Is the Dye Cast?
Derek Dooley has never gotten his team, or himself as head coach, on track. There have been so many ‘almosts’; enough to write a book about.
But in the world of modern-day, big-time college athletics — especially at a ‘football school’ in the most powerful conference — ‘almosts’ fall into the same categories as losses. At this level of the college game, a loss is a loss. Especially when losses are league losses.
And there have been many league losses in less than three seasons. Three losses each to Florida, Georgia, Alabama, and South Carolina. Two losses to LSU. Single losses to Arkansas, Mississippi State and Kentucky. Yes, Kentucky.
The wins have been far too few and haven’t included the right schools: two over Vanderbilt, with single victories over Kentucky and Mississippi. That’s it.
For right or wrong, Derek Dooley is considered by many as a ‘failure’ due to his 4-17 mark in the SEC. It has been during a time when the SEC was the strongest it has ever been, if that is possible. And Dooley’s Tennessee’s teams have played the very best in the conference. Every year. Multiple times. I haven’t counted, but I’m fairly confident that Dooley’s Vols have faced SEC teams ranked in the Top 10 at least ten times.
But in the end, the donors, the fans, and the Athletic Department will, if not already, reach the point where a change is demanded. It will be demanded in part because of the fatigue from the losses as they have piled up, one after another. But change may also be demanded from financial perspectives.
The breadwinner of college athletics is football. And that is especially true at Tennessee, where empty seats are not only an affront to the collective pride of the Vol Nation, but also are a lack of revenue. Empty seats are created by apathy, and those empty seats foster additional apathy. Apathy sucks donations out of the coffers.
Apathy is the fatal disease of a once-healthy football program and athletic department.
Tennessee’s program is still healthy, but appears to be on the verge of sickness. The powers-at-be likely recognize this.
Every program that has grown to the immense size of Tennessee’s has to decide whether or not it wants to remain on the big stage, to be a big-time player. To stay there, it takes money, lots of it, and the willingness to make big and bold decisions. But Tennessee has an even more daunting task — it is in a conference that is not only the best in the land, but is even getting better.
And Tennessee is in danger of getting left behind.
There is a danger in today’s SEC of the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer. Tennessee finds itself at a precarious position from which it can either get richer or it can get poorer. It can get back to the top because of its tradition which helped build the finest facilities in the country. But it will take a continuous inflow of lots of money.
And for that to happen, there must be a shiny object placed in front of the Vol Nation and its benefactors.
More on shiny objects later. First, there is a game Saturday that has been overshadowed this week by the swirling rumors of a coaching change.
The Troy Trojans come to Knoxville to try and spoil Homecoming weekend. They are a team that, fueled by an effective passing game, gave Mississippi State all they could handle in September. Standing at 4-4, the Sun Belt school has improved over the past couple of seasons, but in a rather strange way. Their road record is 3-1; their home record is 1-3.
The biggest question for many of the Vol Nation this weekend is can the defense stop anybody?
No, not completely.
Tennessee 43 Troy 27