When Derek Dooley took the head coaching job at Tennessee amidst the turmoil of a bad bowl loss, an NCAA investigation and the abrupt resignation of Lane Kiffin, it was understood—at least in most media circles—that Dooley would get every chance to succeed in the job.
Yes, he was a largely unknown commodity after a 17-20 mark in three seasons as Louisiana Tech head coach. He was apparently not Tennessee's top choice. He was, however, a stable hand at an incredibly unstable time for the Tennessee football program.
After nearly two years on the job, Dooley has brought a measure of stability back to the Tennessee program.
There was the initial disaster of losing numerous All-SEC caliber players and the resulting task of replacing those talented players with inexperience and youth. As if that's not enough to overcome 20-plus months into your tenure, how about facing the rejuvenated Alabama and LSU programs in each of your first two seasons in Knoxville?
Tennessee fans are accustomed to competing in, if not winning, such big games.
The era of the 1990s through the early 2000s spoiled Vols fans to the point of expecting to win or compete against the nation's top programs, regardless of the talent differential on the field.
Sometimes fans can be irrational. Shocking revelation, I know. But it wasn't a stadium packed with 100,000 every weekend, or an orange jersey, or even a power T emblazoned helmet that won all those games back in the day. Unfortunately, some Tennessee fans are just now realizing that.
It was a steady stream of incredibly talented players recruited and coached by some of the SEC's best coaches at a time when the SEC as a whole was just pretty good, that helped Tennessee win big games against the nation's best competition.
When the conference went from pretty good to college football juggernaut with the additions of Nick Saban, Urban Meyer and Mark Richt to the helm some of Tennessee's biggest rivals, Tennessee's coaching staff and its established pipeline of incredible talent began to dry up.
Suddenly the Vols weren't winning the big games any more. As a matter of fact, the Vols were getting blown out by key rivals in those big games.
The initial change was made and suddenly the Vols were bringing in some top-notch talent again. But one signing class chock-full of talent doesn't make up for nearly five years worth of inconsistent recruiting classes.
Throw in another tumultuous change—this one much more abrupt—at the most crucial time for the next recruiting class to be solidified and you see where Derek Dooley came in.
Tennessee's talent level was disadvantaged against superior opponents before the first change, now as the program was starting to recover a bit suddenly the rug was pulled from underneath it.
The Vols new coach, already faced with a talent-depleted roster, endured big time losses of some big time prospects and players months before he led his team through the T at Neyland Stadium for the first time.
Now, just two recruiting classes and a growing list of on-the-field losses to better and more complete football teams into Dooley's tenure, a small group of Vols fans and some in the media believe it's time for yet another change in Knoxville.
While everyone is certainly entitled to his opinion, I'd like to ask just what these folks are smoking. Maybe these fringe fanatics believe in the power of pixie dust or maybe they have faith in that Easy Button that appears on a large office supply chain's commercials. Maybe they just believe that logos, jerseys and stadiums win championships.
Back here in reality-land, however, most of us rational thinking folks realize it's a process.
A long, hard, painstaking process is underway in Knoxville with Derek Dooley as its architect. The larger part of that process is amassing talent.
The reason Alabama went to the National Championship after three seasons was because Nick Saban and his staff had a much better base on which to build before recruiting circles around every other team in the country and ended up with 5-star recruits two-deep at most positions.
Tennessee is not there yet. Chances are Tennessee won't even be there at the end of year two.
The Vols are very young and are steadily improving. There are some units on this team that make you scratch your head as to why they struggle so mightily (running back and offensive line), but it's not time to throw the baby out with the bathwater.
Might the process eventually feature some changes to the coaching staff? Potentially, yes. But Derek Dooley is not going anywhere for at least another year or two, lest the Tennessee football program repeat its tumultuous recent past.