Hey gang, if you want in the mailbag this week we need it ASAP (work conference on Friday has us scrambling to work ahead).
As for today, well, there's a ton going on but all anyone wants to discuss is Derek Dooley. We finally can understand Jan Brady's frustration with everyone's fascination of her older sister before she finally let it loose with, "Marcia, Marcia, Marcia!" We have "Derek, Derek, Derek," going on right now. In fact, let's empty the view pot.
From the "Talks too much" studios, here we go...
Rumor meltdown mode
The background noise surrounding the University of Tennessee football program right now is deafening. It's overwhelming and everywhere and endless.
It's gotten so far over the top that when we asked our UT beat ace Downtown Patrick Brown about the wildfire reports that Jon Gruden was going to be the Vols next coach, Brown's response was pretty comical.
"I know," he said, the sarcasm tangible through the phone and the 120 miles between Highway 27 and the 865. "I've even heard that it's such a done deal that if the Vols lose at South Carolina, they may actually go ahead and fire Gruden too."
That made us laugh.
Let's break down the situation:
Is Dooley in trouble? Absolutely.
Is UT concerned about the cost of a buy-out? Possibly, but that's not the deciding factor here. If needed UT will find the money. Heck, there's eight figures in the ashtray of Big Jim Haslam's pick-up truck.
Have the Vols talked to Gruden? Maybe. Or maybe not.
Are there any actual UT officals talking? Nope.
Are there a ton of UT people claiming that they know this dude or that gal and they know that UT bigwig X had lunch/dinner/drinks/snacks/nap time/whatever with Gruden or Gruden's people? You bet, and there are too many to count.
Are there a slew of stories, whispers, accounts and second-, third- and even fourth-handed retellings of the same take being bandied about? For sure. (In fact, looking around the chat rooms, some of the folks were just cutting and pasting stuff on different boards and new forums. It became kind of humorous.)
Before we get to the speculation, let us be clear: If Gruden is on board you make the move this morning. Heck, if Gruden's on board, you make the move now. Our No. 1 rule of firing coaches is you best be able to answer the following question: "Who are you going to get that is better?" Gruden is better. Period.
That said, the rest of this stuff — the twitter-mania, the chat room dissertations, the social media machinations — is as solid as three-day-old Jell-O. Period.
And while this rumors are at least more believable than the "Peyton's coming back to be the head coach" last year, they are just that — rumors.
"In fact, we heard from a guy that cleans Haslam's pool that there was an ESPN van in the parking lot of the Haslam compound on Tuesday, and that guy was there for like three hours. And when he came out, someone on the radio said that John Chavis was at the airport and that there was a car with a Denver Broncos tag circling Neyland Stadium.
That's right: Gruden's coming to Knoxville, and he's bringing Chavis back as his DC and Peyton's going to retire and coach quarterbacks. It's true."
It's rumors and dreams and hopes and... desperation.
And that a growing number of Johnny Vols Fans everywhere are willing to sacrifice Saturday at Columbia for even a chance to get Gruden tells us all we need to know that the setting on Dooley's seat has exceeded hot and moved to ludicrous speed. The argument for this crowd — one loss is better than another lost season — has filled our the last 36 hours and the pack-up Dooley messages have been clear, whether Gruden is the pick or not.
How did it get to this? Not the hot-seat stuff or the uncertainty about the future.
How did it get to this level of angst and anger?
Dooley is a good guy. And we realize that being a good guy is not a) part of the gig or b) part of the problem, but the overarching venom that has become the pro-Dooley pack-up-Dooley debate has grown exponentially in the last two days.
How? And better yet, why? Let's take a step back and take Gruden out of the equation (because as we said before and will say again, if Gruden's on board go get him; in fact that's true for every SEC team not named Alabama, South Carolina and maybe Florida, and if Florida gets Gruden, be the first to bid on Muschamp):
There are defined curves to the orb that is the current state of the Vols football program.
The pro-Dooley bunch sees that Dooley inherited a poo-poo platter that was way worse than even the most anti-Kiffin Johnny Vol Fan could have imagined. The Vols have been better against the league's upper crust this year. Former UT coach and proud UT alum Phillip Fulmer said as much to our ace columnist Mark Wiedmer on Thursday here http://www.timesfreepress.com/news/2012/oct/25/Mark-Wiedmer-Phillip-fulmer-still-loves-the-vols/. Fulmer even stressed the need for stability and continuity in the program. And he has a point.
The pack-up-Dooley crowd has numbers galore. You know them — 0-14 against ranked teams, 1-11 in the last 12 SEC games... — we know them, Dooley knows them, heck the 5-at-10's mom knows them (but she's pretty sports savvy). It's not pretty and there's a big chunk of Vols Nation that have had their fill. And no, the mob mentality does not get to rule, but if the guts of a fan base becomes frustrated to the point that attendance is down (it is), emotions are high (they are, and not in a good way) and the possiblity of apathy is on the horizon, well that's trouble.
