Saturday, January 16, 2010

Tennessee Finally Finds a Coach

The official logo for the University of Tennes...Image via Wikipedia
In the interest of proper disclosure, I should begin by saying that my two favorite college football teams are Alabama and whoever is playing Tennessee, but the Volunteers have a rich, storied tradition and deserved better than they got from Lane Kiffin who bolted with five years left on a six-year contract when Southern Cal came calling.

It was a rough few days up in Knoxville.  Kiffin, after promising Tennessee fans the moon, suddenly announced that he was leaving.  I understand.  He was a So Cal assistant for many years and jumped at the chance to return home to accept his dream job.  Tennessee fans thought he already had a dream job and didn't understand.  Students, players and others surrounded the athletic buildings on campus and burned mattresses and T-shirts with Kiffin's "It's Time" slogan, painted obscenities on The Rock, and forced Kiffin and his family to spend their last night in Knoxville under police protection.

The most troubling aspect of the whole kerfuffle was that Tennessee was now without a head football coach (although they could have just made interim coach Kippy Brown's title more permanent) less than three weeks before National Signing Day.  They needed a new coach before the weekend when potential recruits would be visiting the campus.  They tried to woo Will Muschamp away from Texas, but the defensive coordinator is just waiting on Mack Brown to retire so that he can take his place as head coach; his dream job.

David Cutcliffe, the head coach at Duke and a two-time former assistant at Tennessee, was also wooed but he passed on the job.  I was amazed.  I know that the head coaching job at Tennessee is his dream job, but he honored the commitment he had made to Duke...
"You follow your heart in big decisions," Cutcliffe told's Heather Dinich. "I have a lot of ties and a lot of people that I'm very close to, and a lot of respect for the University of Tennessee, but my heart is here. We've worked very hard these two years to change the culture, to change the team physically. You feel like the job's not done, and in this era, it bothers me, what we do as coaches, moving here and there. This is mid-January. Nothing about that felt right to me as a person."
Utah's Kyle Whittingham also reportedly turned down the job.  The final interviews were with Temple's Al Golden, Houston's Kevin Sumlin, and Louisiana Tech's Derek Dooley.  The Vols settled on Derek Dooley, the son of legendary Georgia coach Vince Dooley. Dooley, like Kiffen, comes to Knoxville with a very thin head coaching record. He was just 17-20 in three seasons at La Tech, but won the Independence Bowl in 2008.  He also served as the school's athletic director and worked as an assistant under Nick Saban for seven seasons at LSU and with the Miami Dolphins.

It's a big jump from the WAC to the SEC, and Dooley's first task was to settle Vols fans down.  He offered some reassuring words in his introductory press conference...
"The times of worrying about what happened is over," Dooley said.

Dooley talked about how he learned early that Tennessee represented the essence of college football, and remembers watching the weekly television shows of former coaches Johnny Majors and Phillip Fulmer. He also promised he will not try to sell Tennessee in a sound bite, perhaps taking a shot at Kiffin, who was reprimanded by the Southeastern Conference for brash comments.

"Everything we're going to do is going to be done with a foundation of integrity with every aspect of the program," Dooley said. "We're going to represent this institution with class on and off the field."
The restless nights are finally over in Knoxville...or maybe they're just beginning.

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