You can't arrive by beating Vanderbilt; this isn't the win that's supposed to make us all believe in Derek Dooley. The end result is still miles and miles ahead. But a win like this - the way it happened - against what I'm prepared to call a good Vanderbilt team can make such a difference for this team and this program. The Vols stared down a mountain of adversity and won - not because they were lucky, but because they made the plays they had to have on both sides of the ball. With the game on the line, Tennessee played for and made the breaks, and scored. And when familiar end of game shenanigans appeared ready to return, this time the Vols came out on top.
You can change the past. It's not easy, and there will be resistance, but it can be done. Saturday night, Tennessee claimed a huge victory for the momentum of the program, trading learned helplessness for right action. Right action can lead to right thinking, as the orange dog will attest to. And maybe, just maybe, we can start moving forward again.
November 26, 2011 - It Has To Be Next Year (Will)
Given the situation he inherited, anybody that tells you they can fairly and intelligently say they know for certain Derek Dooley isn't the man for this job is either overreacting or trying to get more readers/listeners. You can't know yet. None of us can. We don't have enough information. It's not fair to put it on him.
But this is the last time I'll be making that argument after a loss.
2012 now becomes "the year" - not just the year when we expect the Vols to show the improvement we've been waiting on, but the year they'll have to, or it will probably cost Derek Dooley his job.
Is it fair that a guy who walked in to what Dooley walked in to should get only three years to fix it? Probably not - there are still some among the local media and even among the fanbase that, before today, said Dooley needed at least four years before we should really judge him.
But fair went out the window today. The loss to Kentucky not only removes whatever confidence - real or imagined - this team built with the dramatic win over Vanderbilt, and not only removes the possibility of sustaining momentum in a bowl game...but now, we all turn to 2012 and say we've been patient enough. You lose to Kentucky, you lose the benefit of the doubt. Now it's time to show us.
January 2, 2012 - Justin Wilcox Forces The Issue (Chris)
This was the fire alarm going off. The smoke was obvious, but regretfully that burrito the dumb guy on your floor freshman year who thought you microwave burritos for half an hour at 7 AM on a Saturday morning done went and set off the fire alarm. (In this case, the dumb guy on your floor is played by Kentucky and Justin Wilcox is a burrito. Metaphors have never been so tortured.)
August 2, 2012 - 10 Questions for 2012 #1 - Is This The Year? (Will)
The main reason I hope Derek Dooley succeeds this year is because I want to believe that the story ends the way it should. The guy who pulls you out of the ditch is the same guy that takes you to the mountain top. It hasn't worked that way other places, most notably for Mike Shula. But it still can here.
I like Dooley's personality, love his press conferences, and think he's funny. None of this matters one bit in winning football games, the main thing he's hired to do and the one thing we're still not sure if he can do. But we're about to find out. And for all of our sakes, I hope the answer is yes.
I also hope the answer is yes because I don't want to look back in five years, when Tyler Bray, Da'Rick Rogers, and Justin Hunter are all stars in the NFL, and wonder how in the world we didn't win when they were here.
I hope the answer is yes because I'm afraid of what will happen if the answer is no. I'm afraid of having to rebuild relationships with recruiting. I'm afraid that even if things will be more stable than when Kiffin left, unless the Jon Gruden rumors come true this time the next guy will be just as little of a sure thing as the last guy, whether that's Kirby Smart or Bobby Petrino or anywhere in between. I'm worried in a mostly-joking-but-serious-enough-to-make-me-sweat way that Vanderbilt will win 8 games against their cupcake schedule, we'll go 5-7 and lose to them, and we might actually consider hiring James Franklin. More than anything, I'm worried that if the answer isn't yes, Tennessee Football will again live in the land of mediocrity, only this time we'll know it's not a temporary stay.
August 15, 2012 - The 3-4 Transition (Jay)
However, despite Tennessee's personnel advantages over most teams who switch defensive alignments, they have one obvious weakness in comparison to the 2007 Alabama team. The Tide had one of the greatest coaches of a generation installing the new defense, while the Vols sport a coordinator who has studied under greats like Saban and John Fox but who has never run a defense at the FBS level. So while Tennessee should expect to have more stamina than the 2007 Tide, it is an open question how their rested performances will compare.
September 1, 2012 - Welcome To A New Era of Tennessee Defense (NC State) (Brad)
A fair share of "no-no-no-YES!" plays occurred Friday night, and several times, a Wolfpack receiver would run unmolested down the seam to the tune of me flinging my hat clear across the room or slamming it to the floor. But in truth, this fast-and-frenetic defense looked exactly like coaches told us it would. There was plenty of organized chaos mixed with simple chaos. But the end result was fine. It was like when my wife whips up some sort of tasty casserole for her picky husband, and I ask, "What all's in here?" She just smiles and says, "Just eat it. You don't want to know."
