Tennessee Football: Have We Judged Derek Dooley Too Quickly?

Stephen WilliamsContributor IIIMay 3, 2012

FAYETTEVILLE, AR - NOVEMBER 12:   Head Coach Derek Dooley of the Tennessee Volunteers signals to the sidelines during a game against the Arkansas Razorbacks at Donald W. Reynolds Stadium Stadium on November 12, 2011 in Fayetteville, Arkansas.  The Razorbacks defeated the Volunteers 49 to 7.  (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)
Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

Anyone who follows the Tennessee football program is more than aware of the lack of success over the last four years. The fifth-winningest program of the 90s has a less-than-stellar 23-27 record and only two bowl appearances during those four seasons.

When Derek Dooley accepted the head coaching position in January 2010, Tennessee fans were aware he wasn’t inheriting the best of situations. He was walking into a roster depleted by attrition due to coaching changes and a fanbase that expects to win—and win big—every year.

Two years into his Tennessee coaching career, many fans and experts are beginning to grade Dooley’s performance in Knoxville, and the grade is not favorable in most cases.

In some situations, two years is enough time to start gathering data and making conclusions. However, based on the situation he inherited, it seems a bit unfair to head down that path with Dooley.

The University of Tennessee has been a pipeline to the NFL during its history, with 330 players that have been selected in the NFL Draft, and countless others who have signed free agent contracts, according to UT Sports. Tennessee teams of the past were full of NFL talent, and not just the ones that have been successful. Phillip Fulmer’s 2005 team, which finished 5-7, had five players drafted the following April.

Even Lane Kiffin’s only team in Knoxville featured six draft picks, including two taken in the first round.

The 2012 NFL Draft wrapped up on Saturday, and the University of Tennessee was very poorly represented for the second straight season. Defensive lineman Malik Jackson, taken in the fifth round by the Denver Broncos, was the first and only Vol selected in April’s draft.

Jackson, by the way, transferred into the Tennessee program after Derek Dooley became the head coach. In 2011, tight end Luke Stocker and wide receiver Denarius Moore were the only Vols taken, in the fourth and fifth round respectively.

Clearly, the amount of NFL talent within the Tennessee program was diminished over the last two seasons. Hand-in-hand with a lack of NFL talent is the poor record during those two years.

Is it fair, then, to judge Derek Dooley solely based on the results of the past two years? Or should some of the blame be placed on lackluster recruiting during Fulmer’s final years and coaching attrition? You tell me.

Success is something that cannot be guaranteed. However, with one glimpse at the 2012 Tennessee roster, it’s easy to see the numerous players with NFL ability. Tyler Bray, Da’Rick Rogers and Justin Hunter are just three of the current Vols who have a future on Sundays.

A more talented roster does not mean more wins. It certainly helps, but many more things must go right for 2012 to be considered a successful season.

More talent on the roster does mean 2012 will be the best barometer to this point to measure Derek Dooley’s coaching ability. He will have a full deck to play with, and the lack-of-talent excuse is no longer applicable.

Given the current state of the program, the pressure to win in Knoxville is amplified heading into 2012. However, those ready to label Dooley a failure after two years may be best to withhold that judgment until the upcoming season is complete.