It's truly amazing how much of a difference two months have made for Tennessee Volunteers head coach Derek Dooley.
Coming into a Sept. 15 clash against the Florida Gators, the Volunteers were 2-0 and ranked No. 23 in the nation. Led by quarterback Tyler Bray, many picked Tennessee to win at Neyland and saw Dooley as a potential Coach of the Year candidate.
A little less than two months later, Dooley is a man on the chopping block, as the Volunteers fell to 4-6 (0-6 in the SEC) after losing a 51-48 to the Missouri Tigers in four overtimes on Saturday.
That loss, coupled with nearly three season's worth of disappointing performances, leaves Tennessee no choice but to fire Dooley. While it is almost guaranteed to happen in the coming weeks, the school needs to act now and rid itself of the embattled coach before next week's game against the Vanderbilt Commodores.
Before we begin, let's make one thing clear: I'm almost never in favor of saying anyone should get fired. We often ignore the fact that these coaches are men with families, thinking the implications of these decisions are akin to chucking out a coach in a video game franchise mode.
However, there comes a time when you have to cut the cord, and that time has come for Dooley in Knoxville.
Dooley was initially afforded some leeway after taking over in the aftermath of the Lane Kiffin fiasco, but you have to wonder whether that was really deserved. Though the way Kiffin left town was certainly unscrupulous, the talent cupboard wasn't completely bare by any means.
ESPN's Scouts Inc. ranked the Vols' class in 2010 (Dooley's first year at Tennessee) ninth in the nation, as the coach worked tirelessly to keep most of Kiffin's recruits around. Again in 2011, Dooley pulled off a solid class, ranking 13th, according to Scouts Inc.
With talent and one of the best infrastructures in the nation in place, that left Dooley as the man responsible for harnessing those players' gifts and turning the program around. Instead, he seems to be in the process of driving it into the ground.
Saturday's loss to Missouri was the Vols' 13th loss in their past 14 SEC contests, and now the team is one defeat away from guaranteeing its third straight losing season. Considering the program had not had back-to-back losing seasons before Dooley's arrival since 1910-11, I'd say we're a far cry away from Phillip Fulmer's heyday in Knoxville.
By getting rid of Dooley immediately, the program can hit the ground running on its coaching search, which should give Tennessee a leg up on big-name coaches. That factor cannot be discounted when looking at the landscape of college football.
Auburn's Gene Chizik, Arkansas' John L. Smith and plenty of other coaches are firmly planted on the hot seat. With those schools having the same desperation and financial wherewithal as the Vols, getting an extra week or two of negotiations could be key to landing a coveted name.
That cannot happen with Dooley still looming large over the program. Tennessee needs to stop delaying the inevitable, relieve Dooley of his duties and go back to restoring the Vols' national prominence.
Waiting any longer will only do more to damage the Tennessee brand.
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