One week before the crushing loss at Kentucky, the Vols beat Vanderbilt at Neyland Stadium in overtime when Eric Gordon returned an interception for a touchdown. Afterward, Dooley said, "That cloud over Knoxville blew away. We got a little sunshine."
But the following week, with bowl eligibility on the line, the bottom fell out of the season in Lexington (KY).
Nov. 26, 2011: UT was held to 276 total yards, 59 more than Kentucky, and managed only 61 rushing yards against a UK defense that ranked 11th in the SEC in rushing defense. In the 10-7 loss, the Vols' only TD was a 53-yard pass from Tyler Bray to Raijon Neal in the fourth quarter and the first loss in the series in 26 years was made uglier by the fact UK started wide receiver Matt Roark at quarterback because of injuries to two other players at that position. Roark, who hadn't played quarterback since high school, managed to put together only two sustained drives but that was enough. He completed 4 of 6 passes for 15 yards but ran 24 times for 124 yards.
"To be the team that finally breaks [the streak] is really embarrassing," Bray said.
Dec. 1, 2011: Receivers coach Charlie Baggett announced his retirement, becoming the first of seven assistant coaches to leave the Vols' staff.
Dec. 11, 2011: Special teams coach Eric Russell was the next assistant to leave, the first to go to another program, when he accepted an assistant's job at Washington State.
Jan. 2, 2012: In the biggest blow to the staff, defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox and linebackers coach Peter Sirmon left to go to Washington for the same positions with the Huskies. Under Wilcox, the Vols ranked among the top 35 in both average yards allowed and points allowed nationally.
Jan. 6, 2012: After taking a publicity hit for initially refusing to grant freshman receiver DeAnthony Arnett an unconditional release to transfer closer to his sick father, Dooley finally allowed Arnett to transfer to Michigan State. He was one of the highest-rated recruits in the 2011 signing class and as a freshman had the second-most receiving yards for a true freshman in program history.
Jan. 12, 2012: Offensive line coach Harry Hiestand resigned to accept the same position at Notre Dame.
Jan. 13, 2012: Alabama outside linebackers coach Sal Sunseri is named defensive coordinator. Sunseri, who had been a defensive coordinator at Illinois State (1994) and Alabama A&M (1998-99) would bring in the attacking 3-4 scheme that was much more difficult for players to learn.
Jan. 15, 2012: Lance Thompson became the sixth assistant to leave the staff for a job at another program when he took the outside linebackers coaching position at Alabama, replacing Sunseri. Thompson's departure left Dooley with three vacancies to fill with just two weeks remaining before national signing day.
Feb. 1, 2012: UT lost a pair of linebackers -- Dalton Santos (signed with Texas) and Otha Peters (Arkansas) -- who had been committed for months and missed out on a trio of prospects who decided to go elsewhere on signing day. But Dooley did bring in the nation's top junior college player, receiver Cordarrelle Patterson. Dooley admitted he and his staff, which included six just-hired assistants, had to do more defending than usual against the negative recruiting by other staffs against him. Other schools highlighted the large amount of coaching turnover and pointed at the instability of Dooley's future to sway several recruits.
March 2, 2012: Safeties coach and recruiting coordinator Terry Joseph became the seventh assistant to leave for another job since the end of the 2011 season, when took took an assistant's job at Nebraska. Seven days later, Citadel defensive coordinator Josh Conklin was hired to replace Joseph as UT's safeties coach, ending the offseason revolving door of assistants.
March 29, 2012: Less than a week into spring practice Da'Rick Rogers missed a day of workouts, leaving many to believe he had been suspended. Dooley termed it, "an internal issue." But later in the day the internet site covering Georgia State reported that Rogers was "in the process" of transferring to that school. The site later changed its story to say Rogers was "considering" a move. It also came three months after Rogers had been internally disciplined for an incident with a member of UT's strength and conditioning staff during offseason workouts.
May 25, 2012: Less than 48 hours after Cameron Clear was arrested on charges of felony theft, Dooley dismissed the sophomore tight end from the team. Clear, who had previously been involved in the stealing of an item from a teammate, was caught in possession of a laptop that had been reported stolen by a Vols baseball player.
June 1, 2012: Cornerback Izauea Lanier was ruled academically ineligible for the entire season. Lanier had been the lone cornerback to hold his starting spot throughout the previous season.
