With the Vols finally out of answers and Derek Dooley dry of opportunities, we turn our trending report [or at least the up section] on the future. Because "next year" has become the popular destination of hope in Big Orange Country.
When Derek Dooley inexplicably contradicted himself in the aftermath of Saturday's 51-48 four-overtime barn-burner loss to Missouri, it was clear he was running short on answers. Most of us have seen that was the case on the field for a while now.
Dooley was asked why he elected to let the clock expire at the end of regulation with the Vols facing third-and-10 with a shade under a minute to go on their own 39-yard line. Dooley said UT had messed up the first two downs, that he didn't have the confidence in his offense to get the first down it needed to keep the drive going and not punt. Then, mere seconds later, he said he had confidence in his offense to get the job done in overtime.
Which was it, Dools? Did you have confidence in your offense or not? Why -- pray tell -- did you let that game go into the extra sessions when a defense that went from allowing 64 yards of offense in the first half to getting predictably dominated after the break? Even if you didn't have faith in Tyler Bray and Co. in regulation and magically transformed into a devout believer once we got to overtime, how did you want the defense to ever trot back onto that field?
Simply put, he's clueless. For somebody so intelligent, Dooley certainly has said -- and done -- some dumb things this season. Losses have piled up in those things' wake, and that's why his time at UT should be [and surely will be] over sooner rather than later.
The only question now is will it come this week or after the season? Personally, I don't see what good it will do to wait, but they don't pay me to make the decisions. With Dooley's fate likely sealed, it's onto the trending report.
- Jon Gruden. There is only a small chance that the Vols would be able to pull off this coaching coup, but with donors supposedly willing to help with the buyout of the current coaching staff, the Board of Trustees getting some things ironed out [and working toward other positives] between the athletic and academics departments, it seems UT would be in a spot to make a great hire. Dave Hart should still make Gruden tell him no, and make it hard to do so.
- Greg Roman. Where did this rumor come from? Is there any validity? Is it all message-board fodder? I have no clue. But Roman -- the San Francisco 49ers' offensive coordinator -- had interest in the Vanderbilt job last year, and he would almost certainly want to coach the Vols. If he could bring Jim Leavitt [SF linebackers coach] with him to be defensive coordinator, that would be a coup. Roman has coaching and recruiting experience under Jim Harbaugh at Stanford, and of course, Leavitt had success as South Florida's head coach. It may just be a pipe dream with no grounding in fact, but I heard it, and I like it.
- Charlie Strong. The bubble burst on Louisville this weekend, but the fact of the matter is the Cardinals were overachieving this season, and Strong is going to build that place up from the dismal depth of Kragthorpian failures. I've been told that Strong to UT won't happen, but I don't understand why. He can recruit his tail off, and he has had SEC success as the defensive coordinator at Florida. I don't know what's so bad about him.
- Gary Patterson. I know some people don't think this would be a sexy hire, but the man can coach football. TCU was the nation's darling a couple years ago, and the Horned Frogs have remained decent and competitive even after star quarterback Casey Pachall left the program to deal with drug and alcohol addiction. Patterson is a great defensive mind, and he should be able to recruit to Knoxville. I'd like this hire as well.
- ABD. "Anybody But Dooley." Maybe this is harsh of me, but at this point, even an assistant like Kirby Smart, Brent Pease or Kliff Kingsbury wouldn't be a step back. Step back from what? The worst era of Tennessee football history? We need a change, and we can't afford to mess up this hire. But if the rumors are true and the Vols really are going to pony up the money for a good coach, who is to say who it can be? There may be a slam-dunk option out there we're not even considering. At this point, we have to do something, and I'm excited that it's going to happen -- even in the wake of being depressed about losing.
- The News On Curt Maggitt. For those out there who think our defense can't get worse, think again. It appears Maggitt has a season-ending injury. Let's just all hope it's not a torn ACL, in which case he'll probably miss a portion of next season, too. He simply wasn't himself this year after suffering from turf toe, and we all need to hope he eventually is the player we recruited again.
- Byron Moore and the Secondary. They're totally lost. I don't know who was calling plays yesterday, but simple execution was terrible as well. At this point, we're beating a dead defensive coordinator by trashing Sal Sunseri. He's gone, as is probably the bulk of that coaching staff. But these players have to come back, and they simply have to get better.
- Dooley's Decisions. Even though it was incredibly ballsy to call the fake field goal in overtime, we might not have ever gone to overtime if we could have gotten that touchdown. Hindsight is 20/20, but when you've made as many poor decisions as Dooley has, it all equals getting a new coach.
- Justin Hunter's Drops. He cost another overtime by dropping that pass in the end zone that hit him in the chest. Sorry, but he's a first-round talent. He has to make that play. When he doesn't, he deserves ridicule. It cost us the game. He's a big boy.
- Nitpicking the Refs. It was one small no-call on the biggest play of the game. On Tennessee's last offensive gasp -- the pass from Bray to Zach Rogers that wasn't completed on fourth down -- the defender had Rogers' hand held before the ball got there. It was pass interference that wasn't called. At that point, there are a million reasons why we didn't win -- and truthfully, as much as I hate to admit it, losing may have been what was ultimately best for the program -- but they should have thrown the flag and didn't. And it had a massive impact.