Following a 41-18 defeat today to the Vanderbilt Commodores, the Tennessee Volunteers are now one loss away from their first eight loss season in conference play in school history.
The loss marks the program’s 13th SEC loss in their last 14 attempts and seals a second consecutive season without a bowl game.
Those numbers are staggering for a program that went 29-3 in conference play from 1995-98 under then head coach Phillip Fulmer. Staggering numbers for a program that ranks in the top 10 in number of all-time wins across college football, third in all-time bowl appearances and sixth in all-time bowl victories.
What is going wrong?
In January 2010, Tennessee hired a coach in Derek Dooley with an overall career head coaching record of 17-20 at Louisiana Tech. Dooley had a .500 conference record against opponents like Boise State, Utah State, Idaho, New Mexico State, San Jose State, Hawaii and Nevada.
He had no proven track record of success, with his biggest win taking place Aug. 30, 2008 against Mississippi State. An SEC program sure, but an SEC program that went 4-8 that season.
Dooley’s hype came from getting the Bulldogs to their first bowl in seven seasons, and first postseason victory in 31 years.
Dooley’s arrival on Rocky Top was marred by a month of silence, former players rumored to have been “kicked out” of the football complex and a general sense of displeasure at the perceived quality of the hire.
The first season at the helm of the big orange, Dooley led his team into LSU’s Death Valley only to come up just short of a victory due to too many players being on the field. The Vols were able to reach a bowl game, but Dooley’s squad lost again due to a too many players on the field penalty – this time from the other side of the field.
Vol fans were livid.
Season two ended with the Vols failing to reach a bowl game, going 1-7 in conference play for the first time in school history and snapping a 26-game winning streak over the Kentucky Wildcats. The only win for the Orange and White was an overtime victory, in Neyland Stadium, against the Vanderbilt Commodores.
Now 11 games into season three, the Vols are again ineligible for postseason play. Tennessee has lost to Vanderbilt for the second time in eight seasons ( the Vols won 28 of the previous 29 before the 2005 loss).
Tennessee was embarrassed in Nashville with the programs first loss in the city to the Dores in 30 years.
Tennessee is 15-21, 4-19 overall under Dooley’s tenure. With one game left to play, the Vols have a worse record than Dooley had in three seasons at Louisiana Tech. The competition is tougher sure, but the talent of players is better on his team also.
Tennessee needs to part ways or the program’s once legendary history will continue to be tarnished and the pit will continue to get deeper and deeper for the next guy to dig out.