Tennessee Volunteers Football: Why Derek Dooley Is Far from SEC's Worst Coach

Daniel Hudson@daniel3417Correspondent IIIJune 27, 2012

With the summer comes numerous rankings in the college football world. Unfortunately, the Tennessee Volunteers' head coach, Derek Dooley, found his way near the bottom of several SEC coach rankings.

But he's far from the worst.

I'm not claiming that Dooley is the best—far from it. But anything below 10th is just ridiculous.

Many writers aren't doing their due diligence when they "research" the SEC. They see Joker Phillips' 11-14 record at Kentucky, compare it to Dooley's 11-14 at Tennessee and conclude that Dooley has been far worse.

What they don't realize is that, while Dooley could've pulled the strings a little differently here and there, the Volunteers were probably not much more talented than Kentucky, top to bottom. It's sad but true.

That's the kind of mess you get left with when Tropical Storm Lane Kiffin rolls through for 13 months. One more year would've led to Hurricane Kiffin, with even more transfers, dropouts and violations left in the wake.

Yeah, I'm putting two years of blame on Kiffin. But this fall, the success or failure is all Dooley's.

Still, even if the past two seasons were all Dooley's fault, let's get a quick reality check on his ranking in the SEC.

2010, Derek Dooley's Rookie Year.

In his first big SEC, Dooley was getting ready to send out his offense in the middle of the third quarter to break a 10-10 tie with Florida. But Urban Meyer called a perfectly timed fake punt that led to touchdown.

Tennessee, led by Matt Simms, mind you, got within a touchdown, but could never even the score after that.

Against LSU, the Vols completely outplayed the Tigers in Baton Rouge for the entire game.

If you take out the first and last offensive plays for LSU, Tennessee wins 14-3. Obviously, you have to count the entire game, but the point is that Dooley had the Tigers on the ropes with significantly less talent and depth.

The Big Orange reeled off four straight wins to make it to a bowl game, where the infamous Music City Nightmare occurred against North Carolina.

You want to blame that ridiculous end on Dooley? Be my guest.

After a tough 6-7 season, you might think the the Vols were in for a bad recruiting year. You'd be wrong.

Dooley managed the 12th overall recruiting class in the country, including current starters Curt Maggitt, A.J. Johnson and Antonio Richardson.

2011, Dooley's Second Campaign

If there were three teams from the same conference you didn't want to play last year in college football, they were Alabama, LSU and Arkansas. The one and only team outside of the SEC West to play each one of those schools was Tennessee.

You can call it an excuse. I call it bad luck.

Tennessee was competitive in the first half of all three of those games (17-7, 6-6 and 21-7) before losing steam as the games wore on. Their inability to carry the fight to the opponent for 60 minutes is an indication of their thin lineup, not their grit.

Besides the terror that was the SEC West schedule in 2011, Dooley's Volunteers played close games at Florida and against Georgia and South Carolina.

They sorely missed having both Tyler Bray and Justin Hunter on the field for all of those games. With losses of 10, 8 and 11, don't tell me the Vols wouldn't have fared better in the SEC East with their stud receiver.

The embarrassment against Kentucky was horrific, but it was Dooley's first inexplicable loss in two years.

Sporting Tennessee's first consecutive losing seasons in a century should've had a bad effect on recruiting, but it was hardly noticeable. The Vols finished 17th in the country, ahead of LSU and South Carolina, with such names as Cordarelle Patterson, LaDarrell McNeil and Drae Bowles signing on.

Furthermore, Dooley's track record shows that he's willing to sacrifice a spot or two in recruiting ranking to ensure Tennessee is getting a quality person who will be a contributor for three or four years. So am I.

2012, Dooley Turns the Corner

So, while Derek Dooley may not be the greatest coach in the SEC, to call him the worst or even second-to-worst, as ESPN did, is ludicrous. Joker Phillips, Hugh Freeze at Ole Miss, John L. Smith at Arkansas and James Franklin at Vanderbilt all have significantly more to prove.

I can make a case for Dooley being better than Dan Mullen and Will Muschamp when the Vols win their bowl game this year.

This fall, the success or failure of Derek Dooley is going to tell us a lot about the accuracy of these rankings. With an eight or nine-win season looming, I find it highly difficult to call Dooley the worst coach in the SEC.