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Tennessee Takes Big Cut With Dooley

Jan 15, 2010 – 4:28 PM
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Clay Travis

Clay Travis %BloggerTitle%

Derek DooleyIn the wake of Lane Kiffin's unexpected departure Tuesday, Tennessee athletic director Mike Hamilton found himself in an extremely difficult position. In less than a week he had to hire the man who would be responsible for ensuring that the engine for the nearly $100 million Vol athletic budget, the football team, didn't crumble. Hamilton moved quickly, rushing off in pursuit of both Will Muschamp, Texas' coach in waiting, and Troy Calhoun, Air Force's coach, to offer the Tennessee job to them.

Both men, who Hamilton had previously interviewed before hiring Lane Kiffin in 2008, turned down Hamilton's overtures. But Muschamp recommended Derek Dooley very highly. And Hamilton was left with a real decision, turn back into the direction of the man he fired, Phil Fulmer, and hire former offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe, or make another attempt at a bold and risky hire.

To put it in baseball terms, Hamilton could take the line-drive single to left, and hire Cutcliffe, or he could buckle down and swing once more for the fences.

Hamilton swung for the fences, reportedly hiring Dooley. And now we have to wait and see whether he made any contact at all.

1. But first, we have to see whether or not Hamilton or Dooley gets Chizik'd on their arrival in Knoxville.

You'll recall the specter of a lone, angry fan haranguing Auburn athletic director Jay Jacobs as he arrived back in Alabama after hiring Gene Chizik.

Hamilton and Dooley have to avoid this shot. And I'm not even joking about that. So much of Chizik's early trouble was the perception of him as a desperation hire.

What fueled the perception that this was a desperation hire? The antipathy of Auburn's reaction to his hiring.

But what crystallized that antipathy in 20 seconds? The video of a lone fan ripping the decision.

Remember how they snuck Abraham Lincoln into Washington via a train ride with only one plainclothes officer for protection?

This is how Dooley needs to get to Knoxville ... quietly.

2. Hamilton also has to overcome this detail, he hired an unknown head coach.

Mike HamiltonLane Kiffin hadn't really done anything, but he was a sexy hire because the media had built him up to the point where everyone knew the name. Kiffin was the youngest coach in NFL history and he'd been the recruiting coordinator for USC; both of those details conspired to create an aura of competence.

Even though, you know, Lane Kiffin had a career head-coaching record of 5-15. Once Tennessee had the opportunity to craft Kiffin's story, he appeared to be a good fit.

You can make the same argument here. You point to the law degree for Dooley's brains, you point to the top recruiting classes in 2001 and 2003 under Nick Saban at LSU when Dooley was recruiting coordinator, you bask in the glow of a Southern icon in Vince Dooley (Derek's father), and you point to Dooley's role in helping to resurrect Louisiana Tech.

How so?

By pointing out that prior to Dooley's second season at Tech, the school had not won a bowl game since 1977. It's not like was coaching at a football powerhouse.

After all, Gene Chizik won more games in his first year at Auburn than he won in two seasons at Iowa State.

3. In the wake of the Kiffin departure, Tennessee fans wanted a name we could bask in the reflected glory of. Derek Dooley is not that name.

That doesn't mean he can't succeed, but it does men that in this business, where thanks to the long layoffs between games, perceptions of success sometimes end up governing success, he has to win the press conference.

And then he has to prove that he's not Mike Shula, another heir to the coaching throne who was the spawn of a big name.

Put it this way, if a girl breaks up with you, the first thing you want to do is get a hotter girl and make sure everyone knows about it. Is that the best standard for a successful relationship, finding a hotter girl? No, but it makes you feel better.

Well, Dooley is the plain girl.

Maybe he has a heart of gold.

And at the very least, he's probably not going to bang your best friend.

4. Detail that I like the most: Derek Dooley left a big Atlanta law firm to take a $10,000 grad assistant job at Georgia.

As someone who doesn't practice in a law firm despite having a law degree, I admire the guts that takes.

Especially if you're already married.

If you haven't left a law firm and the guaranteed income, prestige, and lifestyle simply because you didn't like your profession as much as another one, then that won't be a big deal to you.

But, trust me, it is the definition of guts.

And you have to be fearless to do it.