July 25, 2012: Tyler Bray and his roommate were implicated in two car vandalism incidents at their apartment. Bray admitted to the incident, in which he and his roommate were throwing beer bottles and golf balls at parked cars in front of their apartment. Dooley covered over the incident by joking, "he missed the trash can. Obviously he needs to work on his accuracy."
It also came on the heels of a fourth of July incident in which Bray was cited for recklessly driving a jet ski.
Aug. 23, 2012: Troubled receiver Da' Rick Rogers was finally dismissed from the team for a violation of team rules. Rogers later admitted he had failed a drug test. It was nearly a year to the day of All America safety Janzen Jackson's dismissal just before the 2011 season, and the dismissal of Rogers, an All SEC selection who led the league in receptions, was a blow to the Vols just a week before their season opener. Rogers later transferred to Tennessee Tech, where he has been a standout player this fall.
Sept. 15, 2012: It had been a week of hype and hope that included UT claiming a spot in the Top 25 national rankings (No. 23) for the first time since early 2008 and ESPN's College Gameday on campus as well as an energized crowd of 102,455 fans inside Neyland Stadium for the Vols' game against Florida. But while the Vols led for much of the first three quarters, the offense went stagnant and the defense allowed a highlight reel of big plays in the fourth quarter of a 37-20 loss.
The loss was compounded by the season-ending knee injury to sophomore safety Brian Randolph, the team's leading tackler at that point and the quarterback of the defense.
Sept. 22, 2012: After being tied at halftime and leading by only four late in the third quarter, UT needed 17 unanswered points in the fourth to pull away from Akron, a team that just one week earlier had snapped a 10-game losing streak. As the team jogged off the field at halftime, fans began booing, the first in what would become almost a weekly trend.
Sept. 29, 2012: After rallying from a 17-point second-quarter hole and a two-touchdown fourth-quarter deficit, the Vols came up short with consecutive turnovers on three potential game-tying possessions in the fourth quarter, losing 51-44 at fifth-ranked Georgia.
Oct. 13, 2012: With Dooley coaching just four days after surgery to repair a fracture in his right hip, UT fell behind early then rallied at Mississippi State. But a late turnover ended the comeback and led to the Bulldogs putting the game away with a late TD in a 41-31 loss. The next day, the rock on campus was painted with "Fire Fooley".
Oct. 27, 2012: After UT had driven to the South Carolina 19 with just over a minute remaining, Jadeveon Clowney stripped the ball away from Tyler Bray and the Gamecocks recovered. Bray then threw an interception with 23 seconds remaining near midfield to allow South Carolina to hold on for a 38-35 win.
Nov. 3, 2012: The Vols' defense allowed Troy to pile up 721 yards, a program-worst defensive performance, including 10 plays of 20-plus yards. UT held on for a 55-48 win.
Nov. 10, 2012: Despite having more than 300 offensive yards by halftime, and holding Missouri to just 64 yards in the first two quarters, UT couldn't hold a two-touchdown lead in the second half. Missouri scored on the first play of the third quarter and converted two fourth-and-long situations in the waning minutes to tie the game. With the ball around the UT 40 yard line and 43 seconds remaining, Dooley opted to hold onto his final two timeouts and play for overtime. The Vols would lose in four overtimes.
Dec. 1, 2011: Receivers coach Charlie Baggett retired. He was replaced by Jay Graham (to coach running backs)
Dec. 11, 2011: Special teams coach Eric Russell left to go to Washington State. He was replaced by Charlie Coiner (Jan. 27)
Jan. 2, 2012: Defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox and linebackers coach Peter Sirmon left to go to Washington. Wilcox was replaced by Sal Sunseri and Sirmon was replaced by Derrick Ansley (to coach cornerbacks, Feb. 3)
Jan. 12, 2012: Offensive line coach Harry Hiestand left to go to Notre Dame. He was replaced by Sam Pittman (Feb. 14)
Jan. 15, 20:12: Defensive line coach Lance Thompson left to go to Alabama. He was replaced by John Palermo on Jan. 20.
