Tennessee Volunteers: 5 Things Derek Dooley Must Do in 2012 to Keep His Job
The 2012 college football season is a make-or-break one for Tennessee Volunteers head coach Derek Dooley. But what does he specifically have to do in order to keep his job?
It really goes back to what all football coaches must do as a professional: recruit, develop, win.
Dooley has recruited quite well, and development has been slightly above average. Winning, however, has been the most elusive goal to attain, as it is in any sport. That had better come quick, or the seat is going to be so hot, he'll have to get up and leave.
It's do-or-die for Tennessee and Dooley. Here are the five things he has to get done in 2012.
Fix the Embarrassing Kicking Game
When Michael Palardy lined up to try for a 3-0 lead in the second quarter against Kentucky, I was 100 percent positive that he'd miss.
It wasn't a 55-yard kick, either. As I recall, it was a makeable 46-yarder, something that a college kicker should hit around six to seven times out of 10.
The second-rated kicker in the entire 2010 class should probably make it even more often than that, but Palardy is a far cry from his high school days. The kick was a dud, got blocked and plowed harmlessly into the grass.
Punter Matt Darr has an identical story. The nationally fourth-rated punter in 2010 averaged 38.1 yards per punt in 2011, good for dead last in the SEC. With punts like that, the Vols would be better off letting Tyler Bray chuck it down the field and hoping for an interception.
Derek Dooley must clean up the kicking game that has been such a joke at Tennessee for too long. Besides the obvious benefits a strong special teams unit has on the game, it's simply too embarrassing to see 40-yard field goals routinely missed and 35-yard punts consistently booted.
Keep Dalton Santos Committed
Perhaps no 18-year-old high school student has ever been more desperately needed by a coaching staff of grown men than linebacker Dalton Santos.
Lauded as the top inside linebacker in the country (Rivals.com is curiously less impressed than everyone else), Santos' commitment is important in and of itself. But it also represents Derek Dooley's last stand with a depleted defense.
Already short on incoming defenders, Dooley began losing recruits—including one stud that he ASKED to leave—shortly after his defensive coordinator and linebacker coach each left for Washington. The two men, Justin Wilcox and Peter Sirmon, had the lion's share of defensive recruits committed to them specifically.
Now with the National Signing Day coming in less than a month, Dooley and Co. are (or better be) calling, texting, e-mailing and visiting Santos anytime they have a free moment. Losing him would be a huge hit to the future of Tennessee's defense.
It would also indicate even deeper problems in Knoxville.
Get Through to Tyler Bray
Tyler Bray ultimately holds the keys to the car for the 2012 season. And since the 2012 season is critical for Derek Dooley, Bray in essence holds the keys to Dooley's future with the Tennessee Volunteers.
"Yikes!" exclaims Derek.
Bray has a huge arm and plenty of confidence in it, but he, as my dad would say, is a "thrower," not yet a quarterback. How hard is he willing to work to take the next step?
I don't want to condemn a player I've never met and only seen play against cupcake teams (hardest game in his career is a nice Georgia team in Neyland), but there's nothing in his history to make me confident he'll step up.
Maybe I'm wrong. I'd love to be. But he has done virtually nothing to fill out his lanky frame in two years, something all players work to do. Why change now?
That means Dooley must play the part of psychologist with Bray this spring and summer, trying to get through to him anyway he can.
"You will be a multi-millionaire if you work hard."
"You will get all the girls you want if you will listen."
This is what it's come to, Vol fans.
Beat Florida, Georgia or South Carolina
I'm tired of losing to these three SEC East schools every year. How can we expect the Tennessee Volunteers to become nationally relevant again if we can't ever top our own division?
In order for Derek Dooley to keep his job, he has to beat one of these three schools next season.
The best bet is a down Florida team that will travel to Knoxville in 2012. The Gators have lost their offensive coordinator, Charlie Weis, to Kansas and quarterback John Brantley is gone, as well (though that may actually benefit the Gators).
South Carolina is as good as they've ever been, but its lackluster offense always leaves the door open for a potential upset. Georgia is a complete team with a quarterback that Tyler Bray should (and can) aspire to. I don't see that one happening.
SEC East newcomer Missouri will also play in Neyland this fall. I won't call it a "must-win," but if the Vols christen Mizzou with its first SEC road win, it's going to make us all sick.
Get to a Bowl Game
There are a few sub-requirements with this final one:
- If the Tennessee Volunteers go 6-6 and make it to a bowl game, they'll need to also win that bowl game, no questions asked. There is no chance in hell that Derek Dooley keeps his job with an unprecedented third consecutive losing season.
- If the Vols get seven or even eight wins, the requirement for winning the bowl game loosens up. It's all in their hands.
With such mediocrity as Mississippi State, Virginia and Washington being able to muster up bowl seasons, there is no reason that a storied program like Tennessee should be sitting on the sidelines two years in a row.
Winning the four non-conference games, beating Kentucky and Vanderbilt and then winning the Liberty Bowl isn't too much to ask.