published Monday, October 22nd, 2012

Wiedmer: Is Tennessee’s fan base unrealistic about Vols?

On Friday afternoon, Nov. 13th, 1992, the University of Tennessee parted company with football coach Johnny Majors after 16 seasons. His final game before that ouster was a 24-23 loss at South Carolina.

On Monday afternoon, Nov. 3rd, 2008, UT parted ways with football coach Phillip Fulmer after 16 seasons. Two days earlier, Fulmer’s Vols lost 27-6 at South Carolina.

Embattled third-year Tennessee football coach Derek Dooley accompanies his struggling team to South Carolina this Saturday, where the Vols hope to end a three-game losing streak and snap an 0-4 start in the Southeastern Conference.

Anybody notice a possible trend here?

Just sayin’.

No one but UT athletic director Dave Hart may know for certain Dooley’s coaching fate, and at least for now Hart isn’t saying.

But you also can’t help but wonder if what he isn’t saying is all that needs to be said about the long-term future of the coach he didn’t hire.

Is his silence on Dooley’s future the loudest statement possible that the coach has none? Or is Hart silent because he believes there is no story here for at least one more autumn?

For instance, has Hart noticed the same thing my good friend Wes Rucker did on Sunday, which is the not so little fact that the Vols have lost four SEC games to date to teams which have lost ONE … GAME … TOTAL?

Whatever else any UT backer thinks of Dooley and his mostly retooled staff, you could be a pretty good football team and go 0-4 against BCS No. 2 Florida, at No. 10 Georgia and at No. 11 Mississippi State and against No. 1 Alabama.

Nor does it get any easier against the Gamecocks, who are ranked No. 13 in the latest BCS rankings.

If Volniacs want to spew venom over the current 3-4 record and 0-4 league mark, they might want to save at least a little of it for an SEC office that’s strapped them with one of the toughest schedules imaginable within the league the last couple of years. Or don’t you remember last season’s first six SEC games against Florida, Georgia, LSU, Alabama, South Carolina and Arkansas?

To refresh your memory, UT was the only SEC East school to play the three-headed monster of Bama, Arkansas and LSU — Top Five teams all.

This doesn’t completely excuse Dooley or his staff. The Vols have either been outcoached, outplayed or both in the final halves of games both last season and this one.

Yes, there seems more fight in this team at times, particularly at Georgia and Mississippi State. But it also seems to self-destruct with alarming regularity, either by busted assignment, turnover or brain cramp.

Then again, as much as the Big Orange Nation doesn’t want to hear it, three of the past four decades of UT football — if viewed in 10-year increments — have hardly been the stuff of legend.

UT fans may not think of themselves as a school given to 8-4 seasons — the perfect example of a good-but-not-great program — but that’s pretty much been their average record for every decade since 1970 save the magical 1990s.

Between 1970 and 1979 the Vols were 75-39-3 overall and 29-29-1 within the SEC. Between 1980 and 1989 UT was 77-37-3 overall and 37-23-2 in league play. And from 2000 to 2009 — the decade before Dooley arrived — the Vols were 83-44 overall and 51-29 in league play.

Divide those totals by 10 and each of those three decades roughly breaks down to an 8-4 average record.

But the decade of the 1990s is where the Big Orange Nation wants to live. UT went 99-22-2 overall and 64-15-1 within the SEC while winning one national championship and playing in five BCS level bowls.

Good stuff, to be sure. But something of an aberration when compared to the decades that surround it. If — as Dooley likes to preach — you are what your numbers say you are, the Vols’ history suggests them closer to an 8-4 program than a 10-2 machine.

None of this will necessarily deliver Dooley a fourth season. While there were glimmers of hope in road losses to Georgia and Mississippi State, the Vols looked awful in home losses to Florida and Alabama.

Hart may not be talking, but he surely saw the 35,000 to 40,000 Alabama fans in the stands on Saturday night and that the UT portion of the crowd exited by the close of the third quarter.

