Commentary by David Climer, The Tennessean
With 30 seconds remaining in a tie game and with two timeouts in
hand, Derek Dooley decided the best course of action was to let the
clock run out.
After Tennessee lost to Missouri 51-48 in four overtimes on Saturday, there was the unmistakable sense that Dooley's time as Vols coach also expired.
time for a change. Even at the cost of a $5 million buyout, UT simply
can't afford to keep Dooley around for a fourth season. His body of work
just doesn't merit it.
This was UT's sixth loss of the season and
its fifth in the past six games, a skid broken only by the 55-48
survival act against Troy a week ago. As the defeats have piled up, so
has the distinct feeling that Dooley's days as coach are numbered.
In his postgame press conference, Dooley looked like a beaten man. Asked about his job security, he said:
don't know. I'm hurtin' because of the game and the kids and they
played their tails off. There's a lot of negativity. That comes with the
With the loss, Dooley one-upped himself in SEC
ineptitude. After opening conference play 0-5 in his previous two
seasons at UT, his current Vols are 0-6 in the SEC with games remaining
against Vanderbilt and Kentucky.
Other numbers are stacked against
him. UT has won only once in its past 14 SEC games. Since a 3-1 start
last season, the Vols are just 6-12.
UT athletics director Dave
Hart has steered clear of the media for the last few weeks. The silence
is deafening. Given how aimlessly the program is meandering along under
Dooley, he must take action.
The prudent thing to do would be to
announce Dooley's dismissal - effective at the end of the season - this
week. That way, Dooley could coach his team against Vanderbilt and
Kentucky while the powers-that-be at UT could get started on a coaching
Is that fair? Not really. When Dooley was hired in January
2010, he inherited a Dumpster fire. He has done a decent job of
fortifying the Vols' roster and re-establishing discipline and
accountability on the team.
In a perfect world, he would be given a fourth season to gauge the success or failure of his rebuilding effort.
But it's not a perfect world. In big-time college football, you're only as good as your last game.
And Dooley's last game was a disaster.
with a 21-7 halftime lead, the Vols cratered against a Missouri team
whose only previous SEC win was against woeful Kentucky. After going up
28-14 midway through the third quarter, UT's offense went in the tank
for the rest of regulation while the Vols' defense reverted to form.
"You're up the whole game so when you lose, it just brings it down," cornerback Justin Coleman said.
retrospect, Dooley's faulty strategy late in regulation was part of his
undoing. Instead of putting the game in the hands of his team's
greatest asset - the offense - he chose to settle for a tie and go to
overtime, which exposed his weakest link - the defense.
Mizzou scored to tie the game 28-28 with 47 seconds remaining - on a
25-yard pass play on fourth-and-12, no less - the Vols took over at
their 30-yard line. Tyler Bray's first-down pass was batted down at the
line. On second-and-1, a screen pass went for no gain.
Dooley let the clock click down without running another play. Quizzed
on the curious strategy, he said he was trying to get the ball downfield
on the first two plays of the series before standing down.
first two plays, I was pushing it," he said. "We screwed up both of
those plays - poor execution. I didn't have confidence we were going to
get it on third-and-10."
But what, pray tell, has UT's defense
done this season to give Dooley confidence that the Vols could get a
stop in overtime? Even after limiting Mizzou to 64 yards in the first
half, UT back-slid into the same old bad defense that has hamstrung the
Vols all season.
The only play UT's defense made in overtime came
on the mandatory two-point conversion attempt after Mizzou's touchdown
in the third extra period. Officials ruled that L'Damian Washington was
out of the end zone when he caught James Franklin's pass.
could not capitalize on the opportunity. After Bray's touchdown pass to
Justin Hunter tied the score, Bray's conversion pass to Marlin Lane fell
In the fourth overtime period, UT went for it on fourth-and-3 but Bray's pass skipped off Zach Rogers' hands.
The result is yet another loss in a season that is unraveling before the Vols' very eyes.
"With the players we have on this team, I thought we could compete with anybody in the country," Lane said.
Instead, the Vols have been unable to save their coach's job.