In a move that surprised few around college football, Tennessee athletic director Dave Hart announced Sunday that Derek Dooley has been fired as the Vols head football coach. Dooley will not coach Tennessee’s final game of the season Saturday against Kentucky.
Hart and the Tennessee athletic department sent out a release Sunday morning which said the following:
"We very much appreciate the effort and energy that Derek Dooley and his staff have poured into our football program at the University of Tennessee," said Hart. "Derek and I met early this morning, and I informed him that I believed a change in leadership, despite the positive contributions he has made to the overall health of the program, was in the best long-term interests of Tennessee football. We will immediately begin the search for the best possible candidate to assume this leadership role."
Dooley then released his own statement. He said:
"I am sorry we could not generate enough wins to create hope for a brighter future," said Dooley. "Although progress was not reflected in our record, I am proud of the strides we made to strengthen the foundation for future success in all areas of the program.
"During the last 34 months, I've given my all for Tennessee, and our family appreciates all this University and the Knoxville community has given us."
Tennessee and Dooley will hold a 2 p.m. EST press conference to make the move official.
Sadly, Dooley’s words truly did reflect his time with the program. Under Dooley’s watch the program did make incredible strides off the field, and to his credit, Dooley cleaned up a huge mess that was left behind by his predecessor Lane Kiffin.
At the same time, no matter how many strides were made off the field, you’ve got to win on the field, and Dooley didn’t do nearly enough of that. In his three years at Tennessee Dooley finished with just a 15-21 record overall and a meager 4-19 record in the SEC. And really, that SEC record tells you everything you need to know. In his last two years at Tennessee, the Vols finished just 1-14 overall in the SEC, including a loss last year to Kentucky, the Wildcats first against Tennessee in 26 years. Saturday’s 41-18 loss to Vanderbilt proved to be the final nail in Dooley’s coffin.
What will be interesting to see is the kind of candidates this job opening will draw. Tennessee is a proud program, but also one which simply doesn’t have the money to spend that some others around the conference does. They also don’t have the inherent recruiting advantages of schools like Alabama, Georgia or Florida either.
The name that every Vols fan wants is former Super Bowl winning coach and current ESPN analyst Jon Gruden. Given that his wife once attended Tennessee, there’s a chance Gruden would at least listen to the school, but admittedly, it is a very small one.
More realistically, look for Hart to look at Kirby Smart, the current Alabama defensive coordinator to fill the role. Hart and Smart worked together when Hart was an assistant AD at Alabama before coming to Tennessee.
Beyond those two, look for the usual list of candidates to surface, including Western Kentucky head coach Willie Taggart and Louisiana Tech head coach Sonny Dykes.
Also don’t be surprised if current Duke head coach and longtime Tennessee offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe gets a look for the job as well.
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