Wednesday, October 31, 2012

0 Dooley vs. Expectation

By Jason McDonald

Derek Dooley’s law degree might come in handy when he steps in front of that UT parole board, because as a repeat offender, Dooley has a lot to defend. UT’s current standing in the SEC East is second to last, just above Kentucky. They could make up a lot of ground coming down the stretch when they face Missouri, Vanderbilt, and Kentucky, but lose one of those games and any mystery that surrounds Dooley’s job will be answered.

He has plenty of supporters who give him the benefit of the doubt. When you see and hear Dooley speak, you see a guy that you would want running your team. He’s obviously a bright guy who wields his southern charm like a cannon. This is the guy who you want to be the face of your team. He’s the flip side of a Coach like Bobby Petrino, who you absolutely wouldn’t want. In an ideal world you wouldn’t want a sulking unscrupulous jerk being the ultimate representation of who you are as a team.

But Dooley is also the opposite of Petrino in another key way. He’s not a proven winner. UT has seen a few first under Dooley that the haters are happy to fashion into ammo. UT had never started three straight seasons at 0-5 in the SEC. The defense is the worst is probably ever been. And the stat that hangs over last season is the giant L against Kentucky, which as every UT fan knows, was the first loss against them in 26 years.

Fair or not, Dooley’s biggest rival is the history of UT football. And it’s a competition he probably can’t win. Two out of his last four years, Phillip Fulmer had records of 10-4 and 9-4, and he was canned for two mediocre years. Tennessee fans crave the relevance that used to be a given. The 90’s were the glory days. But the way the SEC has grown in the last decade, the competition has increased exponentially. The path to relevance runs through some of the best teams in the country, and no matter how much you try to buy your way into a better schedule, you still have to face the SEC.

There’s no doubt that Dooley has one of the best offenses that UT has seen. They have some major weapons in Bray, Hunter, and Patterson. They also have what could be one of the best offensive lines in the country. Therein lies one of the mysteries of Dooley. If you are able to put this together, the where are the wins? Is he just one step away from beating Florida or Georgia? Or his defense a greater representation of Dooley’s coaching?

The answer might be somewhere there in the middle. He went 17-20 in three years at Louisiana Tech and is currently 14-19 at UT. It appears he’s able to coach up some aspects of the team extremely well, but not well enough to compensate for team deficiencies. But this isn’t necessarily and indication of future failure. The reality is that he’s been learning on the job. He has a total of five years and some change as a head coach, and UT is by far the biggest spotlight he’s seen. With three years of UT experience under his belt it’s very possible that he could turn it around in year four. But with expectation breathing down his back and history hanging over his head, he could be a dead man walking right now.

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