Commentary by David Climer, The Tennessean
It's official: The so-called "national media" have uncovered the fact that this is a very big season for Derek Dooley.
Dennis Dodd of CBSSports.com lists Dooley with John L. Smith of Arkansas as the coaches on the hottest of hot seats entering the football season. It's win or else, Dodd says.
ESPN.com picked up on this news flash with an analysis of its own.
There's even a website - coacheshotseat.com - that ranks Dooley at No. 5 among coaches nationwide who are feeling the heat.
I guess that proves it. Derek Dooley is facing a make-or-break season at Tennessee.
Just wondering: You guys hear about bin Laden?
Thanks for connecting the dots, fellas. Sure, Dooley is on the hot seat. I know it. You know it. And trust me, Dooley knows it.
At the SEC Spring Meetings last month, Dooley addressed questions about his job security or lack of same with a standard line: "You're always on the hot seat in this profession."
Dooley also is fielding questions about the importance of UT's opening game against North Carolina State in Atlanta by bringing up Mark Richt's situation at Georgia last year. We had Richt in front of a firing squad after the Dawgs opened 0-2, but they went on to win their next 10 in a row and claim the SEC East title. Richt was rewarded with a contract extension through 2016.
Just the same, Dooley is painfully aware that he works in a conference of constant transition where football coaches are concerned. Since 2000, there have been a total of 25 changes - an average of more than two a year.
Only once during that period, in 2005, did all SEC coaches survive. One coach came and went twice: Houston Nutt, out at Arkansas in 2007 and out at Ole Miss after last season.
Often, as many as half the SEC coaches enter a season feeling extreme to medium heat. And while we all can agree that any coach at an SEC school is under some degree of pressure every season, only three - Dooley, Smith and Kentucky's Joker Phillips - enter the season facing possible ousters.
Personally, I don't think it's fair to throw Smith in there. For one thing, he's operating under the title "interim." He was brought aboard as a caretaker to maintain as close to the status quo as possible in the aftermath of Bobby Petrino's uneasy rider motorcycle crash and the attempted cover-up that was so wonderfully dubbed the Ozark Chappaquiddick.
As for Dooley, he actually seemed to have stabilized things a bit entering the final three weeks of last season. Despite struggling along at 4-5, he was getting the benefit of the doubt because of a depleted roster after so much coaching transition the previous three years.
Then the Vols went to Arkansas and threw in the orange towel in the second half of a 49-7 embarrassment. They followed that with an ugly overtime victory at home against Vanderbilt. Then came the inexplicable 10-7 loss at Kentucky, where UT looked unprepared and unmotivated.
That's why Derek Dooley is on the hot seat.
Now that the national media has noticed, I guess it's official.