ATLANTA, Ga—SEC football is a tough business. When things aren’t going well, someone has to be fired. Winning is important, but perception is everything.
I believe a tough season is ahead for the Vols, and I’m predicting an AD change at Rocky Top is in the works.
When I reflect on the events over the last few years in Knoxville, I see athletic director Mike Hamilton sitting on the chopping block. He has had a series of either bad luck or his management skills are challenged because events have been handled poorly.
Let’s break it down by looking at the last two years.
The firing of coach Phil Fulmer was a catastrophe
Fulmer had served Tennessee faithfully for 17 years as head coach and brought in a national championship on his watch.
Was it time for a change in Knoxville? Yes, it was. But Fulmer could have been let go at the end of the season, and it could have saved us all the drama associated with watching a head coach deal with having his dream job taken away from him on national television. Fulmer left on a sour note.
The hiring of Lane Kiffin as the Vol coach was mostly a nightmare
Kiffin insulted other SEC coaches, put the whole program in jeopardy with his recruiting practices, and then bolted when the USC job opened up.
When he contacted Kiffin, Hamilton was negotiating one of the best football jobs in the country with an unemployed, unsuccessful ex-coach who was fired publicly for incompetence in his last head coaching position.
Hamilton negotiated a weak contract for Tennessee. Kiffin was offered a great deal with a low buy-out clause that allowed him to leave in the middle of the night. To boot, all Kiffin’s assistants were sitting on big fat contracts.
When Kiffin decided to bolt, the negotiations about TV coverage that happened between Hamilton and the Knoxville media were embarrassing to the university. The entire episode was captured on YouTube, and it appeared that Hamilton had little control.
The search for the next Vol coach was a public relations disaster
There were lots of leaks and little confidence that the Vols were going to land a top coach while the city was still burning from Kiffin leaving. A number of coaches said no, and it all found its way to the media.
The hiring of Derek Dooley appeared to be a door prize for most Vol fans at first look
Dooley was the head coach at Louisiana Tech with good potential. When Dooley did his first press conference, he handled himself like a champ, and it looked like with the Nick Saban connection, Dooley could be a great coach. But if six losses happen in year one, it’s going to be tough to stomach for Vol fans.
Coach Dooley has played down expectations tremendously. He has done such a good job that ticket sales are way down at Neyland Stadium. Ticket sales being down is never good.
Here’s the kicker
Derek’s mother. Big personality, lots of opinions. Barbara Dooley loves the spotlight on her family. She has hit the radio waves and even showed up for Derek’s alumni meetings.
Derek has asked his mother publicly to stop talking to the media, but it hasn’t slowed her down. It’s difficult to establish authority when his mom is doing more talking publicly than Derek is. Terrible PR for a new young coach and the kind of stuff that keeps an AD from sleeping at night.
It’s all fun and games until the losses hit. The laughing stops on Sept. 11 when No. 9 Oregon comes to town. Next up, No. 6 Florida. New quarterback, new offensive line, new coaches. Tough season.
When things aren’t going well, someone has to get fired. Hamilton’s days are numbered once a new president comes in.
Until next time, I will see you on the ball field.
Jay Holgate is an SEC analyst and co-host of Southern Football TV.