BATON ROUGE, La. - Derek Dooley began his first season at Tennessee with a losing record as a head coach.
Les Miles began his sixth season as LSU's coach just three years removed from a national championship.
Mark Richt began his 10th season as Georgia's coach, having never won fewer than eight games in a season.
If you look at the records, Dooley is a loser and Miles and Richt are winners. But if you polled the fans of all three schools after this weekend, Dooley might be the most popular of the three.
Football isn't always about the won-lost record. Sometimes, it's about perception.
The perception is Miles and Richt are on the way down, and Dooley is on the way up.
LSU is one of the most criticized 5-0 teams you will ever see. Most of that criticism is directed at Miles,
And it's justified.
You can't make $4 million a year and field an offense that's as misdirected and mistake-prone as this one. Worse yet, for all of Miles' highly rated recruiting classes, he has failed to sign or develop a competent quarterback.
He might be 5-0, but he's more apt to be fired than finish in the top 10.
At least LSU is winning. Georgia is losing.
Georgia's losses to South Carolina and Arkansas were tolerable for a team breaking in a new quarterback and playing without its best player, suspended wide receiver A.J. Green. But those losses were followed by losses to Mississippi State and Colorado.
The Bulldogs have never struggled like this under Richt. But too often they have delivered inexplicably dreadful performances, including a couple against the Vols.
Georgia just doesn't play with the same edge it had in the first half of the Richt era. And off-the-field issues (i.e., player arrests) have further contributed to the negative perception of the program.
Now, the Bulldogs are on a four-game losing streak. And Saturday's game with UT is no longer one they are merely expected to win. It's a must win.
Dooley hasn't accomplished anything comparable to Miles or Richt as a head coach. His only two victories in five games at UT were against UT Martin and UAB.
But fans throughout the conference are starting to see an upside in Dooley.
In each of UT's losses against more talented teams - Oregon, Florida and LSU - it came into the game motivated and prepared. That speaks volumes for the coaching staff.
Those three games also reflect the team's improvement, another testament to coaching. The Vols were blown out in the second half against Oregon, trailed Florida by only seven points early in the fourth quarter, and were within one bizarre play of upsetting LSU on Saturday afternoon in Tiger Stadium.
The records still say Dooley isn't in the same league with Miles or Richt. But there's a growing perception Dooley will be in the league after Miles and Richt are gone.
John Adams may be reached at 865-342-6284 or firstname.lastname@example.org.