Coaching in the SEC is no easy task. Even though Derek Dooley is entering the halfway point of his third season in Knoxville, he is squarely on the hot seat and needs a strong finish to 2012 to save his job. The Volunteers weren't in great shape when Dooley came to Knoxville but has the team improved under his watch?
Should Derek Dooley Return to Tennessee in 2013?
David Fox (@DavidFox615):
I’ll be the first to say that Derek Dooley inherited a mess of a situation at Tennessee, one that requires time to clean up. But by Year Three, Tennessee should be looking for signs of real progress. One SEC win -- in overtime over Vanderbilt, no less -- in the last 11 games is not it. This team is better under Dooley than it was a year ago, and it would be fair to give him one more season and one class of his seniors to see it through. But the wins are what counts, and Dooley is running out of time to pick up those wins. Unless the Volunteers can defeat Alabama or South Carolina, what is his chance for a tenure-defining win? Missouri? Vanderbilt? Kentucky? That said, all Tennessee has to do is to win two of those games (plus Troy) to reach a bowl. That won’t make Tennessee fans happy, but we’re looking at a team that could reasonably finish with seven or eight wins. I still think that’s the threshold for Dooley sticking around.
Braden Gall (@BradenGall):
Derek Dooley's tenure in Knoxville is quickly becoming one of the most bizarre and complex to evaluate in the history of college football. He took over a complete dumpster fire and has obviously improved the program as a whole. He also is 0-13 against ranked opponents and is 1-10 in his last 11 SEC games. Even over the last month and a half of the season, fans will be on a rollar coaster of emotion. If things fall the way they should, Tennessee will lose to Alabama and South Carolina over the next two weeks bringing the Vols record to 3-5. And the fans will burn down talk show phone lines. Then the Vols will win four straight to end the year 7-5 on a roll with a bid to a solid bowl game. And the fans will want to give their coach an extension. Is Dooley the long-term answer in Knoxville? That remains to be seen, but a upset win in the next two — or bad losses in the last four — could seal his fate either way. For now, I think he finished 7-5 (two games better than last year) and keeps his job.
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven):
This will be an interesting debate for Tennessee athletic director Dave Hart. The Volunteers will likely be 3-5 at the end of October but play Troy, Missouri, Vanderbilt and Kentucky in November. Barring an unlikely loss, Tennessee should finish 7-5, which would be the best mark of Dooley’s career with the Volunteers. While 7-5 isn’t awful, the standards are higher in Knoxville. Dooley didn’t inherit a full cupboard when he took over for Lane Kiffin, but Tennessee is just 1-10 in its last 11 SEC games. Even if coaching in Knoxville isn’t as good of a job as some may believe, that record simply won’t get it done. Even if Dooley returns for 2013, Tennessee could have a rebuilding project on its hands, as quarterback Tyler Bray and receivers Justin Hunter and Cordarrelle Patterson could all leave for the NFL. If Hart decides to make a change, this is a hire he needs to get right and one that can add some much-needed long-term stability to the program. Even though the Volunteers may not finish the season ranked in the top 25, going through a coaching change is not what this program needs right now. I think Dooley survives at least one more season in Knoxville.
Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch):
My guess is that Derek Dooley will not be back at Tennessee for a fourth season. The numbers simply don’t add up: Heading into this week’s game vs. Alabama, Dooley is 14–17 overall and 4–15 in the SEC in his two-plus seasons as the boss in Knoxville. The Vols have lost 10 of their last 11 league games, with the only win coming in overtime at home vs. Vanderbilt. Barring a significant upset this week vs. Alabama or the following week at South Carolina, Dooley will be a combined 0–12 vs. Georgia, South Carolina, Alabama and Florida. Not good.
Barring a complete and total collapse, I think Dooley will be back for at least one more season in Knoxville. An upset win over either Alabama or South Carolina, Tennessee's next two opponents, certainly wouldn't hurt his case, but I think Dooley's focus needs to be on the Volunteers' final four games - home against Troy, Missouri and Kentucky and on the road against Vanderbilt. At 3-3 right now, going 4-0 to close the season will give the Vols seven wins, which would be the most in three seasons under Dooley, and more importantly, guarantee a bowl bid. If Dooley doesn't get this team bowl eligible this season, I think it will be very hard for him to convince athletic director Dave Hart, who didn't hire Dooley in the first place, to give him another one on Rocky Top.
Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman):
This is a very difficult call, and it is a more complex decision for athletic director Dave Hart than many football fans believe. Constant change and attrition can kill a program once it’s down, and a new boss in Knoxville would equal four Tennessee head coaches in six seasons. Derek Dooley inherited a severely damaged roster and culture, and the likeable head coach has improved the talent level of the Vols. The on-field evaluation in Dooley’s third season is tough, because his club has competed fairly well against three ranked SEC opponents but has lost all three. That trend should continue against Alabama and South Carolina the next two weeks, but close defeats will still leave Tennessee at 0-5 in conference play. While the rushing game has improved greatly, the defense under new coordinator Sal Sunseri has been awful. The Vols can score points but still seem to make too many critical errors at exactly the wrong times when trying to rally in big games.
I believe Hart wants to give Dooley another season to fix the program, along with saving millions of dollars in buyouts and coaching-search costs for a budget that has been squeezed in recent years. If November becomes a disaster (like losing multiple games or too many empty seats), Hart may have no choice but to make a change. Vols fans have every right to demand a better win-loss record, but I think Dooley may survive unless the Vols finish .500 or worse.
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