The 2011 Tennessee football season has shut down with two last impressions. They couldn't be more contrasting.
In the first, an unauthorized video catches the Vols celebrating an overtime win over Vanderbilt inside the locker room. The jubilant players are hoisting coach Derek Dooley toward the ceiling, after which he delivers a rousing reminder about the one thing Tennessee always does — "kick the (blank) out of Vanderbilt."
The other thing Tennessee always does is, well, substitute Kentucky for Vanderbilt in the previous sentence.
Which brings up the very last impression of the 2011 season. The Vols not only didn't kick the anything out of Kentucky, some of them looked as if they had minimal interest in what turned out to be a streak-breaking 10-7 upset loss to the Wildcats on Saturday at Commonwealth Stadium.
Lethargic and uninspired are a couple of descriptions applied — by Dooley, no less — to the regular-season finale, which turns out to be the finale, period.
Senior Tauren Poole said afterward some players didn't want to be there. Another senior, Austin Johnson, reported a lousy week of practice and questioned the team orientation of some younger players.
What happened to the energy and solidarity in that locker room after Vanderbilt? It was clearly gone by the opening kickoff seven days later when there was still so much on the line.
What's left is an ugly picture. And with no possible bowl redemption, it's one with which Dooley, new athletic director Dave Hart and the fan base will have to live for the next nine months.
Tennessee has recorded consecutive losing seasons for the first time since 1910-11. It has lost a seventh SEC game for the first time ever.
Dooley's record is 11-14. Judging from the radio callers I listened to Sat
urday night on the drive back from Lexington, his approval rating is the lowest since he was hired in January 2010.
Don't take my word for it. In a GoVolsXtra.com web poll, 77 percent of voters disapprove of the job Dooley has done in his second season.
No one in touch with reality expected UT to compete for an SEC East title. They did expect progress from the first year to the second. Progress translates to hope and with what this program has been through since 2008, hope is vital.
Way back in September, progress was obvious. But this season peaked in September. A 45-23 win over Cincinnati was as good as it ever got.
The defense improved marginally over 2010. And give the Vols this: They were functionally able to return a punt in 2011.
The offense regressed. Once Justin Hunter and then Tyler Bray were injured, every first down was a scramble. The running game went from bad in 2010 to worse in 2011.
Unlike Larry Porter of Memphis and Turner Gill of Kansas, Dooley will be back for a third season. It's the right call. Given UT's recent turmoil, it's the only call.
That said, confidence that he's the man to restore Tennessee to championship contention on down the line has eroded. In Year Three, the progress must be tangible and show some shelf life.
When you close a season with an uninspired performance and lose to a handicapped Kentucky team, everything is called into question. In Dooley's case, that includes his brutal candor.
Some fans are weary of hearing their own coach detail how woefully undermanned and inept their team is. Maybe some players are, too.
It didn't look that way in the Vanderbilt video. One big, joyous family ready to run through a wall. If only that had been the final perception of the 2011 Vols.
But it wasn't.