published Monday, November 5th, 2012

Mark Wiedmer: Are Munchak, Dooley headed for Joker's fate?

NASHVILLE — If Tennessee doesn't yet look at itself as a basketball state, perhaps it should consider undergoing that transformation.

I say this after a weekend of watching some of the most depressing and flawed football ever played in the Volunteer State.

It started on Saturday afternoon when UT's Volunteers turned Neyland Stadium into a video game during a 55-48 win over Troy. It moved the Vols to 4-5 on the season, though they remain 0-5 in the Southeastern Conference. It did nothing to cool Big Orange boss Derek Dooley's hot seat, however.

"Football traditionalists are probably rolling over in their graves right now," Dooley said afterward, and Gen. Robert Neyland surely was, though at least the Big Orange won.

Now fast-forward to Sunday in the Music City, to the NFL's Titans hosting the Chicago Bears, the Monsters of the Midway. Or are they the Monsters who ate the Music City?

The Bears led 28-2 after one quarter, 31-5 at halftime and 37-12 after three quarters in their eventual 51-20 win.

They blocked a punt for a touchdown, returned an interception for another score and nearly returned a punt for a third. It was arguably the worst display of football by the Titans since LP Field first opened in 1999.

"It's depressing," said second-year Titans coach Mike Munchak of his team's four lost fumbles, one interception and 68 yards in penalties. "We are not going to beat anyone if we play that way."

So just what in the names of Reggie White, Peyton Manning and Doug Atkins -- proud UT and NFL alums all -- is going on here?

Has the state that produced a national collegiate champ in 1998 and a Super Bowl runner-up a year later forgotten how to run, pass and tackle?

Would Jon Gruden consider coaching both teams for, say, $15 million a year and a private jet to fly him back and forth between Nashville and Knoxville?

Have we finally hit rock bottom for Rocky Top and T-Rac, the cuddly Titans mascot?

It's tempting to say Vanderbilt product Jay Cutler could have stemmed some of this on the Titans' end if they'd drafted him instead of Vince Young with the third overall pick in the 2006 NFL draft.

After all, Cutler threw for three touchdowns, no interceptions and 229 yards against the Titans. Young isn't even in the league anymore, having worn out his welcome at Tennessee, Philadelphia and Buffalo.

But Cutler's 138.1 QB Rating on Sunday was nearly 60 points higher than his average for the year, which is lower than either injured Titans starter Jake Locker (90.2) or current starter Matt Hasselbeck (83.3).

While an elite quarterback such as Peyton Manning would certainly help this franchise, almost no NFL quarterback can overcome 51 opponent points.

One big difference in the Titans and the Vols, however, is the ownership Munchak has taken for his team's struggles over the share-the-blame game being played by UT's Derek Dooley.

While Dooley has quite noticeably made first-year defensive coordinator Sal Sunseri the fall guy for the Vols' struggles -- you half-expected the public address announcer to proclaim, "Sal Sunseri, pick up your pink slip at Gate 14!" during Saturday's halftime -- Munchak pointed only to himself on Sunday.

"I didn't have them ready to play," he said. "It starts with me."

Yet at least both Dooley and Munchak met with the media. Gutless, spineless, characterless drone Mitch Barnhart -- officially known as the University of Kentucky athletic director -- fired Wildcats football coach Joker Phillips through an open letter on the athletics department website on Sunday.

Apparently Joker's win over Dooley last November wasn't enough to offset the nine SEC losses that surrounded it.

To make Barnhart's statement worse, he took until the ninth paragraph of the rambling 10-graph Dear Joker letter to mention that Phillips was being axed after nearly 22 years of service to the school as either a player, assistant or head coach.

Phillips was forced to answer media questions after each of his 12 wins and 22 losses to date. But not his AD on the singular occasion of his dismissal. Phillips may answer to Joker but the real joke is Barnhart.

But there is nothing funny about the coaching situations at UT and the Titans. The Vols are yet to win an SEC game this season and have lost 12 of their last 13 SEC contests. The Titans are now 3-6 in the AFC South and likely already out of the playoffs for the fourth straight year.

In a comment that did sound very much like Dooley, Munchak said, "I thought we would play much better -- we didn't."

So did their fans and their superiors. And as UK's Phillips found out Sunday, when you play bad enough long enough, significant changes often follow.

Whatever employment fate ultimately befalls Dooley and Munchak, however, hopefully they won't learn about it on a website.

about Mark Wiedmer...

Mark Wiedmer started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press on Valentine’s Day of 1983. At the time, he had to get an advance from his boss to buy a Valentine gift for his wife. Mark was hired as a graphic artist but quickly moved to sports, where he oversaw prep football for a time, won the “Pick’ em” box in 1985 and took over the UTC basketball beat the following year. By 1990, he was ...

