Tennessee coach Derek Dooley leaves the field Saturday after loosing to the Missouri Tigers 51-48 in quadruple overtime at Neyland Stadium. The Volunteers are 4-18 in SEC play under Dooley.
(Photo: Jim Brown, US Presswire)
Dan Wolken, USA TODAY Sports
Tennessee has fired football coach Derek Dooley, pulling the plug after a lopsided, rock-bottom loss Saturday to Vanderbilt.
Dooley, son of legendary Georgia coach Vince Dooley, lasted fewer than three seasons in Knoxville, where he won just four SEC games in 23 tries and had an overall record of 15-21. Athletics director Dave Hart will announce the firing at a news conference this afternoon.
Offensive coordinator Jim Chaney will be interim head coach for the season finale Saturday against Kentucky. UK already has said that this will be head coach Joker Phillips' last game.
"I'm sorry we could not generate enough wins to help create hope for a brighter future," Dooley said in a statement. "Although progress was not reflected in our record, I am proud of the strides we made to strengthen the foundation for future success in all areas of the program."
Tennessee hired Dooley from Louisiana Tech, where he went just 17-20 in three seasons but was viewed as a promising young coach from the Nick Saban tree who had started to turn around a beleaguered program. Still, Dooley was not among Tennessee's top choices after Lane Kiffin's unexpected departure following the 2009 season, getting the job only after several candidates turned it down.
Dooley almost immediately earned skepticism from the Tennessee fan base, going just 6-7 in 2010 after a loss in the Music City Bowl. Last season, the Vols went just 5-7 but Dooley lost both starting quarterback Tyler Bray and receiver Justin Hunter to injuries for several games.
Thus, Dooley entered the 2012 season knowing he had to produce to save his job and impress Hart, who arrived after Dooley was hired. Though Tennessee showed improvement in several areas, the season began to unravel in Week 3 when the Vols got overwhelmed in the fourth quarter by Florida and lost, 37-20. That was the first of seven consecutive SEC losses, culminating with Saturday's 41-18 loss at Vanderbilt. Two weeks ago, Tennessee needed two late touchdowns to beat Troy, 55-48.
The combination of defensive problems and declining attendance at Neyland Stadium led to the decision to fire Dooley, whose contract calls for a $5 million buyout if he's fired before Feb. 15, 2013.
"I believe a change in the leadership, despite the positive contributions he has made to the overall health of the program, was in the best long-term interests of Tennessee football," Hart said.
Tennessee, which is finishing a $45 million expansion and renovation of its indoor practice facility, is considered one of the nation's better coaching jobs. One name certain to be high on Tennessee's list is former Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach and Monday Night Football commentator Jon Gruden, who coached at the school as a graduate assistant in 1986 and 1987 and whose wife is a Tennessee graduate. Whether Gruden is interested in coaching college football remains unclear.