Tennessee athletic director Dave Hart said more than once Sunday what a tough day it was.
It was a tough day. But it was an easy decision.
You had to know that before Tennessee lost to Vanderbilt 41-18 on Saturday night in Nashville. You probably knew it when Troy gained more than 700 yards at Neyland Stadium or when an overtime loss to Missouri assured the Vols of no better than a six-win regular season.
Dooley's Vols are 15-21 after three years, with one game remaining in a season he won't finish. Never mind all the obstacles. Tennessee has had too much success to continue with the same coach when the won-lost record clashes so flagrantly with the school's overall record for success.
But in fairness to Dooley, you shouldn't ignore what he was up against. This would have been a daunting assignment for any coach.
Hart alluded to that in Sunday afternoon's media conference: "(Dooley) inherited a very difficult environment. And quite honestly, he was given a pretty short stick to take into battle."
In fact, Dooley took over the program at the worst possible time. The Vols rarely have been so low. The SEC has never been better.
His roster was depleted by the back-to-back coaching changes that preceded him. His schedule was armed with enough formidable opponents to derail a national championship contender.
He didn't have much luck, either.
Wide receiver Justin Hunter, UT's best offensive player at the time, suffered a season-ending injury in Game 3 of 2011. Tyler Bray, UT's starting quarterback, missed almost half of the same season with a hand injury.
This season's injuries weren't to high-profile players, but the loss of safety Brian Randolph at the end of September became more paramount as the season unfolded.
By the time of his injury, he had become the best player in a secondary whose play worsened as the season went along, eventually sinking to such an inept level that you wondered if the Vols were playing with a man short.
Stronger programs might have overcome such setbacks. Better coaches might have as well.
But the ceiling was never high for this program in Dooley's three years. And the margin of error was ever so slight.
There was no Cam Newton or Johnny Manziel to raise the team through sheer individual talent. UT just doesn't have that caliber of players.
It has enough good players that it shouldn't be 4-7, though. This team underachieved significantly, and that falls largely on the coaching staff.
Sal Sunseri, the linebackers coach from Alabama, proved to be one of the worst hires in recent UT history. The thinking behind the hiring — Dooley's intent to field a more aggressive, playmaking defense — seems just as wrongheaded in hindsight.
Justin Wilcox, UT's defensive coordinator for Dooley's first two seasons, obviously didn't believe he had the players to make that work. He was right.
He also was right to leave, taking a defensive coordinator's position at Washington, where he had more security and perhaps a greater comfort level with the head coach than he had with Dooley after two seasons.
One after another, for various reasons, other coaches also left after the 2011 season, which ended with an incomprehensible loss to a bad Kentucky team, quarterbacked by a converted wide receiver.
The loss didn't just go away, it lingered long with UT fans, many of whom were disenchanted with that team's lack of chemistry as well as the coaching staff's lack of wherewithal to overcome an opponent as infirm as Kentucky.
Maybe it was too much to ask for the Vols to replace the majority of their assistant coaches, switch to a new defense and hit the ground running in 2012. But that's what they seemingly had accomplished in their opening-season victory over North Carolina State in the Georgia Dome.
Two games later, with the Vols holding a lead against arch-nemesis Florida late in the third quarter, their fans seemed fully vested in the comeback season. Then, the Gators surged, the Vols faltered, and the season swerved terribly off course. Game after game, the defense looked helpless — never so much as when it gave up 48 points in a seven-point victory over Troy the first week of November.
By then, the empty seats at Neyland Stadium had become as damning as the team's record.
It left Hart with no other choice, no matter how much the buyouts for Dooley and his assistants will cost — and they will cost a lot.
Not making a change would have been even costlier.