5. Early thesis: This restores Tennessee to the good graces of the SEC.

For two reasons, one cultural and the second competitive:

First the cultural. After the Kiffin tornado where Tennessee attempted to become the USC of the South and eschewed all tradition, Dooley is steeped in SEC lore. His daddy won a national championship at Georgia, and Derek worked as a graduate assistant there. Both of his parents are Auburn grads. Derek Dooley was an assistant with Nick Saban at LSU.

Dooley is going to read General Neyland's maxims, be happy to do the Vol walk, and respect the traditions that make Tennessee unique. Put simply he knows why people care about the games and understands that being a football coach extends beyond the field down here.

Second, the competitive. Every other school believes they can beat Dooley and Tennessee.

6. Dooley's wife is a gynecologist.

Layla Kiffin was hot, but we never really learned much else about her.

Lots of coaches marry dumb wives, Dooley didn't. Again, as someone who has a wife smarter than he is, I think that speaks well of him.

Nevertheless Layla Kiffin became an internet folk hero that led to a Facebook group I founded, "Our Coach's Wife Is Hotter Than Your Coach's Wife."

I haven't deleted that group, but now it's very popular in Southern California.

I'm contemplating starting a new group: "Our Coach's Wife Is A Better Lady Parts Doctor Than Your Coach's Wife."

I don't think it will be as popular.

7. Having said that, this is probably going to lead to a lot of gynecological humor.

I mean, the Internet basically exists, as a medium, for genital-related humor and videos of cats wearing funny hats.

If the Dooleys have a cat that wears funny hats, the Internet might explode.

At least in Tennessee.

8. One concern: Is there a contractual provision keeping Dooley out of Georgia if that job ever opens up?

Because if there isn't, this could be the Kiffin hire all over again, right?

Young coach, great recruiter, who has probably always dreamed of being the head coach of another school, Georgia.

And Georgia has a head coach, in Mark Richt, who might bolt at any moment from the building pressure of the Bulldog fanbase. The worst case for Tennessee is Dooley is an absolute bust.

The second worst case?

Dooley proves he's good, gets his sea legs in the SEC, and then departs for an SEC east rival.

9. As with Chizik, the coaching staff surrounding Dooley remains key.

If Lane Kiffin truly put together the best coaching staff in college football, than everyone remains but Kiffin, Monte Kififin, and Ed Orgeron.

Of those three, who is the big loss?


Tennessee currently has six coaches under contract. The reason Cutcliffe didn't come was because Hamilton insisted those coaches remain on staff.

Who will be the defensive coordinator? How will the rest of the staff shake out?

It was Chizik's double hires of Gus Malzahn and Trooper Taylor that helped to quell the masses.

Will the Vols pull off the same?

Dooley has a pretty good core of coaches in place around him, his additions can send the signal that he's going to be okay.

10. Here's the kick in the groin for the Vols: Will Muschamp was the top target.

No offense to Muschamp, but Tennessee's top target is a guy who has never been a head coach in his life? And he would rather stay a coordinator and coach-in-waiting at Texas than triple his salary and take over the Vols?

Lots of blame will fall at Mike Hamilton's feet for the search, but you can't make someone take a job. Right now, three weeks before signing day, the Vols aren't that attractive of a job.

Compare that to USC, where they were shot down by several high profile NFL coaches before landing on Lane Kiffin.

Tennessee fell all the way to Dooley at Louisiana Tech.

11. Tennessee is going to be mediocre in 2010 so the pressure is going to be intense.

They were going to be mediocre under Lane Kiffin, and they'll be mediocre under Dooley.

The first eight games on the schedule feature two sure wins, UT-Martin and UAB.

The other six? Oregon, Florida, at LSU, at Georgia, Alabama, at South Carolina.

There isn't a more brutal opening schedule in college football.

12. Finally, and this is the most difficult reality of all, Mike Hamilton essentially fired a coach who was 152-52 at Tennessee with a national championship and a team that was one year removed from leading the national champion midway through the fourth quarter in the SEC championship game -- by way of a one-year flirtation with Lane Kiffin -- for a head coach with a record of 17-20 at Louisiana Tech.

You talk about a gamble?

That's like splitting kings.

Mike Hamilton better hope he's hitting some aces. Otherwise he might be dealing the deck next time someone splits kings.

Clay Travis is the author of three books. His latest, "On Rocky Top: A Front Row Seat to The End of an Era" chronicles the 2008 Tennessee football season and is on sale now and makes a great stocking stuffer. You have a stocking for Martin Luther King Day, right?
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