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signalmtnman said...

Realistically, which of the four BCS top 8 teams should UT have beaten this season? Their fifth loss was to MSU, ranked 21 in the BCS. The team was very competitive in 3 of the 5 losses with legit chances of upsetting each of those ranked opponents. This is all with a new defensive scheme that when implemented at UGA a few years ago nearly cost Richt his job. With your expertise of the situation, going into the season which of these games did you truly expect UT to win? If none, then why all the drama and surprise that they are basically where you expected. An improved team that is not yet back to the top tier. Personally when I look around at teams going into the year with much higher and realistic expectations - Texas, WV, Auburn, Arkansas, USC - I see coaches who are not living up.

November 5, 2012 at 9:44 a.m.
jomo11 said...

hey signalmtnman, all other SEC schools agree with you, Please dont fire Dooley !!!

November 5, 2012 at 10:12 a.m.
chas9 said...

Great column. Thanks.

November 5, 2012 at 10:23 a.m.
mikemurphy32000 said...

Saturday's game was a joke. I have to keep reminding myself that the Vols actually won that game. How can Dooley say that he felt good about that game? "Imagine the alternative..." Really? Would a loss have been worse? When I saw that, it reminded me of Fulmer clapping for our team after a busted play; a mindset of accepting good enough. I understand the tough schedule that we have, but did anyone see Vanderbilt on Saturday? It's not just the top teams we are losing to. We are delusional if we think the Vols are going to win out with this defense. And it's not just the defense. Bob Kesling sounded like he couldn't make up his mind. "Touchdown. No, couldn't hold on." "First down. Nope, he dropped it." Dooley has to go. He is a great guy, but he is not an SEC caliber coach. Vols fans won't settle for mediocre. We are now a perennial bottom dweller in the SEC. Time to fix it.

November 5, 2012 at 10:58 a.m.
Salsa said...

There is a meeting of the UT Board of Trustees this Thursday and Friday. Among the other items on the agenda there is:

"Amendment of the UT-UTFI affiliation and services agreement to change the reporting line for athletics departments personnel at UT Knoxville."

This item is far more important than you might think in deciding the future of TN football and any possible new head coach. There is a whole lot more going on in the background than most people realize.

November 5, 2012 at 11 a.m.
jomo11 said...

watching the USC-Oregon game was just like the UTK-Troy game . . . . .only with better teams !

November 5, 2012 at 11:17 a.m.
Livn4life said...

All you "he's gotta go" folks out there for Dooley, get your hind ends up, off your jobs, and get out there and get a for sure, cannot miss replacement. Because if you don't and Dooley is fired, guess what? We start over again with maybe a little more qualified coach. You will then gripe about that and start blaming Dooley when he is no longer there. We need to get real. We aren't enjoying this. Gruden is not coming(he is unproven as a college head coach anyway). So just keep on piling on with 3 games to go. Yes it was as ugly a defensive effort as I have ever seen from a college team, especially one which had played previous games. But, Mike Murphy, IT IS the TOP teams we have lost to so far. I know Miss. State is questionably not the very top but they are good. So I don't get your No way the Vols can win out with this defense. Granted, they have to do better than Sat. and they have. I continue to rail on, let the whole season play out. If another loss occurs, we look at options. Oh, sorry, I don't make that decision, do I? Neither does anyone else who posts on here. So strap in and let's try to get to Turkey Day without a firing. I know that is not completely possible but am willing to hold my "fire him" or "fire them all" statements until we play...what is the name of the team who beat us last year? Oh It's Kentucky, I thought they are a basketball school.

November 5, 2012 at 11:37 a.m.
signalmtnman said...

So far we are only losing to the top teams - 4 of the top 8 in the country actually. I bet more than 95% of all teams in the country would have lost those same five games. Only Texas A&M and LSU have beaten any of those teams, other than them losing to each other. If UT had USC's schedule they very well could be 6-3 too. USC was preseason #1 and has lost to each ranked opponent they've played. With 2 more ranked to go the preseason #1 could easily end up 7-5 (same as UT potentially) while playing a much easier schedule. Is Lane Kiffin on the hot seat? How about Beamer at VT? Gee, he's 4-5 too, but in the ACC, after preseason rank in the top 15. If UT doesn't win out, I agree there needs to be serious consideration about going forward, but I think it's cheap and easy to talk trash right now.

November 5, 2012 at 11:51 a.m.

Final score - signalmtnman 55 Wiedmer 48.

Sometimes the truth is ugly, but it sure beats lying to yourself.

November 5, 2012 at 4:41 p.m.
tquillen said...

Barnhart can do anything he wants because he hired a guy named Calipari.

November 5, 2012 at 8:02 p.m.
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