Opinion: Tennessee Vols exit polls may tell Derek Dooley's future

8:50 AM, Oct 19, 2012   |    comments
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By David Climer | The Tennessean

In the spirit of debates, polls and all the other political trappings of the day, I offer this referendum:

Tennessee Vols fans, are you better off today than you were four years ago?

If you are, then you should vote to keep Derek Dooley.

If you're not, then you should vote to fire Derek Dooley.

That's basically what it comes down to. Four years removed from one of the lowest points for UT football in the last half-century, either Dooley is making significant progress in getting Vol Ball back up and running or he's not. You make the call.

Yes, I know Lane Kiffin was on site for 13½ months. How could we forget? He spent most of his waking hours attempting to recast UT into Southern Cal East. If he had stuck around longer, he might have edited General Neyland's game maxims into a couple of talking points on a Post-It note.

But give the man his due. He's a good football coach, as he continues to prove at USC. And while Kiffin left behind plenty of problems that Dooley had to deal with, he also is responsible for signing Tyler Bray, Ja'Wuan James, Jacques Smith and Corey Miller before leaving town. Those were some nice housewarming gifts for Dooley.

Go back to UT-Alabama Week 2008. Phillip Fulmer's team entered the game 3-4 overall and 1-3 in the SEC. Then as now, the Vols had lost at home to Florida and on the road at Georgia. Their defense was good but the offense was horrible, which is a role reversal from the current Vols.

Recruiting had slipped badly. The talent pool was alarmingly shallow. The general perception was that UT was headed nowhere.

Some fans were angry. Some fans were frustrated. Worse still, some fans were apathetic.

Sound familiar?

And when Alabama hit town in '08, it turned into an Occupy Neyland rally. At kickoff, between one-quarter and one-third of UT's stadium turned crimson. Deep into the fourth quarter, with Alabama dominating on the way to a 29-9 win, Tide fans outnumbered Vols fans 10-to-1.

The makeup of the crowd that evening was the final straw for Fulmer. It contributed to the sense of hopelessness. Any lingering support of Fulmer by UT's administration evaporated by the end of the game. After losing at South Carolina the following week, he was toast.

It's ironic that Fulmer will be honored before kickoff on Saturday as acknowledgment for his upcoming induction to the National Football Foundation Hall of Fame. The last time he was on the field for a UT-Alabama game, he was dead coach walking. He just didn't know it yet.

To this day, Fulmer believes he could have turned things around if given the chance. He says he would have made the necessary changes on his staff to get the offense back up and running. He had a verbal commitment from quarterback Tajh Boyd, who now is putting up big numbers at Clemson.

But that's a moot point. UT moved on, first with Kiffin, then with Dooley.

All of which brings us back around to Dooley. Halfway through his third season, is the program on the rebound from where it stood on UT-Alabama Week '08 or is he just marking time?

It's your call. Every vote counts.

Although some count more than other.

David Climer's columns appear on Friday, Sunday, Monday and Wednesday. Contact him at 615-259-8029 or dclimer@tennessean.com.

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