Wiedmer: Tennessee Vols' task 'just the way it is'

photo UT coach Derek Dooley

KNOXVILLE -- Tennessee football coach Derek Dooley could have drawn on anybody to make his point Monday afternoon. Gen. George Patton, Ghandi, Homer Simpson. Anybody.

He ultimately chose musician Bruce Hornsby, a Virginia-born piano player and songwriter who might best be described as the Aristocratic South's answer to Billy Joel.

"Like Bruce Hornsby and the Range, that's just the way it is," Dooley said in describing the criticism heaped on first-year defensive coordinator Sal Sunseri.

That's just the way it is.

Twenty-six years have passed since Hornsby had his biggest hit with "The Way It Is," which actually has nothing to do with the Volunteers' defensive woes to date but perhaps much to do with the view the Big Orange Nation should take with this fundamentally flawed yet hugely entertaining team.

These Vols are going to score a gazillion points and give back at least almost that many. That's just the way it is.

But will it remain that way? Can it remain that way and Dooley remain in charge?

These are testy times throughout the Southeastern Conference, where no fewer than four of the league's 14 teams may have new football coaches this time next year.

Kentucky's job is officially open after the Wildcats parted company with third-year coach Joker Phillips, who will finish out the season -- his final game to be played against the Vols in Knoxville on Nov. 24.

But many in the Big Orange Nation seem to be hoping Dooley's final turn in his orange slacks will come that same day. A state away, Auburn fans clearly have lost patience with fourth-year boss Gene Chizik, despite his national championship run in 2010.

And John L. Smith already was on a one-year contract at Arkansas before the Razorbacks started out 1-4 after a preseason ranking in the top 10.

Of those four programs, the Tennessee and Auburn jobs would appear to be the most coveted from the outside if either comes open. Should they both open, a coach such as Louisville's Charlie Strong -- though an Arkansas native -- would surely have an interesting dilemma.

Both programs have won national championships in the past 15 seasons. Both have made multiple appearances in the SEC title game in that time. Each has wonderful facilities and a passionate fan base.

So which would you choose? Would you go with Tennessee, which arguably has better facilities, more money and the not-so-little advantage of not being overshadowed by Alabama and Nick Saban?

Or do you choose Auburn, which has a more fertile recruiting base, arguably a more reasonable fan base but the Moby Dick-sized challenge of Saban and the Crimson Tide?

Moreover, were either Auburn or UT to pull the plug on its current coach, would the other join in if only not to be left out in the cold with the man it really wants to guide its program?

In the end, Auburn and UT may choose the reasonable solution of keeping Chizik and Dooley around for at least one more autumn -- Chizik because the guy pushed all the right buttons in winning it all two years ago; Dooley because however horrid that defense, this is a better team than last year's model.

Beyond that, as the Vols' coach said Monday of the come-from-behind victory over Troy last weekend: "What I'm most proud of is this team has stayed so together. The reason we won is because of the chemistry we have."

Going forward, that shouldn't be ignored. That can't be ignored. Whatever anyone thinks of UT's 4-5 record, the mess Dooley inherited can't be overstated. Nor can the difficulty of his schedule to date, which has been brutal.

And given that, as well as the constant presence of rumors regarding their coach's future, to witness the chemistry within this Big Orange bunch through so much adversity says much about the players and the man who leads them.

To more closely study the lyrics to Hornsby's "The Way It Is" is to see a surprising ending.

"That's just the way it is, some things will never change," it begins, but then concludes, "But don't you believe them."

So the Vols could still change the course of their season, beginning Saturday against Missouri.

Of course, if things don't change soon at both UT and Auburn, don't believe for a minute that there won't eventually be a change at the top of both programs. That's just the way it is in the SEC, and that's one thing that will never change.

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com

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