From the "Talk too much" studios, let's make USC and roll over...
Dooley era complete
And it's done. Official and complete.
We told you that Derek Dooley was not going to be back for 2013 last week.
We all saw that Dooley's time was done Saturday when Vandy took the Vols to the woodshed and made them like it.
We all knew it was coming; it came Sunday when Dave Hart made the announcement.
The TFP has a slew of coverage today from recruits, to the timeline that was Dooley's demise, to the list of candidates to ace columnist Mark Wiedmer's view that Dooley and Jon Gruden could switch jobs and everyone would be better off.
The 5-at-10 will take a different view, and as someone who grew up watching and pulling for the Vols, this is not going to be easy or possibly popular. Here are the Rushmore of painful facts that we must face about the state of the UT football program:
1) This is not an upper-echelon SEC program right now. All-time? Of course it is; Tennessee is likely second behind Alabama. Right now, with five losing seasons in its last eight and looking for its fourth coach in its last six seasons, UT is closer to the bottom than the top. Much closer.
2) Next year is going to be worse. Receivers Justin Hunter and Cordarrelle Patterson are all-but-gone to the NFL, and barring a rock-star hire (more on that in a moment) so is quarterback Tyler Bray and maybe even tackle Ju'waun James. So the scoreboard-smashing offense that kept UT close before Saturday will be starting over and the record-setting (in a bad way) defense will be forced to carry the water. Ouch-standing.
3) Because of situation and circumstance, if the Vols can't land Jon Gruden, there's a real chance that the fan base is going to be disappointed with whomever comes to the 865. While we think it's still somewhat of a longshot to get Gruden — which is a much improved view compared to where we were a month ago when we thought there was no way Gruden was coming — Hart is faced with the painful prospect of the rumor becoming perception becoming expectation and that combining with desperation has made Gruden a combination savior, savant and saint. And almost every Johnny Vols Fan is dying for him to come to Knoxville. If he doesn't, the next coach already faces strike one by simply not being Jon Gruden.
4) Hart said all the right things Sunday when he announced Dooley's firing, even pointing out his sales pitch: "This is the ultimate challenge, which competitors embrace," Hart said. "This is the ultimate challenge, for a football coach to come into this league. If you're a competitor and you want to prove your worth, come into the Southeastern Conference. Come to the University of Tennessee. You'll get that opportunity." That said, the next coach will have a tough, Tough, TOUGH gig. Yes, as Hart said Sunday, Dooley left the program in better shape than he found it, but that's a testament more to what Lane Kiffin left than what Derek Dooley did.
We knew this day was coming — heck, every coach leaves, that's the circle of football life — but the end always seems more final and more painful. (Well, Saturday night was more painful, anyway.)
And this is not all Derek Dooley's fault. There's a Wally's-in-East-Ridge-sized buffet of blame to go around, it's just that the guy at the top wears the crown or the bull's eye.
Still, it's hard to think of the preseason — amid the hopeful heat of August, when we talked about the Vols having a swing range between 5 wins and potentially 10 — and remember Dooley's famous quip: "You're not going to have Tennessee to kick around anymore." Well, yes, the SEC is going to have Tennessee to kick around; they just won't have Derek Dooley to kick around anymore.
It's Gruden and...
We think Dave Hart is in a tough spot and to make matters worse, he must move quickly. Every recruiting day lost could be a recruit lost, and the talent starved Vols can ill-afford to lose any prospect, especially a four-star safety from a nearby school that has always been a Vols fan but is being courted by two power programs that are a combined 21-1 and feature some of the best recruiters anywhere.
We all know Gruden is atop the Vols Nation Christmas list and we've all seen the reports from NFL beat guys that Gruden would prefer to come to a college job than an NFL gig. We've even read the story about Gruden approaching Rahem Morris and looking about putting together a staff.
And we agree with Weeds that UT can't afford not to meet Gruden's demands; if Gruden eventually says no, then UT can't control that, but whatever UT can control it simply must be willing to give Gruden every concession. The Vols are dealing from a position of desperation and to not grant Gruden big coin for a staff or big ideas is simply short-sighted. Yes, there is an economic crunch on every athletic department everywhere — heck, on every company everywhere — but UT athletics can't be profitable being mediocre or worse in football. That's basic accounting.
In fact, the buyouts and the reports of financial shortcomings in the athletic department make things seem cash-strapped and make the more frugal among us whether UT can afford Gruden and his alleged big-budget requests for assistant. We counter that UT simply can't afford NOT to shake every cushion and pinch every penny to get Gruden. We also can say fairly confidently that the talk around the UT offices has been about Gruden first and foremost, so they seem to be making every effort.
That said, it still may not be enough and Gruden still may not come to Vol Nation. (The counter argument of course is he could have his pick of jobs at the NFL and college level, so why be interested in one that is going to be so difficult? And one year as a Grad Assistant seems pretty thin when there's a real chance he could be coaching the Dallas Cowboys if he wanted to.) So if he does not come to the 865, who's next?
The same names — Charlie Strong (good), Bob Stoops (doubtful), Jimbo Fisher (???) — have been bandied about the last 36 hours. The only thing we know for sure about the search is that if it's not Gruden, it's not the Vols' first choice.
