With the "Third Saturday In October" still remaining somewhat fresh in our memories, I thought it might be a good time to tell the tale of one Mike Shula. His story is one that might sound eerily familiar to Tennessee fans.
Nine years ago, Shula was put in charge of one of the most storied football programs in college football history, the University of Alabama.
His resume was thin when he got the job, but he had a pedigree - he is the son of NFL Hall of Fame coach Don Shula and a former quarterback at Alabama.
Shula proceeded to go 26-23 during his tenure in Tuscaloosa, far from horrible, but miles away from what Crimson Tide fans expect.
Mention his name around those parts these days and you won't hear many negative comments about Shula. I guess having Nick Saban as your current coach and coming off two national championships in the last three years will put a crimson-colored tint on even the down years.
Besides, most fans realized early on that Shula was in over his head from the get-go. He was the quarterbacks coach for the Miami Dolphins before taking the 'Bama gig, and up until then had never had a college coaching job.
He was a caretaker of sorts. He took over an Alabama program that in the previous decade had endured two major NCAA probations, two coaches being fired (one before he even coached a game) and one leaving to take another job.
Shula provided stability. He brought in solid recruiting classes, didn't break any rules, and laid the groundwork for what ultimately allowed Saban to come in and hit the ground running.
Shula was fired after four seasons.
He had one losing season - his first - and helped the Tide to three straight bowl appearances.
Why am I giving you a recap of Alabama football history, you might ask? Because the University of Tennessee finds itself in the same predicament.
The Big Orange Nation knows Mike Shula all too well...only, in the form of Derek Dooley.
Dooley, too, didn't have the resume to back up his hire for one of the top college coaching jobs in the country, but he did come from famous roots being the son of the former national championship coach at Georgia, Vince Dooley.
And like Shula, Dooley inherited a disaster. He was the Vols third head coach in as many seasons. Less than two years earlier, Tennessee fired its own national championship coach, Phillip Fulmer - a man who half the fan base didn't want to see let go in the first place.
Dooley did benefit from the fact that the coach that followed Fulmer and proceeded himself - Lane Kiffin - was ran out of town by a lynch mob after announcing he was leaving after one season to take the USC job.
Dooley brought in a breath of fresh air. He is personable - funny, intelligent, energetic, calm...I've yet to meet someone that dislikes Dooley as a person. How could a Tennessee fan not appreciate a man who sports a pair of orange pants?
And though most felt the hire of Dooley wasn't the home-run hire Tennessee needed, his charisma was enough to initially win the fan base over.
Until now. Now, there is a problem. Almost three full seasons into his tenure and Dooley still isn't winning.
He is just 1-11 in SEC games over the past two seasons, with the lone win being an overtime decision over Vanderbilt. He has two losing seasons in his back pocket and his Vols currently sit at 3-4 this season.
Dooley also appears to be losing his team. Rumors surfaced after last year's loss to Kentucky that the players quit on the coach. Just this past week, he apparently ruffled the feathers of some of his superstars when he called them out in the media for underperforming against Alabama.
Tennessee Athletic Director Dave Hart has to be nervous at this point. Football is what makes his department churn, and whatever he decides to do or not to do could ultimately be the headline to his legacy, much as it was to his predecessor, Mike Hamilton, who oversaw the Fulmer firing and the Kiffin debacle.
At this point, Dooley can't even claim to be on the same level that Shula was. At least Shula had a 10-2 season and a Cotton Bowl victory to his credit. All Dooley can hang his hat on is a 6-7 record in 2010 that included a Music City Bowl loss to North Carolina.
Shula, by the way, lost in the Music City Bowl to Minnesota in 2004, but he followed that up ten straight wins to begin the 2005 campaign and had the Crimson Tide ranked as high as No. 3 in the nation at one point. Twelve months later, he was fired - and
Alabama made a decision that Shula couldn't take them to the level of football they expected to play at year in and year out, so they cut ties with him and offered a big-time contract to get a big-time coach. Needless to say, it's paid dividends in Tuscaloosa.
Dave Hart should know what kind of positive effect a winning football program can have on the athletic department. He served as Executive Director of Athletics at Alabama before being hired as AD at Tennessee late last year.
Will he make history repeat itself in Knoxville?