Alright, Tennessee got beat by a mediocre Georgia team. I get it. It sucks. We suck. Tennessee fans live with another disappointment in the long line of recent disappointments. But we all should have learned by now: NEVER stray too far from the BOC…that’s Big Orange Cup (groin protector), for those wondering. When things start looking good, always reach for the BOC.
Look, I was just as angry (I would argue angrier) as every other Vol fan Saturday night. I was still angry Sunday, and even Monday. But on Monday evening, I had a thought. I got to thinking about Barbara Dooley’s rant about freshmen. Dooley played 17 freshmen in 2010. 14 more this year have played. Then I got to thinking about Dooley’s current recruiting class. According to Rivals, out of 18 committed, Dooley has signed 9 4-star guys. That’s pretty good. In 2011, 12 out of the 27 recruits Dooley signed were 4-star guys. The 2010 class included 5-star Da’Rick Rogers, and 12 more 4-stars. Why am I pointing out 4-star guys? If you look across any SEC team (Ole Miss, Vanderbilt, and Kentucky excluded), you’ll see a roster and depth chart littered with 4-star guys. The base talent in the SEC is 4-star talent.
Totaling up Dooley’s recruits, and assuming the current 18 commits don’t defect before February, he has brought in 34 4-star or higher players. To put that into perspective, when Dooley walked in the door back in 2010, there were 13 guys on Tennessee’s roster 4-stars or higher.
You read that right, and I researched it right. Per Rivals, the only 4-star players on Tennessee’s roster were Eric Gordon, Jerod Askew, JerQuari Schofield, David Oku, Darren Myles, Marsalis Teague, Marlon Walls, Gerald Jones, Jarrod Shaw, Chris Walker, and Gerald Williams. Janzen Jackson and Ben Martin were both 5-star guys. Going into Dooley’s 2nd season, how many of those guys were still on the roster? 4 – JerQuari Schofield, Marlon Walls, Marsalis Teague and Ben Martin.
So while Dan Mullen, Gene Chizik, Nick Saban, Les Miles, Bobby Petrino, and Urban Meyer all had excellent second seasons, not one of them inherited anything remotely close to the talent-depleted roster Derek Dooley did. When other coaches in the SEC go out and recruit impact players, they have a veteran roster already stocked with capable talent.
Whether Tennessee fans will, or ever will, admit to Knoxville being a dumpster (mattress?) fire in January 2010, it’s true. Dooley walked in carrying a fire hose, not a magic wand. He was given an enormous task, and we as fans think it’s realistic for this team to compete in the SEC? Of course we do! We’re called fanatics for a reason.
I fell for it, too. The optimism swirling around the offense was too tantalizing. The 2nd year under the same defensive coordinator was exciting. I didn’t believe in the “we have no senior leadership” argument. I just assumed the coaching staff provides the leadership, but then I looked something else up. Tennessee hasn’t won more than 7 games in a season since 2007. Only 8 current players (CJ Fleming, Art Evans, Daryl Vereen, Shane Reveiz, Nick Guess, Anthony Anderson, Jake Storey, & Ben Martin) were on the team in 2007, and 3 of them are walk-ons. Only 8 current players know what it’s like to win more than 7 games at Tennessee. Unreal. When I say these players don’t know how to win, I mean exactly that. The players have lost the expectation of beating any team they play.
This weekend is a perfect example. In the past, Tennessee players, coaches, and fans would RELISH the idea of the #1 team in the nation coming into Neyland. Spirits would be high and people would be excited about the chance to knock off number 1. But not anymore; those days are gone for now. I believe they’ll be back, but right now it’s just not there. Instead of talking about beating LSU, fans and media are talking about how Matt Simms will get destroyed, how the defense will get shredded, and how the special teams will collapse. Worst of all, we’re talking about getting rid of Derek Dooley and the temperature of his office chair.
Listen folks, I’m not clamoring for or against Derek Dooley. He may lead Tennessee back to glory, but he may also not be the right guy – we just don’t know. I’ll tell you this, firing Derek Dooley is NOT the answer, and that’s for damn sure. He needs time to get a solid, experienced talent base on the field. At least the 2011 Tennessee team doesn’t quit. When they get hit in the mouth, they’re slow to react, but they don’t roll over and die.
Tennessee has issues, and most of them are glaring. The defense can’t seem to get off the field on 3rd down, the secondary doesn’t know how to keep the play in front of them, we can’t get pressure on the opposing QB, and we don’t have the cover skills to blitz anyone. On offense, we can’t run the ball at all and we get no forward push from the offensive line. I won't even go into the injury situation. We're all aware of it.
But enough with all the negatives, just look at the good things Derek Dooley has done. Tennessee has structure and stability. Players, former and current, and recruits are fully embracing the Vol For Life program. The recruiting Dooley has done speaks for itself. The off-the-field issues have virtually ceased in the last two years. Tyler Bray’s development, along with Justin Hunter and Da’Rick Rogers, has pumped an insane amount of enthusiasm into the program. The talent is coming, but you can only bring in 25 at a time. Before the 2010 recruits joined the team, there were 49 non-walk-on players still on the football team, and 4 of those were 2-star players. In case you didn’t know, 49 players makes up basically 2 years of recruiting. Absolutely brutal.
Dooley’s mission right now is to recruit solid kids, athletically and academically. He needs to show improvement, and he needs to be competitive. Most of all, he needs to teach these kids that we are Tennessee, and we believe in winning. No matter who we play, or when we play them, we are Tennessee. And we are SO close. Derek Dooley is closing the talent gap, and it’s only a matter of time before we shatter this glass ceiling holding us down. Bring the talent base back from the basement with Vantucky and Ole Mess, and then you start landing immediate impact players. Just look at South Carolina's progress improvement over the last 6 years. It took Steve Spurrier 5 years to get South Carolina to Atlanta, and I would argue Tennessee's talent level was either on par with or worse in January 2010 than South Carolina's was in 2005.
Derek Dooley is laying a foundation, one brick, one 4-star recruit at a time, basically from the ground up. He’s restocking the cupboard, and I just hope he’s here long enough to use it.