Around college football
— Fab 4 (plus 1) picks went 3-2 last week, hitting on Mississippi State, La-Monroe and Ohio State. We missed on Oklahoma and USC (stupid Lane Kiffin) and are 42-18-2 this year. We make our Fab 4 picks every Thursday, and found some games Friday that we liked even more — the over/under on FSU-Maryland was 45 for crying outloud. Know this though, there was some significant entertainment on USC — the preseason No. 1 team in the country — beating rival UCLA because of a parlay that included multiple early Saturday winners and the USC Kiffins spit the bit. Side note: For all the UT folks that think the Vols would be better off if Kiffin had stayed, you may have a chance to rehire him considering the 7-4 Trojans face No. 1 Notre Dame and went from atop the polls to atop the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl's wish list.
— Speaking of picking games, Utah State moved to 11-0 against the spread with a 48-41 overtime win over La. Tech as a 3-point favorite.
— If you've ever doubt LSU coach Les Miles' utter brilliance, watch this video: http://espn.go.com/video/clip?id=8648076&categoryid=2378529. Les Miles rocks.
— Why does everyone get their pads in a bunch about the BCS around Halloween, when every year it works itself into a manageable position. It's the same process — "OH NOOOOOOOO! There are seven unbeaten teams and so-and-so will get robbed if they don't have a chance to play for it all." — and every year other than 2004 it works itself out. (And yes, there's a log jam of one-loss teams, but those teams do not have the same argument because in the end they lost. And college football's regular season is the best in sports because it's a three-month playoff, and if you lose you need help or style points or luck or something.) In fact, three weeks ago everyone was talking about great it would be if there was a playoff this year. Well, a four-team playoff would actually make things worse this year, considering the shuffles after Kansas State was thumped by Baylor on Saturday and Oregon's loss at Stanford. As of this morning, unbeaten Notre Dame is No. 1 followed by five teams with one loss — Alabama, Georgia, Florida, Oregon and Kansas State. Alabama and Georgia will play in the SEC title game which is a BCS semifinal at this point, but if there was a four-team playoff who's in this year?
— Kudos to the Mocs for finishing the drill and posting a 6-5 mark. We are huge fans of UTC coach Russ Huesman and the job he's done on the hill. That said, anything short of a playoff berth next year with the amount of talent and experience that returns will be a failure.
— OK, amid all the chaos and strife that was the first six weeks of the Georgia Tech football season, here we stand and the Jackets have won the Coastal division and have two MONSTER games on the horizon. This week is the rivalry clash with Georgia, which may be looking a week ahead at the SEC title game. The following week will be a date with FSU in the ACC title game that could be worth a trip to the Orange Bowl. Yep, after MTSU puts a 21-point spanking on you, a shot at the Orange Bowl seems cuh-razy, no? (Miami self-imposed a bowl ban, meaning the 'Canes can't go to the ACC title game, meaning Tech is headed there after beating Duke on Saturday.)
This and that
— As bad as the 1-8 Kansas City Chiefs have been, they hit a low-water mark this weekend. No, this has nothing to do with the 28-6 loss to Cincinnati. On Nov. 14, 81-year old Loren G. "Sam" Lickteig of Missouri died and this is the word-for-word obituary that ran in the Kansas City Star: "Loren G. "Sam" Lickteig passed away on Nov. 14, 2012 of complications from MS and heartbreaking disappointment caused by the Kansas City Chiefs football team." How many Johnny Vols Fans just nodded their heads and said, "We're so going to use that."
— Congrats to the Blue Deuce and Brad Keselowski for winning his first NASCAR points title. It was not as much fun as last year's chase — that was a once-in-a-lifetime kind of deal — but we believe the guy that deserved it won it. Nice job Bad Brad.
— Sorry, Chas9, did not watch a single moment of college hoops this weekend. Feel free to fill us in on what we missed.
— We'll have more NFL stuff tomorrow, but there were some pretty sweet wagers on the board Sunday. Does anyone want some 5-at-10 Fab 4 (plus 1) entertainment advise on NFL games?
It's all Dooley, all the time. And Jomo, keep the gloating to a minimum — you were right about the five-win Vols, provided they can end their losing streak to Kentucky that is (ouch, that last one hurt).
OK, in honor of Dooley, the brainiac that was the former Vols coach — and this is not a shot, dude was a smart cookie — let's have a quiz about his time in the 865:
What's the one word you'd use to describe Dooley's time with UT:
True or false: UT will be better than the 6-6 in 2013.
In a paragraph ,what's the lasting image of the last three years of UT football:
Fill in the blank: UT's next football coach will be _.
And it's Monday, so any lingering thoughts from the weekend are also accepted.
Jay was named the Sports Editor of the Times Free Press in 2003 and started with the newspaper in May 2002 as the Deputy Sports Editor. He was born and raised in Smyrna, Ga., and graduated from Auburn University before starting his newspaper career in 1997 with the Newnan (Ga.) Times Herald. Stops in Clayton and Henry counties in Georgia and two years as the Sports Editor of the Marietta (Ga.) Daily Journal preceded Jay’s ...