Tennessee fans, you don’t deserve a winning team. You simply don’t. The bile and venom spewed at Coach Dooley over the last three years is shameful and disgusting. The vast majority of you are classless, short-sighted jerks who disgrace the legacy of the program with your behavior. If UT fires Coach Dooley Monday, which likely they will, you will get what you’ve asked for, and more than likely, you’ve condemned the program to at least another five years or more of mediocrity. Virtually no reputable coach with any sense would want to come to the university given your win-now-or-else absurdity.
First, a little history lesson for you. After the National Championship season in 98, the program slowly began to erode. The first major warning sign of this erosion for me was the Peach Bowl after the 2003 season. At the end of a disappointing 14-27 performance against a mediocre Clemson team, many players were seen on the sidelines joking, laughing, and talking on cell phones. For me, this raised alarm bells about the team’s character and commitment. Coach Fulmer seemed oblivious to his players’ lack of passion for competition. I wasn’t in the locker room and don’t know if he addressed it, but if memory serves, no one was released from the team.
Then, in 2005, the erosion of talent and dedication bottomed out. The team went 5-7 overall and 3-5 in SEC play, missing its first bowl game under Coach Fulmer. The team was slow at the skill positions and weak along the lines, and the players simply couldn’t execute. Of course, you refused to acknowledge that anything was wrong with the talent. Instead, you blamed Randy Sanders and ran him from the program in one of the most tasteless and ridiculous smear campaigns I’ve ever witnessed. Coach Sanders bled orange and loved the university. Today, because of you, he refers to it as “that place.”
In 2006, the team went 9-4 overall and 5-3 in the SEC, which on the surface was respectable. However, the team was 2-4 against ranked opponents. In 2007, Coach Fulmer seemed to have it back, going 10-4 and 6-2, winning the SEC East and taking LSU to the final gun in the SEC Championship. However, the losses included Cal 31-45, Florida 20-59, Alabama 17-41. More alarmingly, the wins included beating South Carolina by 3, Vandy by 1, and Kentucky by 2. Very easily, that team could have been 3-5 in SEC play. In 2008, the team did go 5-7 and 3-5, and Coach Fulmer lost his job.
Enter Lane Kiffin. Remember him? He came in full of bravado and promises. He landed some incredible talent and had the team looking competitive against ranked opponents for the first time in several seasons. There was optimism and momentum surrounding the university. Do you remember how that ended? January 12, 2010, Kiffin called a press conference late in the evening to announce he was leaving the school to take the USC job. In the middle of recruiting. After one season. Can your short-sighted-ness fathom what that did to a program already on the decline? Much of his first recruiting class left the university. Most of his second recruiting class followed him to USC or bolted to other SEC schools.
So in the midst of turmoil, UT began looking for a new coach. Will Muschamp turned the job down, flat out. So did Jon Gruden and Bill Cowher. Do you remember that? I wonder if the treatment of Coaches Sanders and Fulmer had anything to with their decisions. Maybe it’s just me, but if I were a coach looking at potential jobs, the last place I would want to land is a school with a loud, obnoxious, ignorant fan base with a history of running off coaches. But I digress.
During this turmoil, Tennessee hired virtually unknown Derek Dooley, and some of you started asking for his head the next day. Coach Dooley immediately went to work and salvaged what he could from the recruiting class, including keeping Tyler Bray. He also started rebuilding Tennessee’s image. For most of Coach Fulmer’s tenure, the team was notorious for the sheer volume of arrests. It seemed like every weekend, often after games, 2-3 players would get busted for disorderly conduct or worse. Then, it turned out some of Kiffin’s recruits were felons-in-training, so the program was not only sub-par on the field, but rife with off field issues.
Coach Dooley vowed to clean this up and implemented measures to hold players accountable. He began to build the character of these young men as much as their football skills. He also recruited some fine talent. Given the mess he walked into, he did a commendable job righting the ship. He brought pride and passion back to the program. The young men on his teams play for the Tennessee Volunteers, and they compete hard in every game. Yes, they are not quite up to SEC standards yet, but it’s not from lack of effort or lack of hard work.
I can’t defend Coach Dooley’s win-loss record. It’s awful. I can’t defend some of his coaching blunders. They are glaring. What I can do is remember a young Bill Cowher making his fair share of blunders with the Steelers. I can also look up the records of some of the greatest coaches in history and see early poor records. I’m not saying Dooley will ever be the next Bear Bryant. What I am saying is that Tennessee fans will never have a Bear Bryant as long as you continue with your hot-headed, crude behavior because you’ll never attract the right coach and then you’ll never give him time to build. Win now or else.
To Coach Dooley, I’d like to say thank you. Thank you for doing things the right way. Thank you for soldiering through an absurd situation. Thank you for being classy and dignified in the face of adversity. I’d also like to apologize for the behavior of the ignorant buffoons who will probably run you out of town. Please know, some of us saw the positive and appreciate the job you’ve done. Some of us understand that college athletics is supposed to be about more than money and wins. Some of us would love to give you one more year before judging you. Good luck, Coach Dooley, whatever the future holds for you.