Kevin C. Cox
For this fan, Derek Dooley's decision to let the clock run out and play for overtime in the Tennessee-Missouri game was the final squandering of his last real opportunity, both in the game and in his career at Tennessee.
Well that should about do it.
Following Tennessee football recently has been maddening, and today I think it's safe to say that madness has finally driven us off the cliff in a maniacal, burning rage. So passes Denethor.
It's maddening because, when you look at the situation in objective fairness, you can see increasingly bright glimmers of hope just moments away from bursting into blinding, enthusiastic chest-bump-complete-strangers joy. An offense that is practically unstoppable. A trio of NFL-caliber stars lighting up defenses and etching their names into record books. A renewed rushing attack complementing the passing attack and adding much needed balance. The most exciting player to watch in a Tennessee uniform since Eric Berry. There is elation here.
But it's all instantly washed away by the equally potent (impotent) yang to the offensive yin brought on by yet another new beginning and yet another fresh face given his first real chance in the SEC on our sideline.
For every good thing, something bad followed. Even today, when the hopelessly maligned defense that actually held Missouri to 68 yards in the entire first half gave up 70+ on the first play of the second. And it only got worse. Even the unstoppable offense got stopped. Every Good Thing was celebrated too quickly, sucked dry by a parasitic Bad Thing.
I could go on. And on and on. You know it to be true. How in the world does a fan who is so devoted to a team to give roughly 6,000 hours over seven years to publicly rooting for and writing about the team he loves come to a place where, instead of reacting to a 4OT game, he's wondering whether he would rather have a victory today or a press conference Monday?
The answer is this: A little bit at a time. I am zealous in my belief that patience is a virtue. I believe in second chances. I believe in waiting to see if someone learns from failure and in giving them an opportunity to prove that they have. I believe in giving folks a real opportunity to succeed.
But I also know that when the evidence is in, a decision must be made even if it is difficult. And it pains me to say it, but today is the day that I've seen enough.
Today's last little bit isn't necessarily the loss, although that didn't help. No, it was time management, both as it was demonstrated in this game and as a metaphor for how Derek Dooley has been managing his entire time as head coach at Tennessee. Dooley's clock management at the end of regulation wasn't just a coaching decision with which most fans will disagree, and it wasn't just a questionable decision on the way to a loss. It was the way he views his opportunities.
Anyone who watched the game knows that the Vols owned the first half with stellar offense and a very surprisingly stalwart defense. The offense didn't quite fall apart in the second -- they scored another TD -- but the defense went right back to what they'd been the rest of the season.
So when Missouri tied the game at 28 with 47 seconds left, you knew a couple of things, namely that Tennessee's defense couldn't stop Missouri, and that Tennessee's offense was the team's best hope. Missouri squib-kicked, and Tennessee got the ball on the 39-yard line, only 11 yards from midfield. The Vols had two timeouts.
Two incompletions later, Dooley decided to forgo his last 35 seconds and two timeouts. He not only had two downs left, he had time to use his best opportunity to win, and he simply decided not to. They lost in overtime, as Missouri scored a touchdown on every possession except for the last when a field goal was all they needed. Tennessee had one extra possession -- at the end of regulation that they decided not to use.
How do you not shake your head at that decision? If it was one little thing, a patient person could shake it off, chalk it up to a lesson learned from failure, and hope that the team is better for it next time. But that would be ignoring all of the other stuff with which we've been patient: penalties on the offensive line, all of the times the team failed to get the right number of guys on the field for a play, and a multitude of other maddening situations.
Dooley pocketed the benefits of two time outs, two offensive plays, and about 35 seconds and decided instead that he would have a better opportunity in overtime. Basically, he took the time he had for granted. He wasted it, thinking he could do better later.
And unfortunately, he's done exactly the same thing with his career at Tennessee. He asked us to call his first season Year Zero, and we gave it to him. But he's taken the extra time and opportunities we have given him for granted, and he's failed to make the most of them. Sometimes, like today, he's even failed to try to make the most of them. And this time, I'm guessing that there's no overtime waiting.
We owe Derek Dooley a great deal for accomplishing many good things here at Tennessee. As hard as it is to see, the offense is very, very good. I hope that we're all respectful of him, his family, and his coaching staff. As I said before, Bray, Hunter, Patterson, and the run game have been really fun to watch this season. We just couldn't enjoy them for long.
But if he's not going to be a good steward of the time and opportunities he's been given, then I don't think we can afford to give him any more of them.