by darren reese
Tennessee athletic director Dave Hart has remained conspicuously silent in regards to the current state of the UT football program.
That's okay. The on-the-field results speak loud enough for themselves.
Saturday's inexcusable 51-48 loss to Missouri dropped Tennessee to an inexcusable 0-6 in the Southeastern Conference this season.
The Vols have lost 13 of their last 14 conference games.
They have allowed 37 points or more in seven of their last eight outings.
They have had back-to-back losing seasons for the first time since 1910-11 and are on the verge of their third straight sub-.500 campaign.
The list goes on and on. Put it all together and it compiles the resume of one Derek Dooley.
Let me start off by saying this: I have been a staunch supporter of Dooley since the day he was hired. I have interviewed him on several occasions and he is genuinely as sincere and personable as he comes across to the public.
If you watched his regularly scheduled Monday morning press conference yesterday, you couldn't help but feel sorry for him. There wasn't the usual pep in his personality. He looked beaten.
But with that said, "nice" doesn't win you many games in the SEC. It takes a special kind of coach to excel at this level, and clearly Dooley doesn't fit the mold.
Dooley is in over his head, and it's not just because Sal Sunseri's defense has him drowning.
Let me introduce the latest example.
The only positive for the Vols this season has been the production of the offense. Yet, as his team drove the ball toward midfield with 30 seconds remaining in a tie game Saturday, Dooley decided to sit on his two timeouts and take it to overtime.
Overtime. You know, where teams only have to go 25 yards to score a touchdown.
Tennessee had given up 303 yards of offense to the Tigers in the second half. What made Dooley think his best chance to win the game was to try and slow down a Missouri offense that was playing with all the momentum and a short field?
Of course, that is just the most recent in a long line of misreads on the part of Tennessee's head coach. From his handling of off-the-field issues to his interesting use of timeouts, nothing has gone right for Dooley since he took over the helm of the program.
He entered this season knowing that his behind was sitting squarely on the hot seat, yet he decided to role the dice and bring in a rookie defensive coordinator that wanted to totally revamp the playbook.
We see how well that has worked out.
The only viable option at this point is as easy to recognize as the big swatches of empty seats in Neyland Stadium the past two weeks.
Dooley said Monday that Hart had informed him that no decision had yet been made about the coach's future.
Most popular media outlets following the Vols have speculated that Dooley's time is done at the end of the regular season. If that is indeed the case, Hart needs to come out and make the announcement now.
Nothing that happens over the next two weeks should have much bearing on Hart's ultimate decision. At this point, either he has made up his mind to give Dooley one more season, or he has seen enough and is ready cut ties.
It benefits no one to keep the questions and rumors swirling over the program any longer than they have to be.
If Hart wants to keep Dooley, he should come out and say it now, in an attempt to keep the current recruiting class from going up in smoke. But, if Dooley's days are numbered, then make it be known now so that administration can begin the search for the next head coach before other teams enter the fray.
It's also not fair to the student-athletes on the team to have to endure the constant bombardment of questions and speculation from not only the media, but from their friends, family and the campus community.
It's widely known that Hart runs a tight ship within the UT athletic department, so it's no surprise that Knoxville has been eerily quiet on the topic. But this is one time that Hart needs to speak.
At this point, firing Dooley would be the popular decision. What little support he had within the Vol Nation is gone. He was a sub-.500 coach when he was hired from Louisiana Tech, and that's what he has continued to be in Knoxville.There is nothing to suggest that the program is going to get headed in the right direction under his watch. If anything, it appears he is driving it further into the ground.
Yes, Dooley inherited a mess. But his recruiting classes have ranked ninth in the nation in 2010, 13th in 2011, and 21st in 2012, according to ESPN.com. Yet, during that time, Tennessee has been passed up by the likes of Mississippi St., Ole Miss and even Vanderbilt in terms of SEC competitiveness.
Speaking of Vanderbilt, the Vols travel to Nashville this week needing to win their final two games to sneak into the bowl conversation.
The Commodores (6-4 overall, 4-3 SEC), meanwhile, are hot right now. They have won four straight games and have guaranteed themselves back-to-back bowl appearances for the first time in school history.
Tennessee, too, is hot...but for different reasons.
Some would say the football program is burning to the ground. I don't know if I would take it that far, but the flames definitely need to be extinguished.
It's not an easy decision, especially during these economic times.
If Dooley is fired, he will be owed a $5 million buyout from the University. Tennessee wrote checks to Phillip Fulmer, Bruce Pearl, Todd Raleigh and Mike Hamilton in 2012, all of whom were also fired in the past four years.
The question now is, with apathy setting in among the fan base, can Hart afford to stand by and do nothing - or is it time to add Dooley to that list?