Mark Wiedmer: It's time for Hart to talk about plan for UT football

Mark Wiedmer: It's time for Hart to talk about plan for UT football

November 12th, 2012 by Mark Wiedmer in Sports - Columns

Tennessee athletic director Dave Hart

Photo by Associated Press/Times Free Press.

It's time for University of Tennessee athletic director Dave Hart to show the public why he's being paid $775,000 a year.

It's time for Hart to make a public statement about his Big Orange football program.

This isn't to say Hart shouldn't fire Volunteers football coach Derek Dooley today, if not sooner. Hart should do what he wants with Dooley.

But with multiple unnamed sources telling this newspaper and others on Sunday that Dooley's gone, Hart either needs to confirm those rumors, deny them or issue the generic non-denial denial: "As with all our coaches, I'll sit down with Coach Dooley at the end of the season and evaluate his performance."

And in fairness to the players, the coaches, even the fans, he needs to do it today.

This isn't to say Hart's lack of visibility and verbiage isn't shouting volumes about Dooley's future, or lack of one as the UT coach. But for $775,000 a year, the Big Orange Nation, the UT players and coaches and coaches' families deserve better.

Besides, the Vols have enough to worry about this weekend as they prepare for Vanderbilt.

Having failed to beat Missouri quarterback James Franklin last Saturday, they must now try to find a way to best Vanderbilt coach James Franklin -- no relation -- this Saturday night in Nashville.

To make matters worse in trying to put the come-from-ahead, four-overtime loss to the Tigers behind them, the Vols will no doubt notice the same black-and-gold color scheme on the Commodores that Mizzou wore.

They'll even run somewhat similar schemes, though Vanderbilt has had more success than the Tigers, the Commodores now 6-4 on the season and 4-3 in the league following Saturday night's victory at Ole Miss.

In fact, Vandy second-year coach James Franklin now has as many league wins this season as UT coach Derek Dooley has accumulated in his first three seasons (4-18).

Moreover, if Vanderbilt beats Tennessee for just the third time since 1982, the Commodores might even reach some New Year's Day bowl, since they'd stand 5-3 in league play.

To make the Commodores' triumph from 17 points down at Ole Miss even more impressive, their top offensive threat -- running back Zach Stacy -- was injured on VU's first offensive series.

So how did they overcome so many obstacles on the road?

"Really, it's a testament to what [Coach] Franklin said at halftime," VU quarterback Jordan Rodgers told the media afterward. "He said, 'This Vanderbilt team is a team that finds a way to fight through adversity. This Vanderbilt team is one that finds a way to win through the toughest of times.'"

In other words, at least through the season's first 10 games, the Commodores are the exact opposite of the Vols, who find ways to lose, either in tough times or easy ones, as was the case in Saturday's home meltdown against Mizzou.

Or as Dooley said: "We've lost four games on the last possession [Georgia, South Carolina, Mississippi State and Missouri]. It's hard."

And yet the UT players have yet to quit as they continue to publicly defend their coaches and support each other at every turn.

"It is what it is," said UT offensive lineman "Tiny" Richardson late Saturday afternoon. "We wanted to go 7-5 and now we really have to push to win these last two games [Vandy and at home against Kentucky on Nov. 24] to get to a bowl game. Our goal all year has been to get these seniors to a bowl game so for these next two weeks we just have to fight."

After losing for the fifth time in six weeks, you can't help but wonder how much fight the Vols players and coaches have left.

But at least they still show up each week to discuss their disappointments. If only their AD would follow suit.