Vols can’t afford another bad hire

Friday, November 16, 2012, Vol. 36, No. 46

It’s not a matter of if, but when for Derek Dooley.

His days as the University of Tennessee football coach are numbered – as in two games left before he is sent packing and the Vols braintrust tries to locate its fourth head coach in the six years since the dismissal of longtime Vol coach Phillip Fulmer after the 2008 season.

You’d have to go all the way back to 1900-05, when Tennessee employed five different coaches in a six-year span, to find such instability regarding the Big Orange. In other words, back to the infancy of the program when many schools still scheduled games against the local YMCA team.

Wonder how playing a game against the local Y team would have affected the BCS standings, had there been such a thing back then?

While Dave Hart has yet to publicly acknowledge that he is done with Dooley, one thing is certain: The next coach who lands in Knoxville has to be a home run hire.

It has to be someone who can not only win the games that really matter to UT fans – Florida, Georgia, Alabama, South Carolina – but also someone who can unify the fan base, shore up recruiting and find a way to restore the program’s pride and competitiveness.

Otherwise, the Vols will just continue to wander in the wilderness the way rival Alabama did between the tenures of Gene Stallings and Nick Saban. There were a few good years during that span, but not good enough to satisfy Crimson Tide fans who believed that anything less than an SEC Championship was a waste of their time.

Many of the Tennessee faithful have Jon Gruden high on their wish list. But scenario seems unlikely, a wish upon a coaching star.

If not Gruden, who?

Derek Dooley brought a solid pedigree to UT as the son of Georgia coaching legend Vince Dooley. But in his only other head coaching role, Dooley posted a 17-20 record at Louisiana Tech between 2007-2009. His record at UT is a similar 15-20 with no winning seasons and only four SEC wins.

-- Ap Photo/Wade Payne, File

The Vols could go for a quick fix – but that doesn’t provide the long-term answer Tennessee fans are craving. Tommy Tuberville, David Cutcliffe or (Lord, please deliver us from this temptation) Bobby Petrino might provide a temporary shot in the arm, but will it really bring the kind of long-term stability the Tennessee program desperately needs in order to compete year in and year out.

What Tennessee needs to find is the right up-and-comer, a coach who will not only inject some new life and new blood into the program, but also be in for the long haul. At their age, no matter how successful Tuberville or Cutcliffe might be, someone else will probably be the head coach at Tennessee in five to seven years.

And Petrino, he’s a motorcycle wreck waiting to happen. Besides, there is such a thing as winning with class, and I’m not sure Petrino’s can overcome his baggage and reputation.

Ironically, as the Volunteers try to salvage something out of the 2012 season while Dooley twists in the wind, they get ready to play in-state rival Vanderbilt this week.

Commodore coach James Franklin certainly has his annoying quirks, such as his insistence on not talking about bowl games. Believe me coach, with Vanderbilt’s lack of bowl history, you should be trumpeting this to anyone who will listen.

But one thing is certain about Franklin, he has energized the Commodore program in a way that hasn’t been done in decades. He is a little bit of a showman, but he also has the Commodores buying in to the notion that they can compete and win in the SEC.

It’s a sense of confidence the Volunteers just don’t have right now.

Who knows how long Vanderbilt will be able to keep Franklin before a bigger, better opportunity lures him away? But the point is, he has everyone on West End buying in right now.

And honestly, UT needs to find someone with a little of Franklin’s moxie who can sell the idea of winning long-term again in Knoxville, and then make it happen.

Terry McCormick covers the Titans for TitanInsider.com and is the AFC blogger for National Football Post.