If you are still puzzled by Derek Dooley’s spring math, I can help.
At the outset of spring football, the Tennessee coach pointed out this was Year One of his program. Astute followers of UT football distinctly remembered Dooley being on the job last year — hence, the confusion.
You’ve heard of “dog years.” These are “coach years.”
Dooley correctly ascertained the rebuilding job here was so monumental, one calendar year equated to two coaching years. So he dubbed his first season as Year Zero.
Such accounting is obviously very subjective. For example, new Vanderbilt coach James Franklin should have opened his first news conference with: “Welcome to Year Minus Two of our program.”
The fifth calendar year (assuming he has a fifth year) would officially begin Year Two of his program. By then, he could deal with the higher expectations — remaining in bowl contention until mid-November, perhaps.
No matter to what depths a program has descended, its fans invariably have great expectations for the second year. So it’s hardly surprising that many UT fans are optimistic about Dooley’s second season.
Last season is a big factor in those expectations. After a 2-6 start in which the Vols threatened to lose more games than any other team in school history, they won the last four games of the regular season and qualified for a bowl, which they also won if you subscribe to the antiquated theory that a game ends when there is no time remaining on the clock.
There’s another reason for second-year optimism. You only have to stroll through the SEC neighborhood to realize it.
Urban Meyer at Florida and Gene Chizik at Auburn each won a national championship in his second year on the job. And to think Auburn’s program was no better than the Vols’ a couple of years earlier.
Those are the best examples of a Year Two transformation. But almost every team in the conference can attest to recent success in a coach’s second year.
Nick Saban won an SEC championship in his second season at LSU and was 12-0 and playing for an SEC title in his second season at Alabama. Mark Richt was 13-1 and won a conference championship in his second season at Georgia.
Arkansas improved from 5-7 in 2008 to 8-5 in Bobby Petrino’s second season. Mississippi State went 9-4 last season, its second under Dan Mullen.
Steve Spurrier won eight games in his second season at South Carolina. So did Lou Holtz, whose first Gamecocks team was 0-11.
UT has had its own second-year bonanzas if you go back far enough.
A tie was the only blemish on an otherwise perfect season for General Neyland in his second year at UT in 1927. Doug Dickey’s second team was 8-1-2 and ranked 10th nationally in 1965, a year after the Vols were 4-5-1 and failed to score more than a touchdown in seven games.
But it’s worth noting that in all the second-year success stories, none of those programs had three different coaches in three years as the Vols did from 2008 through 2010. Turnover isn’t necessarily synonymous with turnarounds.
Slight progress would be a realistic goal for UT’s next season. Then, maybe the program could take a take a sizeable leap forward in 2012.
That would be Season Two in coach years.
John Adams is a senior columnist. He may be reached at 865-342-6284 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at http://twitter.com/johnadamskns.