Despite his thin mid-major resume, a big-name football school in a BCS league took a chance on him.
After back-to-back six-win seasons he was feeling pressure going into his third year.
Well, 7-5 wasn't much of an improvement, but the big-name school showed patience.
Year four: 6-6. Still, the big-name school showed patience.
Finally, in his fifth year at Michigan State, Nick Saban got it turned around, going 9-2.
Patience wasn't an issue in Saban's subsequent collegiate rebuilds. He won immediately at LSU. Alabama was 12-2 in his second season and BCS champion his third.
Rebuilding and patience are never far from the conversation at Tennessee in these troubled times. Did I say patience? I meant to say hot seat.
Derek Dooley is staring Year Three in the eye. He's 11-14 after two seasons of Extreme Vol Makeover.
I'm not sure what Michigan State's expectation level was when it hired Saban from Toledo before the 1995 season. I do know he wasn't the Spartans' third coach in three years.
Let me make it clear I'm not projecting UT's coach as the next Saban. But Dooley's rebuild is as tough as you'll find.
It wasn't that Tennessee lacked resources. Attrition from the almost-unprecedented coaching turnover was his biggest hurdle. Only now does he have a
roster that looks like an SEC roster.
Barring critical injuries, the Vols should field their most competitive team since the 2007 SEC East champions. It has the tools to cool off its coach's seat.
But that's yet to play out. Leading up to the 2012 kickoff, Dooley is the vogue hot-seat pick in pretty much any preseason magazine on the rack.
I'm not telling you anything you don't already know, but patience, like the single wing or Legion Field, has seen better days.
Most of the names we recognize as the great coaches won quickly. It's difficult to grasp how bad Alabama was when Bear Bryant arrived in 1958. He was 7-2-2 his second year, 8-1-2 his third, a national champion in his fourth.
Another Dooley — Vince — took over a losing Georgia program in 1964 and was 10-1 by 1966. Pat Dye won the Sugar Bowl his third year at Auburn. Urban Meyer won a BCS title his second year at Florida.
There are notable exceptions. Woody Hayes started his Ohio State tenure 16-9-2. His fourth team went 10-0.
Barry Alvarez was 11-22 after three seasons at Wisconsin. His fourth team went 10-1-1 and won the Rose Bowl.
Steve Spurrier — the South Carolina version — was 21-16 after three seasons, including 6-6 in his third year. It took six years to get to nine wins. But Spurrier had more credibility than Dooley and the Gamecocks had lower expectations than the Vols.
Tennessee has seen both ends of the spectrum.
The Vols were 13-11-2 the three years before they hired Robert Neyland and 25-1-2 the three after.
Doug Dickey arrived in 1964 to a program that had been 15-15 in three years with two coaches. His second team went 8-1-2.
No UT coach was ever hired with greater expectations than Johnny Majors, fresh off a national title at Pittsburgh in 1976. But after six years, Majors was 35-32-2 with a high mark of 8-4 in 1981.
He would, of course, eventually coach three SEC champions and deliver several of UT's most cherished wins. But that was in a different era, a more patient one.
Anybody think Dooley would ever get six years to go 35-32-2?