September 2, 2012 - Tennessee 35 NC State 21 - Stuff's Getting Better (Will)
The buzz was back last night. I sat in the lower level and we were on our feet almost the entire game. The first touchdown was more aboutCordarrelle Patterson than anything else, and rightfully so. But what came later was special, and a huge boost to belief. You will believe Zach Rogers can dust the best cornerback on the field. You will believe the Vols can get pressure on the quarterback and somehow get a safety on a play that started at the 19 yard line. And you will believe in Cordarrelle Patterson. Boom, boom, boom, 22-7.
September 14, 2012 - Tennessee vs Florida: Baby, Have You Got Enough Gas? (Will)
Does this team have what it takes to beat the Gators?
Here's what we still don't know: I don't know how this team will respond if it gets behind. I don't know how this team will respond in a close game in the fourth quarter.
Florida answered both of those questions last week on the road, giving the Gators an advantage there. But confidence is best learned through experience, and the Vols could very well have a chance to earn both in this one.
If the Vols come out and dominate, don't worry, we'll enjoy it plenty. If we've got what it takes to dictate the pace to them and we go up and down the field all night long, hallelujah. But the more likely scenario of a close, tight game will both produce and reveal a lot of character in this football team. Do the Vols have what it takes?
September 15, 2012 - Tennessee Sacrifices Linty Fresh Feeling, Loses to Florida (Chris)
For 35 minutes or so, if you were fooled. It's okay. You'd be forgiven for that. But hey, second half adjustments happen, and credit to Brent Pease for recognizing that Sal Sunseri was taking gambles left and right and figuring out ways to punish it. That's really what the game came down to - a handful of plays in the second half where the penchant to gamble and the need to gamble on defense backfired horribly, and the offense didn't do enough (or, if we're not feeling nice, anything) to recover from it.
Honestly, the thing I came out of this game with was simple: Tennessee got smoked coaching in the second half. You could make a guess that might've happened with the UF defense thanks to last week, but the offensive adjustments? That was new, and it worked.
September 24, 2012 - On Figuring Out The Right Question to Assess Derek Dooley's 2012 (Chris)
And yet, I'm not sure the question is simply "Has Derek Dooley made the Vols a better team than when he got here?". I think the answer to that is yes - the stability and the presence of one elite skill seem to point to a definite improvement. There are moments when it all clicks - Cincinnati, NC State - that point to something critical being right. However, improvement doesn't occur in a vacuum.
The question, therefore, shouldn't be on an absolute basis. It needs to be on a relative scale; is Dooley improving the Vols as a team and a program faster than his competitors are improving their teams and programs?
That's a trickier proposition, but I think it's the right question.
September 29, 2012 - Georgia 51 Tennessee 44 - Growing Pains (Will)
We grew today. And we hurt today. We didn't get the win to make you believe, but we did play well enough to make you think we're going to have the same opportunity against Alabama and South Carolina.
But before we get there, we must go through Starkville. If this team can keep getting better, grow and move forward from this loss, Derek Dooley will be fine and this team can still have a good, meaningful season. But we can't let today beat us in two weeks, we can't let our defense continue to give up big plays every other drive, and we can't fail to grow.
October 14, 2012 - Mississippi State 41 Tennessee 31 - Sands of the Hourglass (Will)
By itself, tonight would've been a tough one to take. The Vols turned it over twice, MSU didn't. The +13 time of possession and +22 advantage in total plays were huge for the Bulldogs and kept our offense off the field. And the defense played better by default because it didn't give up any 70 yard plays, but is still such a liability at times. It sucks to lose a game like this in any year, especially after an off week.
But in this year, it's even worse. Derek Dooley cannot afford to lose to Mississippi State, plain and simple. And no matter how close we may think we're getting, there are only so many grains of sand in the hourglass. And the only way to put sand back in or maybe one day even flip the thing back over is to win. And that seems to be one thing Derek Dooley can't do.
The path of fired coaches is paved with close losses. Mike Shula lost four by one possession in 2006. Ron Zook lost four by one possession in 2004. Tommy Tuberville lost four by one possession in 2008. And all three had done way more than Derek Dooley has done long before their time ran out.
October 27, 2012 - The Vote of No Confidence (South Carolina) (Will)
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.
November 4, 2012 - This is Tennessee Football (Troy) (Will)
I have used the word "literally" and the phrase "this is not hyperbole" more in the last 24 hours than at any point in my life before. Because this is on pace to become the best offense in the history of Tennessee Football, literally. And this is the worst defense in the history of Tennessee Football, literally and any other way you'd like it. And what's left are five losses, four wins, and nothing we feel good about.
Back in the offseason when we said this really could be a nine or ten win team? I don't feel like we were wrong. I've said it this way recently, but really I don't even think we needed an average defense to be successful this season. If we had an average defense, we're 8-1 right now and heading to Atlanta. But even if we had a defense that was like a 3 out of 10, we're 7-2 and loving life. Tennessee Football is what we want Tennessee Football to be.
But we have a defense that is a fraction out of 10, and the common denominator is getting lower every week.
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.
November 18, 2012 - There's a Press Conference At 2 And You Know Why (Chris)
It's impressive when you think about it: this is a pretty good job. Wouldn't have known it over the last few years. Here's hoping the new head coach - whoever he is - turns it into the job it can be and the program it should be.