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

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

November 5th, 2012 by Mark Wiedmer in Sportscolumns

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.