October 20, 2012
What to make of endorsements
Crutches to his left, another statistical bloodbath to his right, Derek Dooley answered with three letters, one syllable and no one really knows how much clarity deep beneath the long-empty metal bleachers in the north end zone of Neyland Stadium.
Tennessee's head football coach has the support of Alabama's head football coach, who helped him get the job and could hinder him now, given that Tide coach Nick Saban wholly offered his Dooley endorsement, unsolicited, in his opening remarks Saturday night on the ebbing flow of the Tide's 44-13 win.
"I think Tennessee's team really played hard. I think that Derek is doing a fantastic job," college football's undisputed king decreed. "They have been better and better every year that we've played them. We were fortunate today that our defense played well enough to keep their high-powered offense to just 13 points."
At halftime, addressing reporters in inside the press box after his 1997 SEC Champions were honored on the field before kickoff, Phillip Fulmer, who knows about both beating 'Bama and seeing the Tide seal his fate, offered tacit support to Dooley.
"Absolutely. We've got too great a history and tradition and facilities. I think everybody is working really much better in the same kind of direction. For a while we were splintered all over the place. I think Derek's done a good job," said Fulmer, who noted the support he received from both former athletics director Doug Dickey and then-UT president Joe Johnson amidst a 1-3 start to the '94 campaign. "I think (vice chancellor/director of athletics) Dave Hart is trying to get everybody focused in the right direction. I spoke to a group from the development council yesterday; Fidelity had done a nice scholarship endowment in honor of the Hall of Fame. And you've got a collection of really, really smart people. Really, really bright people. People who love the university; the chancellor and president and the athletic director and everybody else. They're all pulling to get the same things done. Campus-wide, but with athletics especially.
"I think we can absolutely get back to where we were. This league is as tough as it's ever been. Missouri and A&M will have something to say about who goes to the next level up or down. That's just the way it is. The same thing happened when we went to divisional play. Separated the real men from the boys."
The SEC expanded again this year, adding Missouri and Texas A&M. Every school is spending money at unprecedented levels to succeed in this conference, because there's more money to go around than ever before and because football still pays the majority of athletics bills at the majority of the league's 14 members.
So here, 3-4 and winless in the SEC, Sal Sunseri's defense setting dubious records at a breakneck pace, does Dooley feel he has the support of UT's administration?
"Yes," said Dooley, and it was clear he would not elaborate any further.
Which probably further muddied the waters, if not precipitated another heinous painting of the rock.
Dooley hired Sal Sunseri, with the blessing for a multi-year, crowding-toward-$1 million annual pact from those who must ultimately sign off on such decisions, and Sunseri's defense thus far is a sham. The Vols have yielded more than 40 points in three consecutive games for the first time ever; they are allowing a blind-eye numbing 43.25 per game in four league contests. Teams roll up 500 yards against them the way Willie Nelson rolls up grass.
Dooley did not make Tyler Bray play his worst game against a quality foe to date. The Vols' junior quarterback -- in his 19th career start and first-ever against the defending BCS champion Tide - was an abysmal 13-for-27 with two interceptions, nearly another one and on the wrong end of another key Justin Hunter drop on this night.
Bray declined to speak to the media, which probably speaks volumes about the task Dooley discovered in the aftermath of the program's sixth-straight loss to 'Bama. That spans three coaches, by the way.
Fulmer was asked if a program --- any program --- swings and misses on a coaching transition how long it must wait, how damaging it can be, from which to recover.
"I don't know if you're referring to my situation or just period. There was an awful lot of good chemistry that just went a lot of different ways," Fulmer said in reference to his own, "and we've got to get all that pulled back together. I'm hopeful that we can. Winning helps a lot of things."
No one would argue that Tennessee is winning remotely enough. It isn't, especially with so many former athletics department representatives drawing orange ink on go-away paychecks.
With the fate of this contest -- closer in some aspects than what some might perceive; further in others -- long decided, a former college athlete and longtime veteran college administrator pointed out that if Dooley got another year, he would be the first head coach here at Tennessee since Fulmer in '08 to field a team only of his players. On this night, 18 of 22 Vols starters on offense and defense were Dooley signees, which would seemingly speak to his ability to bring in players to help rebuild the program and to an mostly empty cupboard he inherited.
That same person noted that offensive coordinator Jim Chaney has been here five years and this Depends-worthy night notwithstanding, Chaney mostly has the Vols' offense in a consistently competent, effective state.
"Probably terrible. We just got whipped," Dooley said of his team's likely mindset. "But we've got to regroup. We go to South Carolina next week. We've got a lot of ball ahead. We can't just stick our heads in our tail and go home. You've got to go play. And we'll do it. We'll recover. It's disappointing we couldn't go four quarters with these guys, and we thought we could."
The Vols must go 20 more quarters in this season. Based on the result and the resulting support on this night, no one seems prepared to forecast any further.
...More... To continue reading this article you must be a member. Sign Up Now for a FREE Trial