The SEC blogs on SBNation are doing a series on the conference's worst disasters. You may have noticed, if you read our other SEC blogs, posts detailing a few of the worst disasters in their programs' histories and polls to let the commenters decide which one was worst.
We're not exactly doing that. First of all, because last week was busy and we're just now getting to this. Second? Because there's no need for a poll. The worst disaster in program history is the hiring of Derek Dooley.
Upon reading the previous sentence, you are undoubtedly either nodding your head in agreement (and possibly throwing things) or getting ready to accuse us of recency bias or of piling on the previous coach to make the new one seem like an upgrade by comparison. After all, had you asked us in the summer of 2010, many Vols fans would've put Kiffin's tenure as the biggest disaster. Can we be sure that we're not just doing the same thing now?
Yes. We can be sure. Let me acquaint you with the state of Tennessee football in January 2010. Lane Kiffin had bolted for his dream job awfully late in the hiring game, both leaving Tennessee in the awkward position of needing to make a move in late January and jilting a program which (rightfully) saw itself as a destination job. Tennessee had not beating Florida in six years and had not beaten Alabama in four.
But it wasn't all bad. In the previous four years, the Vols were 6-2 against Georgia and South Carolina and had finished no worse than 2nd in the SEC East three times. They had played in a New Year's Day bowl twice in that span and one of the top five bowls with SEC tie-ins (not including the national championship) three times. In the past four years, the Vols had six wins against top 25 teams, and in the past seven years, they had 12, including four against the top ten. And lest the bottom-feeders get uppity, in the past 25 years, the Vols were 48-2 against Kentucky and Vanderbilt.
During Dooley's tenure, on the other hand? 0-6 against Georgia and South Carolina. No finishes in the top three of the SEC East. No wins over ranked teams. One bowl, but not a major one. 3-2 against Vanderbilt and Kentucky.
Of course, this is just a comparison of Dooley to Kiffin and the later Fulmer years. Perhaps you're still accusing us of recency bias, and noting that Tennessee had some disasters in the early 60s and the mid-to-late 70s. What gives us the right to just focus on the last ten years?
With this objection in mind, let us consider a more historical perspective. For which we will shift to handy bullet points.
- Last consecutive losing seasons before Dooley: 1910-1911
- Last consecutive losing seasons after Dooley: 2011-2012
- Second-to-last consecutive losing seasons after Dooley: 2010-2011
- Number of seven-loss seasons before Dooley: 2 (1977, 2008)
- Number of seven-loss seasons under Dooley: 3
- Number of seasons with 5+ SEC losses before Dooley: 5 (in 73 years)
- Number of seasons with 5+ SEC losses under Dooley: 3 (in three years)
- Number of seasons with 7 SEC losses before Dooley: 0
- Number of seasons with 7 SEC losses under Dooley: 2
- Last 23+ point loss to Vanderbilt before Dooley: 1925 (prior to Neyland's hiring)
- Last 23+ point loss to Vanderbilt after Dooley: 2012
- Number of losses to South Carolina in the 100 years prior to Dooley: 3
- Number of losses to South Carolina in the three years under Dooley: 3
- Number of times Troy scored 35+ against an SEC team not coached by Dooley: 0
- Number of times Troy scored 35+ against an SEC team coached by Dooley: 1 (48 points in 2012)
You get the idea.
Dooley presided over the worst defense (by far) in school history. He presided over the tied-for-worst SEC record in school history. He presided over the other
tied-for-worst SEC record in school history. When he took over, Tennessee was competing with Georgia and South Carolina for second in the SEC East (and generally fairing pretty well). In this first summer following his tenure, nobody, not even Vols fans, are mentioning UT in the same breath as those two. Tennessee was picked 5th in the SEC East preseason polls, and one of our staff members is claiming without a hint of irony that Vanderbilt is the most important game on the Vols' schedule
And we haven't even started on the off-the-field stuff. Alienating the former players? Check. Ignoring the best in-state prospects? Check. Ignoring talented Tennessee legacies? Check. Alienating the local high school coaches? Check.
Derek Dooley's list of wrongs is a long one. More than one "worst in school history" is attached to his tenure. Some of the stories about his recruiting show such outstanding incompetence that fans were forced to wonder whether he was trying to lose. Or, to put things succinctly, he took over a school that was burning mattresses on campus and somehow managed to leave them worse than when he found them.
This, I hope, should make the case sufficiently that Dooley's tenure is the biggest disaster in Tennessee history. But it gets worse. How? When Dooley was hired, one of the up-and-coming names interested in the Vols job was Kevin Sumlin, who has since gone 11-2 with a win over the national champions in his first year in the SEC. And it is that--the other available options--in addition to the results of the hire, that makes Mike Hamilton's decision to hire Derek Dooley the biggest disaster in Tennessee history.
Honorable mention goes to the 2001 SEC Championship Game.