NASHVILLE — Six days ago, while Internet rumors were saying that he was fired, Tennessee football coach Derek Dooley was calmly talking with his boss.
He was not, in fact, fired after last week's demoralizing four-overtime loss to Missouri.
But even Dooley acknowledged that his future is uncertain at best with two weeks remaining in the season.
The Vols (4-6, 0-6 SEC) play Vanderbilt (6-4, 4-3) today (TV: ESPN2, 7 p.m.) at Vanderbilt Stadium.
Tennessee's last loss to the Commodores in Nashville was in 1982. Since then, the Vols have won 28 of 29 games in the series, losing only in 2005.
The most recent win was last year's 27-21 overtime victory in Knoxville, which is notable because it's also the last time Tennessee won an SEC game.
The Vols celebrated that win enthusiastically, and when a video from the postgame locker room was leaked, it made Vandy coach James Franklin simmer.
"Tennessee ALWAYS beats the (expletive) out of Vanderbilt," Dooley shouted to players in the video.
Franklin said he's more mature now than he was when he reacted angrily to the video last year. He said he hasn't made it an issue with his players, and the Commodores have carefully followed their coach's script this week in interviews.
Franklin's magnanimity is understandable. Vandy is a 4-point favorite today. While the Vols are fighting for a bowl berth, the Commodores have already clinched theirs. A win today would give Vandy its first five-win SEC season since 1935.
"(Vandy) has done a great job," Dooley said. "I guess it's good for the rivalry. It makes better games. They did a good job before James (Franklin) got there, and he has done a nice job of bringing some really good energy to the program. They are playing with a lot of confidence."
Tennessee offensive tackle Antonio "Tiny" Richardson, a Nashville native, said he thinks the rivalry has been rekindled.
"They're going to come in thinking they're going to win the game," Richardson said. "At the end of the day, they are Vanderbilt, we're Tennessee and the rivalry is going to be there. We just have to execute our offense, execute our defense and we can win this game."
UT players also downplayed the importance of the leaked locker room video. It was an internal celebration not intended to disrespect Vandy, they said.
After all, the Vols had just gone to overtime to win their first (and ultimately only) SEC game of 2011. It's tough to be arrogant in those circumstances.
"I think we can expect that because of Vanderbilt-Tennessee, they're coming into this game thinking that they can beat us and they have all the right to," said senior cornerback Prentiss Waggner. "They've been playing great football."
If Tennessee wins its last two games, it will finish the season 6-6 and sneak into a lower-tier bowl game (perhaps even the Music City Bowl in Nashville). But if they lose today, eliminating any hope of the postseason, the spotlight on Sunday will once again be on Dooley's job and athletic director Dave Hart.
"We feel like these are two wins that we have to get," said center James Stone. "I don't think anybody's going to go out there and do anything 'Superman.' We're just trying to do our jobs and do it efficiently and do it correctly and go out there and execute so we can win these last two."
Evan Woodbery covers Tennessee football. Follow him at www.Twitter.com/TennesseeBeat.