Wiedmer: UT and MNF should switch employees

Wiedmer: UT and MNF should switch employees

November 19th, 2012 by Mark Wiedmer in Sports - Columns

Vols T logo

Vols T logo

None of us should enjoy watching a single one of our fellow citizens lose a job these days. Especially four days from Thanksgiving. Even when the pink slip comes with a $5 million parachute to keep the ousted and his family warm, dry, well-fed and dressed in all the orange pants they care to buy for the rest of their lives, it still stinks.

So while University of Tennessee athletics director Dave Hart is to be saluted today for doing what he had to do when he fired Vols football coach Derek Dooley on Sunday, his former coach is now without a job and his football team is without a permanent coach.

But there is a solution to this that would hugely benefit both UT and Dooley, while increasing the unemployment figures by exactly zero.


Simply convince ESPN's Monday Night Football production to swap current color commentator Jon Gruden for Dooley.

Gruden to the Vols is obvious. Just ask anyone who considers themselves a member of the Big Orange Nation. According to one online poll from Sunday, 53 percent of the nearly 7,000 respondents were pushing for the former UT grad assistant, who later coached Tampa Bay to a Super Bowl crown.

The second choice? Oklahoma's Bob Stoops, a distant, distant pick of just 10 percent of the voters, despite owning one BCS title and three other appearaces in the national title game.

And Gruden's fondness for UT is well-documented. He met his wife Cindy -- then a UT cheerleader -- in K-town. He comes back to East Tennessee every summer to visit in-laws and, in his words, "Plant a tree to help the environment." He still loves the ribeyes at Ye Olde Steak House.

One can't help but question the intelligence of a 49-year-old man who would rather work a grueling 12 months a year for $5 million rather than a fairly cushy seven months or so for $4 mil at Monday Night Football, if Hart can convince Coach Chucky that the UT gig is child's play next to a possible return to the NFL, the Vols will have landed the biggest free-swimming fish in coaching's open sea.

As for Dooley, MNF could do worse -- I don't want to get off on a rant here but does anyone remember comedian Dennis Miller? -- than hire a bright, glib, witty, well-read, attractive former NFL assistant to team with Mike Tirico and ESPN's peripheral cast of thousands.

Heck, Dooley's such a TV trooper that he did his weekly television show on Sunday morning after learning he'd been fired.

And given his penchant for keeping his timeouts in his orange pants' pockets, maybe MNF games could start wrapping up closer to three hours than four.

This is not to say that neither Hart nor Dooley need Plan Bs in their futures. Much as Gruden would blow away his hiring press conference and likely set single-day season-ticket sales records, he must also wince over at least a few of Hart's observations regarding the current state of the Big Orange football program.

He said, "This is not what I wanted, and this is not what we needed relative to stability."

He added that the program was, "at a crossroads."

Hart also said, "We have a long way to go to get back to where we need to be."

But it's also the Southeastern Conference, which Hart is counting on to lure someone of note to draw up touchdown plays to reach Neyland Stadium's famed checkerboard end zones.

"If you're a competitor and you want to prove your worth," he said, "come to the Southeastern Conference. Come to the University of Tennessee."

Gruden appreciates that pull better than most. And with his three children all nearly grown, he could easily return to the sideline with hopes of becoming only the third coach in history -- the other two being Jimmy Johnson and Barry Switzer -- to win both a collegiate title and Super Bowl crown.

But let's say Gruden balks. Who then? One website trumpeted former coach Phillip Fulmer on Sunday and absence has surely made Big Orange hearts grow fonder of the national championship-winning coach the school ran off after 16 seasons in 2008.

Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher has a past working relationship with Hart. Louisville's Charlie Strong is the flavor of the month. You need only look to Vanderbilt's 41-18 thumping of the Vols on Saturday to know James Franklin can coach. TCU's Gary Patterson also has a nice resume.

And Hart's right that the job is a tough one. One Twitter contributor late Saturday even likened Dooley's three seasons to an (NCAA) death penalty, noting that his 1-14 league mark (to date) and two straight bowl-less seasons his final two years were almost worse than the death penalty.

It is an argument with merit. It is also why the next coach, whoever he is, should get a lengthy honeymoon rather than the "short stick" that both Fulmer and Hart have said was handed to Dooley.

That said, it is becoming increasingly clear that the only way to instantly and dramatically improve the UT football environment is for Hart to find a way to plant Gruden in the head coach's office as soon as possible.

Or at the very least make him say no before moving on to Plan B.