Mark Wiedmer: Apathy may spur a change at Tennessee

Mark Wiedmer: Apathy may spur a change at Tennessee

November 1st, 2012 by Mark Wiedmer in Sports - Columns

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Over the past two or three days, at least a dozen Tennesseee football fans have asked me what it's going to take to get rid of Big Orange head coach Derek Dooley.

The simple answer, of course, is that UT athletic director Dave Hart has to decide that the Vols program is better off without Dooley than with him continuing at the helm for a fourth autumn.

But that doesn't mean the Big Orange Nation is powerless in this decision. They can stay home, beginning with this weekend's visit from Troy.

Nothing gets the attention of athletic directors more than than empty seats, which immediately translate to disappointing concessions and merchandise revenue, which ultimately translate to red ink.

And when your athletic department is already swimming in it, you reach a point in a coach's career -- however regrettable -- where it's cheaper to get rid of him than keep him.

Understand that this could become quite an expensive solution on the front end. Buying out Dooley and his staff will cost nearly $10 million. Then there's the cost of hiring a new staff, which could run as much as $20 million for the new head coach alone.

Then there's the hidden cost of renovating Gibbs Hall, the Vols' athletic dormitory. Built in 1962, it was last renovated in 1988, about the time Thompson-Boling Arena opened. Both the Boling Alley and Neyland have undergone massive renovations since then, and it would seem past time to do the same with Gibbs.

Hart hasn't tipped his hand publicly over the facility, but it's believed he views a renovated Gibbs or a new facility as a must if UT is to stay close to the lead in the Southeastern Conference's never-ending arms race.

Figure anywhere from $5 million for a renovation to $15 million for a completely new structure and you're now looking at somewhere in the neighborhood of $50 million to start over from scratch and give the new coach all the weapons that coach will believe he needs to return the Vols to elite status in the college football hierarchy.

To be fair, some of that money's going to be spent on the current staff if it's retained. So an additional outlay over the next four years might come closer to $25 to $30 million than $50 mil.

Considering the money the athletic department could potentially lose in season-ticket renewals if Dooley stays, keeping him or cutting him could be no worse than a wash in the short term.

Then again, some studies have shown Alabama has gained as much as $30 million or more in general giving since Nick Saban came aboard and has increased athletic department profits by nearly $15 million per year, a clear sign that sometimes you have to spend money to make money.

It's certainly a dilemma for the fans. They want to support their Vols, but in increasing numbers they want Dooley gone.

Of course, it's also tempting to insert a note of caution here, a be-careful-what-you-wish-for disclaimer, because for for every Saban or Jon Gruden there's also a Mike Price or Rich Rodriguez.

And even staying home isn't certain to force a change. More than 20,000 Kentucky fans have stayed away every home Saturday to protest Joker Phillips' continued employment at UK, yet Wildcats AD Mitch Barnhart called Joker, "One of my dearest friends," on Tuesday.

And Joker's signature win in less than three seasons of work was beating Dooley last November with a wideout at quarterback.

So maybe public disinterest will work and maybe it won't. But if you want Hart to really understand how much you want a coaching change, don't boo from your Neyland Stadium seats. Boo from your living room.