When your athletic department is already swimming in red ink the last thing you want a national television audience to see is your stadium filled with Bama crimson rather than Clorox Orange.

At that point you begin to wonder if replacing your coach is more a matter of “can you afford not to” than the other way around.

But if Dooley needs to correct anything in the days ahead, it may be his own ill-chosen words. You just can’t walk into a post-game press conference following a 31-point loss to a bitter rival and say, as Dooley did late Saturday, “I don’t know,” or “not sure why,” four times in five minutes.

You may not want to say why, but you best know why, lest your AD swiftly find someone who does.

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6273.

about Mark Wiedmer...

Mark Wiedmer started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press on Valentine’s Day of 1983. At the time, he had to get an advance from his boss to buy a Valentine gift for his wife. Mark was hired as a graphic artist but quickly moved to sports, where he oversaw prep football for a time, won the “Pick’ em” box in 1985 and took over the UTC basketball beat the following year. By 1990, he was ...

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JonathanMCook said...

Unrealistic is more a broad statement than anything Mark. People here want a program that rivals Alabama but that's a pretty tall order with no real straight answers. The true reality is Vols can go 0-12 three years straight and you'll still gonna have 100,000 (editoral comment removed) fans show up every Saturday as if they live for nothing else. At the same time little brother over on McCallie Avenue gets about as much respect in the community as D-list Hanna-Barbara character Jabberjaw did in the 1970s. And all but abandoned if God-forbid they lose 2 games in a row. But that's another debate for another time.

October 22, 2012 at 7:01 a.m.
jeffy01 said...

Jonathan...you may be right about even at 0-12 there would be 100,000 fans in the stadium. Howevwer, much like Sat night...50,000 would be for the other team.

October 22, 2012 at 8:41 a.m.
Saban101 said...

Pretty funny that six short years ago Tennessee fans were mocking Alabama for firing Mike Shula, saying "they don't deserve Mike Shula" and "Nick Saban? They are dreaming" or in 2007, "Their $4M coach lost to La Monroe!" Ha Ha, irony is so sweet. Saban now 6-0 against Tenn, about to run off a good man & coach they don't deserve. Enjoy mediocrity, Vols, it is your destiny.

October 22, 2012 at 9:10 a.m.
jomo11 said...

also, keep in mind the combined record of teams UTK HAS beat this year is 7-16 . . . .

October 22, 2012 at 9:20 a.m.
MC said...

I enjoy history as much as the next guy but it is not nearly as relevant in college football as many like to think. If it was, SC (and Kentucky, for that matter) would still be losing to UT, few would care or even know that Boise State has a blue field, and Oregon would still be a track school whose football teams had ugly old-fashioned uniforms instead of ugly new neon uniforms. Many programs that were highly competitive in the 80s and 90s (think Miami, FSU, Nebraska, ND, etc.) have gone through or are continuing to go through bouts of struggle.

It is unrealistic for any fan base to think they're going to win ten games every season. Even Texas, with all the resources one could want including a comparatively easier conference schedule, only experiences flashes of greatness. However, it is not unrealistic for any proud program to expect to finish in the top half of its conference every year.

If you want to be great today, you have to hire great coaches and recruit great players who are more concerned about creating their own legacy today than admiring any legacy from the past. Frankly, I think UT has some great players and some good coaches. Unfortunately, being good or even great isn't always good enough. They have to be greater than those of the teams they're competing against.

October 22, 2012 at 9:37 a.m.
timbo said...

Saban101....You might be right except for the fact that the series is pretty even and before this Alabama streak, we beat your butts seven years in a row.

Tennessee has a population of 6.4 million and Alabama is 4.8 million. We have a bigger stadium, at least as much money and fan support. The only thing we don't have is a great coach. You have to ask yourself, why does a smaller state with no other claim to fame have a better football team than we do?

I think Dooley is a good guy but the talent pool at Tennessee had gotten so bad it is hard to dig out of. I think we should ride Dooley out for a couple of more years to see what happens.

