KNOXVILLE – Tennessee is preparing for its final game of the season against Kentucky. Jim Chaney is the interim head coach and a full-fledged search is already underway for the next full-time coach.
Derek Dooley, who was relieved of his duties Sunday morning, will soon become a footnote in program history. He’s one of the shortest tenured coaches in the school’s history and had the worst overall winning percentage since former coach Andrew Stone (1910).
Before the page turns to the next chapter of Tennessee history, here’s a quick look back at the best and worst of Dooley’s three-year tenure in Knoxville. It wasn’t always successful, but he always kept the fans and media entertained.
Top 5 Best Moments:
1. His quotes and stories
There was never really a signature win of his era, but he had plenty of signature stories to explain what was going on or what the Vols needed to do. He compared the team to the German forces in World War II watching the Allied Forces invade. He quoted Shakespeare, he quoted songs and compared the team to bamboo. Some of his on-the-practice-field pep talks can’t be published, but he kept it lively at all times.
2. Tennessee defeats North Carolina State 35-21 to begin the 2012 season
Dooley had Tennessee fans’ confidence renewed after the Vols defeated the Wolfpack in Atlanta to start the 2012 season. The offense, led by breakout star Cordarrelle Patterson, looked unstoppable, the defense looked more aggressive than it did in 2011 and the Vols got a much-needed win over a team many predicted to finish well in the ACC in 2012.
3. The four-game winning streak in 2010
After beginning the 2010 season 2-6, the schedule turned in Tennessee’s favor and the Vols reeled off four straight wins to make it to a bowl in Dooley’s first season. Freshman quarterback Tyler Bray put up huge numbers in wins over Memphis, Ole Miss, Kentucky and Vanderbilt. Bray, along with freshmen receivers Justin Hunter and Da’Rick Rogers, began to form chemistry, giving bright hope for the future.
He had his wins and losses on the recruiting trail, but Dooley should be credited with doing an overall pretty good job of re-stocking the talent level. It’s not where it needs to be, but it’s much improved over what it was when he arrived. He held together much of the 2010 class recruited by former coach Lane Kiffin, helped rebuild the offensive line by signing players such as Tiny Richardson and James Stone and added several top playmakers such as Justin Hunter and Cordarrelle Patterson.
5. Start of the 2011 season
Coming off the hot finish in 2010, the Vols had hopes of improvement in 2011. They started the season 3-1 and had an impressive offensive showing in a 45-23 win over Cincinnati. They averaged 37.8 points per game in that four-game stretch. It proved to be false hope, though. Key injuries to Bray (finger) and Hunter (ACL) and a brutal schedule ended up derailing the season.
Honorable mention: Vols beat Vanderbilt in 2011 in overtime. Vols beat UAB in 2010 in overtime. The offense sets multiple school records in a 55-48 win over Troy in 2012. Dooley call a kicker “from the frat house” to help beat MTSU in 2011.
Top-5 Worst Memories:
1. Vols lose to Kentucky 10-7 in 2011; much of the staff leaves
This was when it became apparent that something just wasn’t working within the program. A brutal schedule and injuries contributed to some of 2011’s failures, but there was no excuse for losing to Kentucky, a team the Vols hadn’t lost to in 26 years. There were reports of a fractured locker room and in the following months seven of the nine assistant coaches left for other jobs. It was a hole from which Dooley could never quite climb out.
2. Vols lose to Vanderbilt 41-18 a day before Dooley is dismissed
Dooley made headlines a year earlier when a video leaked of the Vols’ locker room celebrating their 27-21 overtime victory over the Commodores. Dooley could be seen the video wildly celebrating the win and can be heard yelling, “The one thing Tennessee always does it beat the (take a wild guess) out of Vanderbilt.” A year later, the Commodores dismantled a lethargic Tennessee team. Dooley was dismissed just a few hours later.
3. Vols lose to LSU 16-14 in 2010 on the final play because of having 13 players on the fiedl
It looked like Dooley pulled off the huge upset in his first season. Tennessee led LSU 14-10, and the Tigers were down to their final snap. The snap was bad, LSU couldn’t recover it and make a play and Tennessee sprinted on the field to celebrate. But replay showed that Tennessee had 13 defenders on the field, and the Tigers were given one more play. They score on a 1-yard touchdown run in one of the most shocking losses in UT history.
4. Vols lose to North Carolina 30-27 in double overtime in the 2010 Music City Bowl
A similar situation to the LSU loss unfolded in the Music City Bowl that year when the Vols thought they defeated North Carolina, but the officials put time back on the clock to give the Tar Heels a chance to kick a game-tying field goal. North Carolina then went on to win in double overtime. The LSU and North Carolina games were representative of Dooley’s teams overall inability to win close games at the end.
5. Dooley hires Sal Sunseri as defensive coordinator in 2012
Hoping to replicate the defensive success of SEC teams such as Alabama and Georgia, the Vols brought in Sunseri, a former linebackers coach at Alabama to run the 3-4 defense in Knoxville. Suffice it to say, it didn’t work. The Vols’ historically bad defense has ranked near the bottom of the NCAA in nearly every category and spoiled many of the efforts of the Vols’ impressive offense.
Dishonorable mention: The Da’Rick Rogers and Janzen Jackson situations. The DeAnthony Arnett situation. Vols lose to Alabama by a total of 93 points in three years. Key injuries in 2011. Last-minute losses at South Carolina and Georgia in 2012. Troy breaks school records despite a Tennessee 55-48 win in 2012. Missouri beats Tennessee 51-48 in four overtimes in 2012.
Daniel Lewis covers Tennessee football for Nooga.com. Follow him on Twitter @Daniel_LewisCBS.