Derek Dooley has won one of his last 12 SEC games, at home against Vanderbilt in overtime. Discontent is palpable. Tennessee is a program that can win a BCS title with the right coach. Much of the athletic department’s current financial difficulties are a product of not having that right coach. Barring an improbable turn, he won’t be coaching Tennessee next season. That could be announced as soon as next week after a South Carolina loss.
Go Vols Xtra has the details of Dooley’s buyout. It’s not cheap, but it won’t be an impediment. There are no lump sum payments. Tennessee will owe Derek Dooley $5 million over four years and offensive coordinator Jim Chaney $645,000 through 2013. Beyond that the obligations are conditional. There are $3.7 million in total payments, a significant portion of that going to defensive coordinator Sal Sunseri, owed $1.84 million through 2015. Much of that could be defrayed by those assistants finding new jobs.
The crucial decision for Tennessee will be Dooley’s replacement. Gruden’s name has been popping up with optimistic media members, though the supporting arguments about Gruden’s wife being a Tennessee grad and the idea being exciting seem about as flimsy as past rumors linking him to openings at Florida and Miami (Gruden already lives in Florida, you guys) and at Michigan and Ohio State (He’s from Northern Ohio, you guys).
Even if Tennessee wants him and he wants to return to coaching in college, suggesting Gruden will be Tennessee’s Nick Saban may be a little strong. Saban came from the NFL, but was a proven commodity in college. He had won a BCS title at LSU. He had built Michigan State into a 10-win program. Gruden is an NFL coach. He has one year of FBS experience, as a WR coach for Pitt in 1991. He has been playing a caricature of himself on TV since 2008. If he does pan out, how long before he’s intrigued by another NFL job?
Tennessee has a new AD Dave Hart, so they may eschew the previous pattern of hiring Parker Executive Search firm and ending up with a Cuonzo Martin or Derek Dooley type. A direction to look might be Hart’s former school, Alabama. If Hart can lure Tide defensive coordinator Kirby Smart with “the right opportunity,” that could allow Tennessee to keep Smart’s former colleague Sunseri and some of his defensive staff. Smart won’t make a Gruden splash, but he’s one of college football’s hottest head coaching prospects and has a much firmer foundation in SEC football.
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