There is no reason, no reason at all, that Tennessee can't be at the LSU, Alabama, Florida level. Just the fact that there is this mass inferiority complex makes it more difficult.

October 22, 2012 at 3:40 p.m.
southfork2008 said...

the shape the football program was in , dooley deserves at least one more year.

October 22, 2012 at 5:06 p.m.
Volman said...

It is not unrealistic at all for Tennessee fans to expect more out of a program that is HISTORICALLY ranked in the top-ten winningest programs of all time. (With six wins this year, the Vols will hit the 800 win mark.)

While factoring in the Vols average win totals over the aforementioned decades consider this; the program was in a comparable state of flux in the 70's prior to bringing in Coach Majors and Bama was clicking on damn-near Dynasty Status with Bear Bryant at the helm.

The past decade has been completely uncharacteristic of not just Tennessee football, but football in the SEC altogether. When perennial cellar-dweller South Carolina is competing regularly for the SEC East, and characteristically average programs such as Arkansas, and now Mississippi State are competing for the West title, the term parity loses it's cliche and becomes meaningful.

Vol fans have every right to expect, nay demand more from this Coach, this Team, and this Program.

Particulary, when your stadium is named after a General, you introduced the world to the Minister of Defense and you've got a guy named Peyton eating popcorn in the stands.

Go Big Orange

October 22, 2012 at 5:28 p.m.
Volman said...

Here are the all-time winning percentages for the top ten teams in Division 1-A.

1 Michigan 895 Wins 312 Losses 38 Ties 1245 Games Played 0.73414 Winning Percentage

2 Notre Dame (IN) 853 301 41 1195 0.73096

3 Boise St. (ID) 378 145 2 525 0.72190

4 Oklahoma 819 310 53 1182 0.71531

5 Texas 858 333 34 1225 0.71429

6 Ohio St. 825 316 53 1194 0.71315

7 Alabama 814 320 43 1177 0.70986

8 Nebraska 856 349 41 1246 0.70345

9 Southern California 779 313 54 1146 0.70332

10 Tennessee 794 347 54 1195 0.68703

Just sayin.

October 22, 2012 at 6:35 p.m.
amyinsparta said...

The question becomes, "How patience are the fans and the AD? Dooley has no history of winning. Being the son of a famous coach means nothing. What matters is whether he is or is not a competent coach, whether the assistants are competent and whether the players have any talent. And who can evaluate any of that? I don't think it would hurt to fire him after the season. Sometimes we make mistakes and have to deal with them. The hiring of Dooley may be one of these mistakes.

October 22, 2012 at 10:44 p.m.
outlawmm said...

The play calling is fine, its the players who lose the games.Bray isnt a winner and Hunter isnt a top pro prospect!! The defense has no speed and cant stop anyone!!! We need an QB that can run as well as pass!! RECRUIT WINNERS COACH!!!!

October 23, 2012 at 11:45 a.m.
chet123 said...

Tennessee wont be #10 for long with Dooley in charge!

October 28, 2012 at 2:56 p.m.
chet123 said...

my questio is why did tennesse even hire Dooley who had a losing track record as a head coach.....why?...why?....why?......Dont understand????someone should be ran out of town for such a decision.......do the people in front office understand the game of football????

October 28, 2012 at 3 p.m.
BoilerSpare said...

Pretty funny that six short years ago Tennessee fans were mocking Alabama for firing Mike Shula, saying "they don't deserve Mike Shula" and "Nick Saban? They are dreaming" or in 2007, "Their $4M coach lost to La Monroe!" Saban now 6-0 against Tenn, about to run off a good man & coach they don't deserve. If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen! The fans will be boiling with rage. Tom - http://www.plumbarena.co.uk

June 28, 2013 at 9:37 a.m.
MotorTradeIns said...

The question becomes, "How patience are the fans and the AD? Dooley has no history of winning. Being the son of a famous coach means nothing. Dan - www.insurance4motortrade.co.uk

June 28, 2013 at 11:37 a.m.
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