Getting Tennessee back on top

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The dismissal of Derek Dooley as Tennessee's head football coach spurred a wide range of emotions among ex-Vols. They seem to agree on one point, however: It had to be done.

Terry Fair, an All-SEC cornerback at Tennessee in 1996 and '97 and first-round NFL Draft pick in '98, probably summed up the feelings of a lot of former players.

"I think Coach Dooley is a nice guy but, at the end of the day, it's results-driven," said Fair, who now co-hosts a three-hour weekday sports-talk show for Knoxville radio station WNOX. "After what we've been through the last two years and how things have gone down, it was time for a change ... time for some new motivation. I think these players deserve better. I think you could see it each and every week when they went to play."

Fair thinks Dooley's downfall can be traced to the fact he never totally connected with the players.

"He just wasn't able to get the guys to buy in from Day 1," Fair said. "And, as a head coach, that's what you've got to do: You have to get players to buy in. You have to get players to play above and beyond what they're capable of. The only way they can do that is to have total belief in their coaches, and it just didn't seem that we had that throughout his tenure."

Legendary Vol quarterback Dewey "Swamp Rat" Warren agreed, noting: "There was a separation among the players this year. I think some had respect for Dooley and some didn't."

One who didn't, he believes, was Tennessee's starting quarterback.

"We need a coach that won't take no crap from nobody, that won't let Tyler Bray get away with his antics," Warren said. "It's not about him; it's about the team. Could you see me doing that stuff with (former Vol head coach) Doug Dickey? No way."

Warren believes Dooley's failure to instill proper discipline was a key reason his three seasons on The Hill produced a 16-21 overall record and a 5-19 SEC mark.

"You've got to do three things — block, tackle and have discipline. We had one of them: We blocked," Warren said. "We didn't tackle well and we didn't have discipline. Our guys didn't even know where to line up. You've got to put that on the coaches. It starts at the top and filters down.

"I didn't understand the hire — Derek coming from a losing program — but I was behind him and stayed with him as long as I could stay with him ... till right there at the end. It just didn't work out."

Actually, things worked out quite well on offense. Dooley's final Tennessee squad averaged 36.2 points per game. Unfortunately for the boss, the 2012 Vols allowed 35.7 points per game under first-year defensive coordinator Sal Sunseri.

"Derek came here with the right idea to turn it around but the hires on the defensive staff just didn't work," Warren said. "Certainly, a change had to be made. Offensively, we played great. When you score 37 or 38 points a game you ought to win."

Apparently, three years directing Louisiana Tech of the non-BCS Western Athletic Conference did not adequately prepare Dooley for the rigors of competing in the rugged SEC.

"I thought Derek maybe got in over his head a little bit," Warren said. "You're only as good as the people around you; that's true in any business. I like Coach Sal (Sunseri) but he had never been a coordinator in a league like the SEC. This was a pivotal year for Dooley, so to try and run a 3-4 without Alabama's talent was tough. Heck, our secondary never knew all year where to line up."

Erik Ainge, who quarterbacked Tennessee to SEC East titles in 2004 and 2007, now hosts a four-hour sports-talk show weekday mornings on Knoxville radio station WVLZ. He is amazed by the depths Vol football reached under Dooley's watch.

"I thought it was probably the lowest point in recent Tennessee football history," Ainge said. "He was a pretty poor manager of the game and relationships. I didn't think he did a very good job. I will say this: What he came into was a pretty poor situation. A lot of people chose not to take the job because they knew the roster was depleted. Did Dooley make it worse? No. But he didn't make it better."

Although Dooley improved Tennessee's talent level a bit, the upgrade never showed up in the won-lost record.

"He got some good players in but they were coached poorly," Ainge said. "I hope we can get some good recruits in and teach them how to win. In college you either learn how to win or learn how to lose. Right now we've had coaches breeding bad habits — teaching kids how to lose."

So, what does Tennessee need in its next head coach?

"I want somebody that's going to come in here and be hard-nosed, like a John Chavis," Warren said. "His defense was hard-nosed. They got after you when he was here, and they get after you at LSU.

"I want somebody that makes you work hard and commands respect. This hire has got to be more than a bunt. It's got to be a triple or home run. I want a guy with a proven record that can get out and recruit. When I read that article about the Chattanooga high school coaches not knowing who Dooley was that upset me. I want somebody to get Tennessee back where it belongs."

Fair says the new hire must be able to motivate and relate to his players.

"I think Tennessee has got to go big on this one," he said. "They've got to get a guy that these kids believe in, first and foremost. From that first meeting, he's got to get these kids to buy in Day 1. That's when you know you've got a great coach on board. I'm not saying it's going to be easy but if he's able to do that it's not going to be an uphill battle like we've seen the last couple of years.

"He's got to be a leader of young men and got to be a guy with a vision for the University of Tennessee football program. He's got to be a great motivator and a great communicator. A head coach is only as good as his staff, so he has to surround himself with a great staff."

Ainge also hopes his alma mater hires an established head man.

"I think it would be a guy with a winning record as a head coach," he said. "We need a proven winner who kids will look up to. When he says 'This is what we need to do to win the game,' they'll know he knows what he's talking about. When Dooley said 'We're going to do this to win the game' kids didn't believe him because he'd never won anything."

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