Good man, but bad result
Coaching a big-time college football program is more than just being a nice guy and upholding the traditions and rules of the institution. It’s about winning. Pure and simple.
Some universities are content with mediocrity. They’ll settle for 6-6 seasons. Not the University of Tennessee. Too much history. Too many expectations. Too much money at stake.
Derek Dooley’s firing should not have surprised anybody. He had not moved the needle in his three years. The team had not gotten better by almost any standard. It’s not enough to run a clean program, to set a good example and crack down on malcontents and misbehavior. You have to win. You have to compete for titles. You have to beat Florida and Alabama and Georgia, at least some of the time.
Dooley is a good man. He’s smart, he’s funny, he’s dedicated. He has the fire in the belly. He wanted to succeed. He didn’t. Nice guys don’t necessarily finish last, but personality alone won’t save your job when it comes to college football’s elite programs. People who clamored for his firing, who decried the state of the program, were right in their assessment. Let’s hope they separated the coach from the man.
Dooley’s golden parachute will mean you don’t need to worry about him and his family. He gets $5 million paid out over three years, as long as he tries to find another job. Unless he has soured on the process and what it does to the psyche and family life, he will find another job. And Tennessee will find another coach.
This is a critically important search. Athletics Director Dave Hart acknowledged that Sunday when he announced the change. Everyone has an idea of whom he should hire. He’s done such searches before, and he has the contacts and knowledge to make it a success.
The program is in need of new blood and new direction. For too long it has been stagnant, first by the decline in fortunes under Phillip Fulmer, then the one-year mess created by Lane Kiffin, and finally Dooley’s three years of stumbling. This is a proud football program, a winner of championships and conference titles. Those seem like distant memories, but things change. Programs run in cycles. Tennessee can and will rebound, with the right coach and institutional support.
For now, don’t be harsh with Dooley. His family has suffered in ways we may never know by the coach’s lack of success. A big paycheck is nice, but you hate to see your wife and kids go through hell that is of your own making.
As Hart looks for the right coach, we wish Derek Dooley well and thank him for his service to the university. While fans measure a program in terms of wins and titles, there are people behind those statistics. Keep that in mind.