Underneath the 17-20
When Dooley’s name hit the wires early afternoon on Friday, the collective Vol eyebrows started to raise in the shape of a giant orange question mark. And the very first thing that folks start to comment about was his record as a head coach at Louisiana Tech: 17 Wins and 20 Losses. Comments about “the record” still abound even into this week, especially from outsiders.
Typical reaction, I guess. I suppose some think we should hire only a coach who has a winning percentage of 0.950 for six seasons and six conference championships. And maybe a national championship to boot.
I exaggerate. But to make a point.
Dooley left the Miami Dolphins’ coaching staff in 2006 for the nuclear winter of Louisiana Tech’s football program. In 2006, under Jack Bicknell, Jr. Tech suffered through a 3-10 (1-7 conference) season after which Bicknell was fired.
Dooley chose to take over a very bad program. In other words, he “manned up.”
The Bulldogs improved to 5-7 (4-4) in Derek’s first season, and then went 8-5 (5-3) in his second season, including a win in the Independence Bowl, Tech’s first bowl appearance in seven seasons. Thus, after two seasons, he had taken a decimated program and lead them to a 13-12 mark. Last season, the Bulldogs fell back to a 4-8 (3-5 season) for a 17-20 record after three seasons.
Let’s take a closer look at last season.
- They played non-conference road games against big time opponents such as at Auburn and at LSU who they nearly upset.
- Seven of their 12 opponents were bowl teams.
- They lost to an undefeated Boise State by only 10 points.
- In the previous season, 2008 (8-5), the Bulldogs won five games decided by a touchdown or less (one win was an eight-point game); the 2009 team had a five-game losing streak that saw the team outscored by a total of only 23 points (4.6 points per game).
- The 2009 season will be mostly remembered by injuries to key players.
- It was also Dooley’s first season in which he served not only as head coach but also as Athletic Director.
- Consider how far they had to travel to play their some of their road games: Navy, Nevada, Utah State, Idaho, and Fresno State in addition to Auburn and LSU. A total of 7,600 miles. Unbelievable. (See map below). Consider the toll that likely takes on college football players throughout a season, especially when they make those trips week after week after week. EACH of five of their seven road trips were over a thousand miles, whereas the longest trip the Vols took in 2009 was to Gainesville, FL, approximately 500 miles.
These are not excuses, these are facts. So before getting all wrapped up in W-L numbers, wondering how Tennessee could have hired a coach with a loosing record, consider facts. Have a look underneath the headlines.