He’s Seen the Future, and It Ain’t Pretty
Did you see Derek Dooley’s media comments on Monday September 13? His comments were interesting, insightful, and honest as always.
But what I noticed more than anything was his demeanor. He appeared unusually agitated – in a physical sense. His verbal responses to questions weren’t giving away any agitation. Instead, it was his physical appearance that made him look like he was in a big hurry to get away and off to the business of something else. Head lurching forward and back with a quick rhythmic oscillation at times; his upper body hinted that one of his legs was nervously bobbing up and down.
He looked like he had seen the future – sitting in that very chair after a game in late October, with a record of 2-and-6 or 1-and-7. He had sat in that future and felt the heat, the overwhelming, suffocating uncomfortableness of a hopeless situation. He came back from the future to Monday’s press conference, and he looked into the eyes of the people asking him the questions, knowing that the questions back in the future were much different than the questions he was answering in the here and now.
He was a man uncomfortable in his own skin. He was uncomfortable giving his assessment of his current squad. He was facing more challenges than just x’s and o’s. He has an attitude problem, not the type where he’d lost the dressing room, but the type generated by the generational traits instilled in his players by others, by themselves. He knows he has a lot of players that don’t have the mental toughness to put on more steam when the breaks go against you. He knows that the potential of his squad is a very, very long way from being realized, presenting a horrifying situation when you are playing in the nation’s strongest league.
Oregon was a big dose of reality. It’s the dosage, not the substance, that kills you (even drinking too much fresh water can cause death). A late first-half TD, then a 70-yard TD run, and then a pick-six by the Ducks was a dose of such magnitude that it caused instant shutdown of the competitive juices in the Vols – they died right there on Shields-Watkins Field amid the rubble of the worst loss in the long history of Neyland Stadium.
Saturday’s loss is already casting a very long shadow. A loss of near-equal proportion against hated rival Florida this week will create fan flight earlier than in any season I can remember (and I was there for the late years of the Bill Battle reign). Dooley likely fears it would create a situation of adversity for his players of a magnitude that would make the adversity not a challenge from which to learn and improve, but rather an implement of self-destruction.
Derek Dooley knows this. With additional factors such as the Bruce Pearl fiasco seemingly spiraling down toward the Ninth Circle of Hell, University of Tennessee sports have not looked into a future this dark in a very long time. A strong performance by the football Vols against a vastly superior team this Saturday could be like opening the windows on a beautiful spring day.
But until that happens, Derek Dooley isn’t going to shake that nightmare in which he visited the future and came back acting a bit agitated.
As Leonard Cohen sings, he’s seen the future brother: it is murder.