(DISCLAIMER: I ramble a bit in this post.)
I must confess that I lied in the title of this post. There was nothing "unlucky" about the 10-7 loss the Vols took on the chin Saturday in Lexington. The Cats were clearly the more inspired team showing throughout that they wanted it more. From the coaching to the execution on the field, the upper hand goes to UK. I was obviously not happy that the Vols fell to the Wildcats for several reasons. The primary two are 1.) no bowl game and 2.) no more streak.
I went to college with quite a few natives of the Bluegrass state, and I still keep in touch with several of them. The streak was just one of those things I always had in my back pocket able to wield at any given moment. Say I'm throwin' back a couple of beers and lose in a game of pool to one of my Bluegrass buddies.... Bring up the streak! Or how bout I'm at Thompson Boling Arena the night Jodie Meeks goes berserk, and I start receiving texts from my Bluegrass buddies.... Text about the streak! I didn't overuse "the streak" as not to be the "Boy that cried wolf", but it was an excellent weapon of choice (much like the spread gun on Contra). Now that it's over Florida fans have the right to fully engage in this type of verbal jousting with their Bluegrass buddies.
Before typing this post, I gave the loss time to fully simmer and marinate. I want to give a fair assessment of where I think the Vols are. I am not blinded to the fact that the "Dool-Aid" took a major hit by losing to the Cats, but I am certainly not in the "Fire Dooley" crowd. Here are a few of my thoughts below:
- The loss to UK was horrible period. Not only did the Vols lose to a Kentucky team, but they lost to a Kentucky team that had a wide receiver playing quarterback. The Kentucky offense resembled the offense the Vols trotted out in the last showing of the "Clawfense" when Fulmer wouldn't let Dave Clawson call a passing play. The Cats were 4 - 6 through the air for 15 yards yet still got the win (in Tebowesque NFL fashion). The Cats churned out 234 yards on the ground compared to 100 for the Vols. This just highlights problems that have been there all year. The Vols can't run it, and they can't stop the run. The Vols have to figure out something next year in their running game. The offensive line must improve at run blocking, and Dooley desperately needs a game changer at running back. As far as stopping the run, the Vols were young, thin and light in their front seven this year, and it was glaring in the game vs. the Cats. Recruiting, reps and work in the weight room are the solutions there, and that unfortunately takes time. That's not a popular answer in this day and age, but it's the bottom line.
- When Dooley was hired, this was not a "two year project", and it still isn't. Last week I wrote that Dooley had not lost a game this year that he should've won in 2011. Both Derek Lusk and I have tried to hammer that point home repeatedly this season. Well, that point is now out the window, but it doesn't change the fact that Dooley was brought into a mess. The lack of depth, the lack of playmakers, blah...blah...blah... I agree with Michael Bailey; these are excuses, but in the Golden Age of the SEC, quite simply these problems are going to lead to losses, even losses to teams Volunteer fans are accustomed to beating. It's my full belief that Dooley's job should not be on the line this early into his tenure. If he had walked into a smorgasbord of talent, then he could fairly be on the hot seat, but he didn't. Football is not basketball. Nowadays in hoops, you can sign three studs and be right back in the mix the following season. To borrow a word from Dooley, football is more of a "process", and I honestly like the direction we're going on the recruiting trail. If Dooley can get to six wins next year, he should be back for a fourth season. Six wins is not an aggressive goal, and I think with a healthy Bray/Hunter and an improved running game/defense, the Vols are capable of more. My rationale in the "six game to keep his job mantra" is this. When Dooley was hired, this was a four year project in my opinion; thus, if he can post a modest win total in year three and get the Vols to a bowl game, he should have the opportunity to coach year four.
- After the loss to the Cats, I was texting back and forth with best friend, Andy Woods. Andy is a proud supporter of the Big Orange football program, and he also is a fan of Duke basketball. He texted that I should take a look at Coach K's first three years at Duke. I have looked this up, and here are the numbers. 1980-81 - 17-13, 1981-82 - 10-17, 1982-83 - 11-17. In all three seasons, Coach K (much like Dooley) was awful in conference play posting losing seasons in all three years in league play. Neither Andy or I are saying that Coach Derek Dooley will ever be on the level of a Coach K, who is the winningest Coach in men's Division I history. My point is this. Sometimes it takes a coach a few years to get traction for results to show. During those first three seasons, Coach K came under fire, but all the while, he was laying the foundation for what was to become one of the best college basketball programs in the history of the sport. If Duke would have pulled the plug on Coach K, they would've missed out on all the wins and glory that he brought to the University. Coach Dooley may not ever bring that level of winning and glory to the University of Tennessee football program, but who knows? I feel that pulling the plug this early would be doing a disservice to not only Coach Dooley but to the program that he so proudly leads.
To sum it all up, it's very trendy to jump over to the "Fire Dooley" bandwagon right now. Clay Travis is beating the drum, and many drones are following. Before you jump to that side of the coin, let the last few years of Volunteer football simmer and marinate in your mind. Think about the level of competition the Vols are facing in the SEC. Also, Dooley did lose talent and leadership off the 2010 team. That loss of talent and leadership was downplayed coming into this season, but maybe it should not have been. Let all the factors and circumstances come to a boil and then ask yourself Should Dooley be on the hotseat? If you say Yes, then we'll just agree to disagree.