Fans disgust me most times. I’m as big of a sports enthusiast as you will find, but the way fans turn on players and coaches during adversity illuminates the worst of humanity. Today, Tennessee had a terrible game. The offense looked pathetic; the defense played okay but let a WR run a spread option offense for too many yards; and the special teams was anything but special. The two most disappointing aspects of this loss were that it was against Kentucky and a win would have made the Vols bowl eligible. Losing was pretty disappointing and put an ellipse on an overall bad year.
But–and this is a big but–the way so many so-called fans turned on Derek Dooley after the game is ridiculous. First and foremost, Dooley inherited a mess, one of the biggest messes in college football history. Coach Fulmer had already let the program’s quality slip below elite SEC standards, and then, Lane Kiffin, who doesn’t deserve the title coach, betrayed the university in the most despicable manner possible, bolting for USC with less than a month left for recruiting. By the time Dooley was hired, he literally had less than two weeks to salvage the recruiting class.
Since taking over as head coach, Dooley has worked to return pride to the program and has implemented policies that hold players accountable for their actions on and off the field. At the beginning of this season, he stood behind his principles and kicked his best player off the team for misconduct. At the time, most of these same fans now calling for his head lauded him for his scruples, praised him for putting the program ahead of the individual.
During this year, the Vols lost their best offensive weapon early in the season and then their highly talented quarterback for nearly half of it. Their offensive line is extremely young , with only one junior in the lineup, and the starting tailback, the lone senior starting on the offense, would probably be the third-string runner for Alabama, LSU, Georgia, South Carolina, and Arkansas. The team lacks depth, experience, and explosiveness on the offensive side. Today, the starting quarterback, his throwing hand obviously bothering him, was ineffective. However, despite these facts, I repeatedly heard fans lambasting Dooley for the play-calling during the game. Well, when you have no running game and your passer is struggling because of injury, what plays do you call? Do you pull the starter for a true freshman?
My Alma Mater, the University of Memphis, has been on the coaching carousel for decades. A few years back, they hired Tommy West, and he got the school into back-to-back bowl games for the first time in school history. Then, he had a couple of mediocre seasons, so the “fans” turned on him and got him fired. Now, the team is back to the old losing ways. How many coaches have Vandy and Kentucky tried in the last 30 years?
If Tennessee fires Dooley now under these circumstances, it will be a worse mistake than keeping Fulmer around after his fire had dimmed and much worse than hiring Kiffin. Tennessee will be on the same mouse wheel as all of the other mediocre teams chasing a return to glory. The high profile coaches will shy away because the AD bows to pressure from the fans, and every young coach who jumps in will be chased away in 2-3 years. I’ve witnessed it firsthand with Memphis. And it’s not fun.