March 2, 2012: Recruiting coordinator and secondary coach Terry Joseph left to go to Nebraska. He was replaced by Josh Conklin
09/04/10 vs. Tennessee-Martin W, 50-0
09/11/10 vs. Oregon L, 48-13
09/18/10 vs. Florida L, 31-17
09/25/10 vs. UAB W, 32-29 (2OT)
10/02/10 at LSU L, 16-14
10/09/10 at Georgia L, 41-14
10/23/10 vs. Alabama L, 41-10
10/30/10 at South Carolina L, 38-24
11/06/10 at Memphis W, 50-14
11/13/10 vs. Mississippi W, 52-14
11/20/10 at Vanderbilt W, 24-10
11/27/10 vs. Kentucky W, 24-14
12/30/10 vs. North Carolina L, 30-27 (2OT)
09/03/11 vs. Montana W, 42-16
09/10/11 vs. Cincinnati W, 45-23
09/17/11 at Florida L, 33-23
10/01/11 vs. Buffalo W, 41-10
10/08/11 vs. Georgia L, 20-12
10/15/11 vs. LSU L, 38-7
10/22/11 at Alabama L, 37-6
10/29/11 vs. South Carolina L, 14-3
11/05/11 vs. Middle Tennessee State W, 24-0
11/12/11 at Arkansas L, 49-7
11/19/11 vs. Vanderbilt W, 27-21 (OT)
11/26/11 at Kentucky L, 10-7
08/31/12 vs. North Carolina State W, 35-21
09/08/12 vs. Georgia State W, 51-13
09/15/12 vs. Florida L, 37-20
09/22/12 vs. Akron W, 47-26
09/29/12 at Georgia L, 51-44
10/13/12 at Mississippi State L, 41-31
10/20/12 vs. Alabama L, 44-13
10/27/12 at South Carolina L, 38-35
11/03/12 vs. Troy W, 55-48
11/10/12 vs. Missouri L, 51-48 (4 OT)
11/17/12 vs. Vanderbilt, L, 41-18
When Derek Dooley became the University of Tennessee's third head coach in as many seasons in 2010, he took over a program in shambles. Lane Kiffin had bolted unexpectedly with less than a month remaining before national signing day, leaving UT scrambling to find a new head coach. Most of Kiffin's signees from the previous year saw more off-field trouble than on-field contributions and some of Kiffin's recruiting tactics were being investigated by the NCAA.
Dooley, who had a 17-20 record at Louisiana Tech, inherited a team with just 68 scholarship athletes, virtually no experience on the offensive line, no proven quarterback or running back and a depleted defensive line. The immediate outlook was grim and while Dooley's first team won its final four regular-season games to become bowl eligible, that season would be remembered more for two games (at LSU and vs. North Carolina in the Music City Bowl) lost by late-game clock mismanagement and the team finished 6-7.
The number of Dooley supporters began to dwindle in his second season as blowout losses -- by 42 points at Arkansas and 31 points to both Alabama and LSU -- began to mount. The season, and Dooley's support, bottomed out in the finale, a 10-7 loss at Kentucky with bowl eligibility on the line. It was the first loss to the Wildcats in 26 years and marked the first time in program history the Vols lost seven SEC games in a season. It was also the first time UT had consecutive losing seasons in 100 years.
Dooley entered his third season with noticeably more talent than his previous two seasons -- five players were named to the media's preseason All-SEC team -- and at SEC media days in mid-July, when asked if UT could compete in the league Dooley told the gathering, "Absolutely we can. We have a better roster than we've had since I've been here. We have a lot more experience; we have a lot more talent; we're deeper; and we're a lot more mature emotionally. It's just a matter of notching up some wins."
Dooley went on to conclude with his now famous, "There's a nice mood on our team right now that you're not going to have Tennessee to kick around anymore."
Despite coming off a 5-7 season and the embarrassing loss to Kentucky, the Vols had the makings of a potentially special offense to go with a defense that returned 9 starters from a unit that ranked 28th nationally in total defense. But the decision to hire Sal Sunseri to replace defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox, who had left for the same title at the University of Washington, and the complete philosophy change Sunseri brought wit him proved to be a grave mistake.
UT's defense became historically bad as the season played out, becoming the first unit in SEC history to give up 35-plus points in seven consecutive conference games and an all-time league worst 43.3 points to SEC opponents with one game remaining.
The end came after Saturday's embarrassing loss at Vanderbilt, the Vols' 14th loss to an SEC foe in their last 15 games, leaving Dooley's conference record at 4-19 overall, the worst three-year period in UT history. All that's left now, even after Dooley's firing, is to beat Kentucky to avoid the program's first 0-8 league finish.
Stephen has covered local sports in the tri-state area for more than 20 years, starting at the News-Free Press as a 19-year-old reporter. He has been with the Times Free Press since its inception and has been an assistant sports editor since 2005. Stephen is among the most decorated writers in the TFP’s newsroom, winning numerous state, regional and national writing awards. He was named one of the top 10 sports writers in the nation ...