justin Hunter, Cordarrelle Patterson, and maybe Ja'Wuan James are all going pro. There is plenty of talent left in Knoxville, but all the faces in the passing game could be new.
And three, just because we keep losing close games doesn't mean we're magically going to start winning them in 2013. As pointed out before, Mike Shula, Ron Zook, and Tommy Tuberville each lost four one possession games in the season in which they were dismissed. Close doesn't count. The Vols may have improved greatly in the run game in the offseason, but we struggle to get better from Saturday to Saturday. Teams don't seem to grow during the course of the season. Today was nothing new.
We're going to start over offensively next year and have a defensive coordinator that looks as lost as a marble in high weeds.
The argument for Dooley is based in a vacuum and carries a fairness that does not exist in college football. And the schedule provides no further opportunity to show us something truly meaningful.
It doesn't matter to me if Tennessee wins the next four and the bowl game by double digits. That's what we're supposed to do against inferior competition. I already know Dooley can beat inferior competition most of the time.
What Derek Dooley has not proven he can do is win the games that matter to the University of Tennessee. And after fifteen tries and fifteen losses, I have no confidence in his ability to do what is most important as the head coach at Tennessee: win.
If the administration decides not to make a change and Dooley is back next year, I'll still support the team. I'm a season ticket holder, will be next year no matter who is coaching, and plan on being there to watch us take on Troy next Saturday. And I'll continue to respect the head coach who knows way more about football than I do. And I admire the staff and the players for giving their all on a day it would've been easy to give something less, for fighting their butts off for sixty minutes, and for giving their all for Tennessee.
But Derek Dooley's all has not been enough.
We'll talk more in the coming days and hours about dollars and sense, ticket sales, buyouts, and other names. We will continue to hear whispers of Jon Gruden, a whisper which if spoken aloud at a press conference would turn the Tennessee Football family in a new direction. But none of us knows what's coming next.
The one thing all of us know is to succeed as the head coach at Tennessee, you have to win. And for Derek Dooley, he has failed to show us in three seasons that he is capable of doing what is most important.
I hope and I believe there will come a time when Tennessee wins again.