Dooley’s Job Depends on Maturity
By Matthew Osborne
Follow us at Twitter.com/SouthernPigskin. Become a fan at the SouthernPigskin.com Facebook Page
Entering his third season in Knoxville, youth and inexperience will no longer be valid excuses if Derek Dooley's team fails to win games.
The first two years of the Derek Dooley Era in Knoxville have proven to be extremely difficult for the Volunteer faithful to stomach.
The son of an SEC coaching legend, Dooley came to Tennessee following a three-year stint at Louisiana Tech, where he compiled an overall record of just 17-20.
Inheriting a very youthful team upon his move to Knoxville, Dooley has found that winning games with an inexperienced squad in the nation’s premiere conference can be very arduous. In his first two years at Tennessee, Dooley’s Volunteer squads have compiled an overall record of 11-14, bringing his career winning percentage to just 45%.
The Tennessee athletic department is not known for tolerating losing head coaches, as is evident by the firing of Philip Fulmer, who had a career coaching record of 152-55, following the 2008 season. Fortunately for the younger Dooley, he was able to retain his current coaching job for a third year, largely in part to the overall inexperience of his first two teams.
Entering year number three in Knoxville, however, youth and inexperience will no longer be valid excuses if the Vols fail to yield a winning record for the third time in four seasons. Tennessee is set to return 18 starters from last year’s team, which finished the season 5-7 and lost to Kentucky for the first time in 27 contests.
Perhaps even more importantly, a vast majority of those 18 starters are players who have more than one year of starting experience. Just on the offensive side of the ball, the Volunteers have five players returning who have at least two years of starting experience. That number does not include wide receivers Justin Hunter and Da’Rick Rogers, or fullback Ben Bartholomew. While the offense struggled mightily last season, Tennessee has a strong group of talented skill players who are capable of producing big plays. As the offensive line continues to improve, the Volunteers should begin to show more of a semblance of balance on offense, which would ultimately lead to better production.
Defensively, the Volunteers quietly produced a solid unit in 2011. Although they did not receive the press of some of their conference brethren, the Vols finished the year ranked 36th in the nation in scoring defense at 22.6 points allowed per game.
With eight starters coming back on defense, new defensive coordinator Sal Sunseri is hoping that his Volunteer unit can make drastic improvements this fall. CB Prentiss Waggner and LB A.J. Johnson will be the headliners of the 2012 Tennessee defense, as both players were recently named preseason All-SEC selections by Phi Steele.
Despite the plethora of talent set to return in Knoxville, expectations have not been set extremely high for the Volunteers heading into this season.
Even so, it is almost certain that Derek Dooley would not be able to survive another lackluster performance by his team this fall. His teams have been plagued by youthful mistakes during his first two years at the school, but youth and inexperience can no longer be used as crutches for Dooley to retain his job.
If Dooley has hopes and aspirations of being on the sidelines in Neyland Stadium for the start of the 2013 season, he will need his key upperclassmen to perform at a high level this season. His team is no longer unseasoned, and they must play accordingly.