Lots to play for: Dooley, Vols still have plenty left on schedule
By Grant Ramey | (email@example.com)
Despite the rumors, despite the reports, despite everything, Derek Dooley is still the head coach at Tennessee.
And with two games left on the schedule, a bowl game is still a possibility.
To get to six wins and bowl eligibility, though, Dooley’s struggling Vols (4-6, 0-6 SEC) have to win out. That starts tonight at Vanderbilt (6-4, 4-3), where Tennessee will try to pick up the pieces of what remains on the 2012 season.
But little discussion has been on the final two opponents. Instead focusing on the “when” and ruling out the “if” when it comes to athletic director Dave Hart’s decision on Dooley’s future.
“I’m worried about Vanderbilt and I can’t make that decision,” Dooley said earlier this week. “I can give you compelling arguments why I should and there are plenty of compelling arguments about why I shouldn’t.
“It’s not going to be your decision, it’s not going to be a bunch of these source’s decisions, it is Dave (Hart) and the chancellor. It is their decision and I can’t control what they think. We’ve had a lot of good dialogue. I think he has a good handle on how I do things in our program, where we are and why we are not getting the results we want, so you move on and live with it.”
And despite the discussion off the field, the Tennessee players have repeated all week it hasn’t had an effect on a team that’s still sticking together.
“In the offseason that is what we put the emphasis on, staying together as a team,” offensive lineman Antonio ‘Tiny’ Richardson said Monday. “That is what we have done really well, through all of the adversity we have stayed together and that is what we are going to continue to do.”
Tennessee led 21-7 at the half after a dominant first two quarters against Missouri last week.
But the Vols fell apart again behind a stop-nothing defense and an offense that couldn’t keep pace.
The 51-48 four-overtime loss has since been thought to have sealed Dooley’s fate.
Senior defensive back Prentiss Waggner said, at least for those inside the program, it’s been business as usual.
“I don’t think we buy into things like that, especially for us seniors,” Waggner said. “We’ve been through, what, three coaches now? That’s basically the last thing we’re thinking about. We’re just thinking about playing these last two games and having fun with it.”
Added guard James Stone, “It’s just something that you just learn to block out when you come into this complex. When we’re in this complex, we just focus on football and that’s what we’re doing here. When we’re on the practice field or in the complex, we focus on football and preparing for our opponent.”
For an experienced, more ‘mature’ group of seniors that has seen its share of struggles over the past three years, focusing on the final two games hasn’t been a struggle.
“I think the irony in all this is that we beat up the young kids so bad on their behavior all the time and they are the ones handling all of this better than anybody,” Dooley said. “There is no negativity on the team, there are no mean-spirited comments, there is no gossip, so I am proud of them for doing that. We probably all ought to learn from them a little bit.”
No matter Dooley’s job security, or lack there of, there’s plenty left to play more over the final two games.
“We feel like these are two wins that we have to get,” Stone said Monday. “We’re just going to try to prepare our best. I don’t think anybody’s going to go out there and do anything ‘Superman.’
“We’re just trying to do our jobs and do it efficiently and do it correctly and go out there and execute so we can win these last two.”