November 18, 2012
Hart's task: Find UT's next Dickey
For the fifth time in 52 games, a different head coach will lead the Tennessee football program onto Shields-Watkins Field August 31st when the Vols open the 2013 season against Austin Peay. It became a fact after Sunday's announcement from Athletics Director Dave Hart that Derek Dooley has coached his last game at Tennessee.
Coaching turnover is new to Vol football. To put that in perspective, prior to 2008 you have to span more than 40-plus years to find four different head coaches leading the Vols.
The first of those four coaches over those four decades was Doug Dickey. As the Vols move forward in their search for the next guy to lead the Tennessee program, finding 2013's version of Dickey is exactly what the Vols need.
When Dickey took over the Big Orange in 1964, he became the Vols' third coach in a year. Dickey inherited a program that had won 15 games over the three previous seasons and had been lapped by Bear Bryant and Alabama. Tennessee was still running the antiquated single-wing offense, a system that was costing UT top prospects left and right. The Vols had lost two of the best prospects to ever come out of the state, Steve Sloan and Steve Spurrier, to other SEC schools.
When the 31-year-old Doug Dickey arrived Knoxville, Tennessee was a huge mess. A disaster area.
Over the next six seasons, Dickey went 46-15-4 as the Vols head coach and won two SEC Championships. But his impact and success at Tennessee was about more than just his wins. Dickey re-branded Tennessee football.
It was Dickey who put the "T" on the side of the helmet. It was Dickey who brought in checkerboard end zones, had the team come onto the field through the Pride of the Southland Band's "Giant T" and moved the Vols into the modern era offensively. It was Dickey who recruited and played the SEC's first African-American football player, Lester McClain. It was Dickey who pushed AD Bob Woodruff to make John Ward the football program's "Voice of the Vols" and market the Vol Network to be the program's "statewide stadium." Dickey even embraced the good ideas of others, like Ray Mears' "Big Orange Country" marketing theme.
And that Tennessee hat that Bill Dance still wears on his fishing show that is on TV worldwide? Doug Dickey made sure that Dance always had a supply.
If there had been Twitter and Facebook in 1964, Doug Dickey would have figured out how to use it to make Tennessee better. He could coach, analyze talent, hire excellent assistants and recruit, but what he could really do is market and sell. And he had people around him to help him do it.
Wins were most important, yes, but Doug Dickey completely overhauled the image and brand of Tennessee football, including how it was presented to the fans. Some 48 years later, Hart's challenge in hiring his football coach is to find someone who can re-brand the Tennessee football program. In other words, find a Doug Dickey.
Right now, where Tennessee football sits is unacceptable. Hart's swift firing of Derek Dooley after the Vanderbilt debacle indicates that he gets that.
It's unacceptable on all fronts imaginable and to everyone who's ever been associated with the University of Tennessee.
It will hurt a Vol to read this, but Tennessee is a program at this moment with no relevance in college football. It's a program without identity. Hart has said since his arrival that the first priority is to get football healthy. Now it's Hart's only priority because never has Tennessee football been this sick. Not with this much competition in its midst.
You can run through a laundry list of items that Tennessee needs its football coach to be. Yes, he has to be able to recruit, yes he must understand the challenges of recruiting at Tennessee. He needs to understand the South and not be intimidated by the league. Experience is a must. He must be able to assemble a quality staff and, well, you can go on and on.
But what Hart needs most in his attempt at fixing Tennessee football is to hire a coach who can help re-brand Tennessee football. The new coach must add energy to the program, must get the UT students excited like Bruce Pearl and Cuonzo Martin have done in basketball and must be willing to get out of his office and spend time with Tennessee fans who are sick of getting their teeth kicked in.
He must look at Tennessee's gameday presentation and make changes to add atmosphere to Neyland Stadium.
He must look at how Tennessee gets the word out about its program via standard media, social media and his coach's shows.
He has to look at the sideline apparel, the jerseys, the helmets --- no one says become Oregon where 8,000 different looks are possible, but players today love the idea of changing it up every once in a while.
In other words, nothing should be off the table for the new guy. And Tennessee and its fanbase must embrace the change. It is not 1989 anymore.
Will General Neyland turn over in his grave if changes are made? Let me answer that question with a question: did he turn over in his grave when Doug Dickey put a "T" on the helmet? Most of us don't remember, but I bet that was radical in the mid-1960s.
As we know now, it really wasn't that radical. And it was time. Doug Dickey was the man for that time.
Dave Hart's challenge is finding the man for 2013 and beyond. He's looking for a modern-day Doug Dickey for Tennessee.
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