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Commentary: Derek Dooley may see own fate in treatment of Pat Summitt

9:36 AM, Oct 5, 2012   |    comments
Derek Dooley
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By David Climer | The Tennessean

Wonder if Derek Dooley is paying any attention to the current goings-on at Tennessee as they relate to Pat Summitt and Dave Hart?

Court documents in a lawsuit brought by former Lady Vols publicist Debby Jennings include a sworn affidavit by Summitt in which she states that Hart told her prior to the NCAA tournament that she would not return as coach for the 2012-13 season.

Summitt, who announced prior to last season she had been diagnosed with early onset dementia, described the meeting with Hart as "surprising" and "very hurtful." Summitt acknowledged a subsequent meeting at which Hart indicated she had "misinterpreted what he said."

While we'll leave it up to the courts to determine the merits of Jennings' complaint, this much is clear: Hart is a tough customer. In his role as UT's athletics director, he's not afraid to make the hard call. He doesn't worry about hurting anybody's feelings. He isn't averse to change.

And I don't know if that's good news or bad news for Dooley. Where Hart is concerned, it's difficult to read the UT leaves.

In his days at Florida State, Hart stood behind Bobby Bowden even when his higher-ups were losing faith. On the other hand, his 13 months at UT have seen Hart make a number of personnel moves and rewrite the organizational chart.

When he makes up his mind on an issue, he doesn't waver. Case in point: John Majors' number.

When Hart became aware that the criteria established by the previous regime for retiring numbers effectively had been written to exclude Majors (the original policy held that a player must have had considerable success in pro football to be considered), he strong-armed things through a committee and rectified the situation. Majors' jersey was retired in a ceremony at the UT-Florida game.

As for Dooley's job security -- or lack of same -- Hart isn't showing his hand. If he's leaning one direction or the other, he's not letting on.

I suspect the jury is still out on Dooley. It should be. Following the bye week, UT completes a killer stretch with games at Mississippi State, at home against Alabama and at South Carolina. By Halloween, we will have a better idea about how things stand.

On the plus side, the way Dooley's team played at fifth-ranked Georgia last Saturday certainly is encouraging. Instead of folding when things got tough, as has been their history on Dooley's watch, the Vols fought back. Sure, you'd like to see them go ahead and finish the job, but at least they put a scare into the Dawgs.

Using the UT-Florida fiasco two weeks earlier as a point of comparison, it definitely was a step in the right direction. Granted, it was just one game, so we don't know if it was an aberration or an indication that better days are ahead. But after so many disappointing second-half fades, the Vols showed some toughness and resolve.

Considering the Dumpster fire Dooley inherited in January 2010, I tend to believe he needs a fourth year to prove that he either is or is not the man for the job.

Does Dave Hart share that opinion?

He's not saying.

David Climer's columns appear on Friday, Sunday, Monday and Wednesday. Contact him at 615-259-8020 or

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