Most of Johnny Vols Fans fall into one of the two categories above. There's the mixed-up minority in the middle that we covered Wednesday — the group that likes Dooley as a guy and agrees pitch and tone with Fulmer's stated desires of stability and continuity but is decidedly undecided on Dooley's coaching skills. If you think you're in that group, you've already made up your mind and you're in the pack-up-Dooley crowd whether you know it or not. You're just tired of the drama and the losing.
And that's understandable. The losing is magnified by the rolling success of everyone else in the SEC, especially Alabama. That makes the sting and the taunts more painful. That makes the likely coincidence of the Tide beating UT by 31 each of the last three years feel like Nick Saban naming his exact score and saying he's 31 points better no matter who's on the field. That makes it personal — rightly or wrongly.
Amid all the rumor and the speculation and the venom, please know this: As big a Johnny (blank) Fan as we all can be at times — and we can be — and no matter how much we care about our team and their success, we do not have more invested or care more about that team winning than the coaches and players. Period.
Fab 4 (plus one) picks
We've been distracted this week. Work has gotten in the way. Stupid work. The Dooley fiasco has gone from news to noise to an-all-consuming-roar-from-the-masses. Stupid fiascos.
This stuff has meant for the second consecutive week we have spent little time on our picks. We take great pride in our picks — last year we were 41-21-1 during the regular season last year and 57-30-2 after picking a slew of bowl games — and we're a better-than-respectable 27-13-2 so far this year.
Not unlike last week, we're cutting it close on time, so here are the three we know we like, and we'll be back later today with the rest in the comments. Hey, it happens:
La Tech minus-30 at New Mexico State: Yes, you read that line correctly. And yes, this is the first time we've ever picked a 30-point road favorite, especially one that has to travel half way across the country. Wait, why are we picking this one again? Oh yeah, because the Bulldogs score in flashes. Because the Bulldogs beat Idaho 70-28 last week — and it wasn't that close — and that's the same Idaho team that went to New Mexico State and won outright. Because the Bulldogs know they have to turn heads to get back among the Top 25, and you don't turn heads Sunday morning with 42-20 wins.
Western Kentucky minus-7 over Florida International: Trust us. We like the the over too, but believe the Hilltoppers are going to make it happen..
Northern Illinois minus 6.5 at Western Michigan: Huskies vs. Broncos. Live on the interwebs. Remember how we discussed you make picks on games that you like not necessarily picks on games you'd like to watch. Here's another example. Call it a hunch.
More to come...
EDITED THURSDAY AFTERNOON
Clemson minus-13 at Wake Forest: This is the rare game that we have talked ourselves into liking so we can have some action on Thursday night. Go play in the yard.
Ohio State even at Penn State: Bill O'Brien has done a whale of a job at PSU. He's overcome a world of obstacles and held together a program in the face of unprecedented challenges. What he has not done is beat a good offense. Ohio State has a good offense. Another reason to like this game: Ohio State started as a 4-point favorite and a huge amount of money moved the line to even because of the early week concerns on OSU QB Braxton Miller. Miller is fine, but the line has not overly adjusted because there is so much money on PSU. You're welcome.
Heavy and non-UT this and that
— The SEC media event is today in Birmingham. We're more excited about college hoops this year (and way more excited about the NBA) than normal. That probably has a lot to do with our college football team stinking outloud.
— Major props to the Giants and Pablo Sandoval for a uber-impressive Game 1 win on Wednesday night. Sandoval joined some elite company with three homers in three consecutive at-bats, including the first two off Detroit ace Justin Verlander. That said, we're not watching. Too much other stuff going on. Case in point: If you had the full complement of cable channels tonight and had the choice between the NFL game, the Clemson-Wake Forest football game, and Game 2 of the World Series, whatcha' watching?
— Warren Moon came out earlier this week and said the criticism on Cam Newton was in large part because he's a black quarterback. Uh, no. Hey, we're a big, Big, BIG Cam Newton fan and we believe he's going to be a very good-to-great player in the NFL for the better part of the next decade. And any criticism he gets right now is because he's playing poorly. And his play — and leadership — has been less than good whether he's black, white, green or polka-dotted. And can we please stop with the "he's being criticized because he's a black QB" routine. If that's the case, does Warren Moon think that RGIII is being praised "because he's a black quarterback" so far this season?
We're going multiple parts here today off the main lead in:
What do you think is going to happen this weekend...
— in Columbia, S.C., between the Vols and Gamecocks;
— in Jacksonville, Fla., between the Bulldogs and Gators;
— at Finley Stadium between the Mocs and Eagles;
— and for bonus points, what's going to happen Sunday in Knoxville (choices are a) nothing, BID-ness as usual and b) Dooley gets whacked).
Jay was named the Sports Editor of the Times Free Press in 2003 and started with the newspaper in May 2002 as the Deputy Sports Editor. He was born and raised in Smyrna, Ga., and graduated from Auburn University before starting his newspaper career in 1997 with the Newnan (Ga.) Times Herald. Stops in Clayton and Henry counties in Georgia and two years as the Sports Editor of the Marietta (Ga.) Daily Journal preceded Jay’s ...