By the seat of your pants, Dooley’s future determined
Go ahead, cry for Derek Dooley to be fired or list reasons why he should come back for a fourth season.
Truth be told, the decision by now has probably already been made by the brass that makes such decisions. And no one in town will go to sleep on Dooley coming back next year even if Tennessee wins out, starting with today’s noon kickoff at No. 17 South Carolina.
Go back and recite whatever stats make you feel better about your position, whichever side you make camp in.
The fact is whatever makes you feel better about your anti-Dooley or pro-Dooley campaign likely doesn’t matter.
What does matter? Attendance.
It’s the overwhelming statistic that forces as much turnover as any in big time college football. And the facts are the facts. Whatever the reason, the butts just aren’t in the seats anymore.
Less than mediocre football is the biggest reason. The Vols are 20-24 in their last 44 games dating back to 2008, just a year removed from a 10-win 2007 season.
Three coaching changes in three years didn’t help, either. That’s the biggest factor in the state of the program today.
But Dooley is the head man of a program that hasn’t seen times this bad in 25 years. And Dooley will likely take the fall for reasons not completely his own.
Dooley has coached 19 games at Neyland Stadium. He’s 11-8 overall in home games. But the most important statistic is 96,342. That’s the average attendance for home games in the Dooley era.
Just five of those 19 games have been played in front of capacity crowds. Two against Florida, two against Alabama, one against Georgia.
National champion runner-up Oregon drew 102,035 in Dooley’s first season. No. 1 LSU drew 101,822 last year.
Tennessee fans that sat through last week’s loss to No. 1 Alabama need not be told how many Crimson Tide fans turned Neyland into Bryant-Denny North.
In total, a Dooley-coached team has drawn a home crowd over 100,000 that was short of capacity three times. Three times attendance has been between 96,000 and 100,00; Four crowds have been between 90,000 and 95,000 and three times there’s been between 85,000 and 89,000 in the stands.
And the ugliest of the ugly: 81,719 at Neyland for this season’s win over Akron. That’s exactly 20,736 fewer fans than the week prior, a sellout against Florida.
Those are all announced numbers — bought tickets, not used tickets. The actual fans in the stands figure is surely much, much worse.
And what’s more, Troy will draw an Akron-like number, if not lower, again next week for a noon kickoff.
Sure, partly to blame are cable and satellite providers offering every college football game imaginable to all corners of the country. That much is obvious.
And as much as anything, winning has to happen. Tickets cost money.
But how many times has an Alabama home game not been sold out since Nick Saban signed what was, at the time, a ridiculous $4 million per year contract?
With the money the Crimson Tide rakes in behind Saban, that salary is a bargain.
And it’ll be a bargain compared to what Tennessee pays for its next head coach. A coach that better be capable of doing what matters most in college football: putting fans back in the stands.
Grant Ramey is a sports writer at The Daily Times. He can be reached at grantr@thedailytimes.