"I like Derek Dooley. I think he's a good person, and I think he's a pretty good coach. It just didn't work out, and I don't know how else you can say it. They were in I don't know how many ballgames this year, but somehow or another they found a way to lose them."
- South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier
South Carolina's Steve Spurrier, Alabama's Nick Saban and Georgia's Mark Richt are three of the most successful Southeastern Conference football coaches of this generation.
They didn't do Derek Dooley any favors.
Dooley was fired Sunday before he could finish three full seasons guiding Tennessee. He had a 15-21 overall record and an abysmal 4-19 league mark, with Spurrier, Saban and Richt responsible for nine of his SEC losses.
Saban's Crimson Tide beat the Dooley-coached Volunteers three straight times by 31 points, but Tennessee this season lost a 51-44 slugfest at Georgia and a 38-35 heartbreaker at South Carolina.
"It's an unfortunate part of our business, but we all understand it," Spurrier said Sunday. "I like Derek Dooley. I think he's a good person, and I think he's a pretty good coach. It just didn't work out, and I don't know how else you can say it. They were in I don't know how many ballgames this year, but somehow or another they found a way to lose them.
"He very easily could have beaten us and could have beaten Georgia. I think they were leading Florida in the third or fourth quarter, but for whatever reason it just didn't work out."
Dooley also lost to Florida all three seasons, once to Urban Meyer and twice to current Gators coach Will Muschamp. The Vols have dropped eight consecutive games against Florida and have lost six straight to Alabama and three to both Georgia and South Carolina.
The only SEC teams Dooley had winning records against were Ole Miss (1-0) and Vanderbilt (2-1), which thumped the Vols 41-18 Saturday night in Nashville. He went 1-1 against Kentucky.
"We all know there are outstanding coaches who have this happen to them from time to time," Richt said. "I can recall Tony Dungy getting let go at Tampa Bay, and he ends up a Super Bowl champ not too long after that with the Colts. I'm sorry for Derek and his family and everyone who is dealing with it.
"He's a highly intelligent person and he's a tremendous coach, and I know he's going to land on his feet."
When Spurrier coached Florida to six SEC titles from 1990 to 2001, Tennessee was his biggest nemesis. The Vols lost 19 league games during Spurrier's 12 seasons in Gainesville, which matches the number of Tennessee's SEC setbacks under Dooley.
"It can happen to any program," Spurrier said. "The sun doesn't always shine on the same dog all the time, as we know. I think Tennessee is a very good coaching job with the huge stadium, tradition and everything they've got there, but Tennessee has got to recruit pretty much all over the nation. They've got to get players from their home-state areas, and it seems like in the last 10 or 20 years, other home states are getting their programs up to where the kids will not leave.
"I think that's a little different now than it was several years ago, because Tennessee used to really sign a bunch of good players out of Florida and out of South Carolina. We've been getting a lot of the best ones to come here, so maybe it's not as easy of a job as it was 10 or 20 years ago."