The sports topic of discussion across the state has been the status of Derek Dooley.
Reports from multiple people in and around the program have said that Dooley's time as the Volunteers' football coach is short. I believe that, and I believe that it will happen in eight days -- unless the Vols lose tonight, and then it will be sooner. Much sooner.
The conjecture and debate can vary widely, and whether you believe Dooley deserves more time or deserves a pink slip on the way to Vanderbilt Stadium, that's your right as a Vols fan. Opinions are a valuable part of the passion that is college football, and passionate views are the lifeblood of the sport.
Aside from opinions, though, the facts are less than flattering.
Here's what we know: Tennessee has lost 180 Southeastern Conference football games ever; Dooley's teams have lost 18 of them. The Vols have been playing SEC football since 1933, which means Dooley has accounted for 10 percent of the program's SEC defeats in less than 4 percent of the school's SEC seasons. Talk about overachieving at underachieving.
Here's what else we know: Since we reported in Monday's paper that Dooley's future at UT is grim, I've been told more and more frequently by people with various ties to the program that there's no way for Dooley to salvage his gig. So it goes.
I firmly believe that the decision to cut bait has been made and the only reason that it has not been announced is to try to give the players every chance to beat Vandy today and keep alive any bowl chances. In truth, after the meltdowns that were Phillip Fulmer's firing -- and the immediate loss to Wyoming in 2008 -- and the brutal timing that was then-athletic director Mike Hamilton saying the "jury is out" on Bruce Pearl two days before a biblical whipping by Michigan in the NCAA tournament, this seems to be the fairest move to all involved. Kudos to current AD Dave Hart and his staff for actually thinking about the players.
And that's how it should be, because the fact that Tennessee -- a four-point underdog to the Commodores -- needs every emotional edge to try to top Vandy to become bowl eligible is every bit as damning for Dooley as the river of unflattering numbers on his resume.
So if the decision has been made -- and we believe it has -- is this the time to look forward or look back? Let's try to answer the two main questions that have ensnared the once-proud program in a cloud of apathetic melancholy so thick it has made fall Saturdays a good day for blowing leaves, cutting the grass or about anything besides watching the Vols.
How did it get this bad? The reasons are numerous. Defections by players and staff. Losses snatched from the jaws of victory. Trouble off the field. Take your pick. Mainly, though, the culprit is momentum. Momentum -- good or bad -- is powerful, and these Vols are riding a world-bending trip of bad momentum.
Whom do we blame? There's the money ball, right? Wow. Putting it out there on who gets the blame, well, there are a multitude of mistakes and major bad decisions that have snowballed into this. And this is dreadful: UT is 1-13 in its last 14 SEC games, and the one win was in overtime at home against Vandy that set off an over-the-top locker-room celebration that serves as the high-water point and possibly the low-water point of the Dooley era. The Vols are a four-point underdog to Vandy, for crying out loud, so no one person can carry the entire weight of this landslide.
Mike Hamilton: Not necessarily for firing Fulmer -- there was a lot of background drama there, including some power plays within the department -- but for the complete decline during his watch. Plus, whether UT would be good, great or on probation (and maybe parts of each) if Kiffin stayed, the sinfully low buyout and the poor handling of the entire process made a really bad situation much worse.
Lane Kiffin: Not for leaving for USC; hey, that was his dream job, and if your dream job comes calling, you listen. Period. We all would listen. No, even if Kiffin had stayed, how much of that "dazzling" recruiting class is still around -- Zach Rogers may be the best Kiffin recruit still standing -- and if the Bryce Browns and Janzen Jacksons had stayed, how long would the probation that was extended Friday have been?
Nick Saban: Look around. Other than the Cam Newton blip on Auburn's radar and the rock star that is Steve Spurrier, what SEC program is better today than it was before Lord Sabanator went to Alabama? The doldrums that have invaded the 865 area code are present across the league, folks.
Dooley: This has been bad. Really bad. And yes, Dooley has not gotten a single good break other than Cordarrelle Patterson picking UT. The thing we likely did not give enough attention, credence, warning, what have you: That so many assistants left before this season. And they can have some blame, too.
But sooner rather than later, UT fans won't have Dooley to blame anymore.