Wiedmer: Vanderbilt may have kicked Dooley out

Wiedmer: Vanderbilt may have kicked Dooley out

November 18th, 2012 by Mark Wiedmer in Sportscolumns

Tennessee coach Derek Dooley walks off the field after his team's loss to Vanderbilt.

Photo by Patrick Smith/Times Free Press.

NASHVILLE - Apparently Tennessee doesn't always kick the (heck) out of Vanderbilt, no matter how loudly Volunteers coach Derek Dooley proclaimed that to be true a year ago.

In what may prove to be his final game as Big Orange boss, Dooley watched the Commodores crush the Big Orange 41-18 before a crowd of 40,350 at Vanderbilt Stadium on Saturday night.

That outcome's concrete impact is that the Vols will finish with a losing record for the third straight season and miss out on a bowl for the second straight year.

But Dooley's dismissal now almost is as certain, perhaps to be announced as early as today, the argument no longer valid that firing Dooley could adversely impact the players' goal for a bowl.

"That's not my call," Dooley said when asked about his future.

True enough. But the only way to avoid that dreaded call from UT athletic director Dave Hart might be to lose his cell phone, unplug his land line and hide in the woods.

After all, you'd have to go back to 1954 to find a VU victory this voluminous in this 106-year-old rivalry.

If this is how much the Vols want their coach to keep his job, there's no choice but to ditch Dooley.

This wasn't just Revenge of the Nerds. This was Bill Gates knocking out Mike Tyson in the opening round of a boxing match. A Volvo blowing the doors off a Ferrari. A kid who actually needs those black-rimmed glasses whipping Vols receiver Cordarrelle Patterson -- who wore black glasses frames without lenses to the Georgia postgame news conference -- in a 100-yard dash while running backward.

And on any night but Saturday, the attention surely should have frozen on these Commodores. They now stand a stunning 7-4 under second-year coach James Franklin, who just might be worth an interview by Hart, assuming Jon Gruden hasn't yet accepted the job.

Like Dooley, Franklin went 6-7 at VU his first season after a bowl loss. Unlike Dooley, he's obviously improved his team. And just in case anyone thinks the Vols are a cinch to avenge last year's loss to Kentucky this week, Vanderbilt beat UK 40-0 a couple of weeks ago.

Tennessee's better than the Wildcats, but not much.

For that matter, if the Commodores beat Wake Forest this week and Southern Cal loses to Notre Dame, Franklin will have a better record in his second season at Vandy than former UT coach Lane Kiffin will have in his third with the Trojans. And USC began the season as the nation's No. 1 team.

Of course, it didn't take long Saturday night for anyone to believe Vanderbilt was about to defeat Tennessee in the Music City for the first time since 1982.

Try the opening kickoff. The Commodores fumbled it. The ball bounced at least 5 yards, taking the kind of screwy hop that in past years almost certainly would have become a UT recovery and soon after a Big Orange touchdown. Then a quick parade to the Vanderbilt Stadium exits for all those wearing VU black and gold. Especially if they had Grand Ol' Opry tickets.

But this wasn't any of those years. The Commodores recovered this one. Then VU quarterback Jordan Rodgers hooked up with running back Zac Stacy for a 72-yard gain. Vandy settled for a field goal but by halftime still led by three.

And that didn't begin to tell the story of a first half in which Dooley finally exerted some meaningful discipline on quarterback Tyler Bray for the first time all season.

After Bray threw an interception five minutes into the second quarter, Dooley benched him in favor of sophomore Justin Worley, who soon threw his own interception.

Other than the fact that this coaching move probably should have been executed at least a month ago, you couldn't help but wonder what Dooley was thinking.

Had his crack legal mind decided that if the Vols lost this one with Worley at quarterback because he'd benched Bray that Hart might be less than 1,000 percent inclined to fire him?

Knowing Bray entered the night needing just 604 passing yards in his final two regular-season games to surpass Peyton Manning's record of 3,819 aerial yards in 1997 for the best one-season mark in UT history, was this an attempt to lock down Manning's mark for at least one more autumn?

Or did he merely want to give the coach who replaces him some recent game-action footage of Worley, just in case Bray decides to take his arm to the NFL next season?

Whatever the reason, Dooley's resolve lasted less than a quarter. Bray returned to the field in the third period and quickly threw an interception that led to a Commodores touchdown and a 27-10 VU lead.

The rout was on, soon swelling to 41-10 before a late UT score.

"I thought we might lose two or three [all year]," Bray said after the Vols fell to 4-7 overall and 0-7 in the SEC. "Instead, we're getting our butts kicked. So it's not fun."

But at least it's one Saturday from being over.

Too bad it's only a rumor that when Franklin and Dooley embraced afterward, Franklin said, "Thanks for not kicking the [heck] out of us this year."