Mike Strange: UT coach Derek Dooley was thinking long term with defensive change

Mike Strange
South Carolina tight end Justice Cunningham (87) gets a big first down in the fourth quarter as Tennessee defensive back LaDarrell McNeil (33) defends at Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia, S.C., Saturday, Oct. 27, 2012. (ADAM BRIMER/NEWS SENTINEL)

Photo by Adam Brimer, Knoxville News Sentinel

South Carolina tight end Justice Cunningham (87) gets a big first down in the fourth quarter as Tennessee defensive back LaDarrell McNeil (33) defends at Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia, S.C., Saturday, Oct. 27, 2012. (ADAM BRIMER/NEWS SENTINEL)

Derek Dooley on defensive coordinator Sal Sunseri

Tennessee's Oct. 30, 2012 practice

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Derek Dooley is no dummy. When he had to hire a new defensive coordinator last January, he knew what was on the line.

He knew growing pains would be inevitable.

He knew his offense had the potential to be special.

He knew 2012, his third season, probably would be a make-or-break year for his regime at Tennessee.

And yet he chose not to play it safe. He dialed in a new scheme that required his players to almost start from scratch.

"There would be probably a lot less growing pains if you kept it real simple,'' Dooley said Tuesday in reflection.

"Would we have been playing better? Probably so.''

Growing pains. A wind gust here and there? A few pea-sized hailstones?

What has happened instead is the equivalent of Hurricane Sandy.

Dooley said he was thinking big picture and long term last winter when he had to replace defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox, who took a similar position at Washington.

In his two seasons at UT, Wilcox did a nice job with a limited roster. In 2011 the Vols finished 28th nationally in total defense, allowing 340 yards a game.

Dooley interviewed several coordinator-level candidates but picked Sal Sunseri, the linebackers coach at Alabama, to install a new 3-4 base scheme.

He felt a comfort level philosophically with Sunseri, whom he knew from the Nick Saban coaching family.

Ten months later, "comfort level" is a condition no one uses to describe Tennessee's defense, administration or fan base.

"There were going to be growing pains,'' Dooley said Tuesday, "no matter who you brought in because it's new.

"There were more factors that went into it than just the scheme.

"You always make decisions based on what happened last. You try to correct what happened last.''

What Dooley wanted to correct was that he felt Wilcox's brand of defense wasn't disruptive enough or physical enough to prevail in the SEC.

So far, however, the projected correction has blown up in his face.

In 2011, through five SEC games, the Vols allowed 28.4 points and 370 yards.

In 2012, through five SEC games, the Vols allowed 42.2 points and 522 yards.

If Dooley had chosen another course of action last winter, who's to say how things would have played out.

Would a system more familiar to the returning players have eliminated or at least minimized the plague of gaping holes for opposing runners or the easy pickings for quarterbacks and receivers?

On a personal level, would it have allowed Dooley to ride a prolific offense off the hot seat to a more secure perch?

"I've always tried to make the right decision for the program long term,'' Dooley said.

"That doesn't mean

you're not trying to win short term. But I wanted to get somebody and some system that when we get this thing going, we don't want to make another change.''

Getting this thing going has proved tougher than Tennessee's fan base expected. We can only guess what timetable athletic director Dave Hart is seeing.

Last winter, Dooley rolled the dice. He didn't take the safest course. He was thinking long term.

Now there's a predicament. The short-term results have been such a mess, there might not even be a long term.

Mike Strange may be reached at strangem@knoxnews.com.

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Comments » 146

vq4nfo writes:

He will be around at least another year if they win the remaining games. Probably will be around if they lose one of the four.

volbob writes:

Disagree completely after the first 2 paragraphs. Dooley never anticipated the switch would be a season-killer...and neither did probably 90% of the fan base. Hindsight is great, but there is no way any head coach would do what he did in hiring Sal and switching to a 3-4 AND saying the SEC didn't have UT to kick around anymore if he even remotely thought the switch would be a 2 year (minimum) project with the players on the team. This is nothing but a CYA article with a writer trying to act like he knew what was going to happen. Load of carp...gotta watch the censors.

VOLtage writes:

The great Nick Saban's start at Michigan State
1995 6–5–1
1996 6–6
1997 7–5
1998 6–6
1999 9–2
Mmmm not too good until the 5th year. Patience is a virtue.

stoney writes:

VOLBOB is exactly right. This is just another crutch.

clvolfan writes:

Never thought I would see the day that I long for 3rd and long Chavis. This defense will never be any good long term under same coordinator.

Colts_VolFan writes:

I bet he would swap the 3-4 for a 7-1 or 6-2.

BigOrangeDave writes:

If Dooley is such a fan of the 3-4 defense, and is looking out for the long term best interests of the program, why did he choose to go with the 4-3 with Wilcox in Years 1 and 2. He's trying to reset expectations and distance himself from the source of the defensive problems (i.e. I'm an offense and special teams guy). Dooley's comments are bogus!

lemme_axya_this writes:

in response to VOLtage:

The great Nick Saban's start at Michigan State
1995 6–5–1
1996 6–6
1997 7–5
1998 6–6
1999 9–2
Mmmm not too good until the 5th year. Patience is a virtue.

There are some who would run you out if town for a post like that.

volfaninbuckeyeland writes:

And Washington managed to knock off a top 10 program if Wilcox's first year. Isn't that where Leach went as head coach?

RoadTrip writes:

And the spinmeisters begin their spin. Really stretching for something to say, Mike. Dools has known he was over his head since the 2010 season. He kept hoping his coordinators and assistant coaches would cover for him. Last year it was the lousy offense. This year it is the worse than lousy defense. Every year has been bad game management by Dools and company. Yeah, he really knew what he was doing by picking Sal. That one is on Hart as well.

tnsportsman writes:

Dooley needs to be thinking 'Long Term' Unemployment! NO WAY Dooley is Head Football Coach At TENNESSEE even if he wins these 4 games! The majority of donors and season ticket holders are letting Dave Hart know it too!

Hart, fire Dooley or be gone with him!

GO VOLS, ALWAYS!

lemme_axya_this writes:

in response to volfaninbuckeyeland:

And Washington managed to knock off a top 10 program if Wilcox's first year. Isn't that where Leach went as head coach?

Leach is at Washington State, Steve Sarkisian is the coach at Wash.

Smokey91 writes:

in response to volfaninbuckeyeland:

And Washington managed to knock off a top 10 program if Wilcox's first year. Isn't that where Leach went as head coach?

I think Wilcox went with the Washington Huskies and Leach is with the Washington State Cougars.

roloyo writes:

in response to collegegrovebilly:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Agreed. Dooley is nothing more, than a Bill Battle with a law degree.

SummerfieldVol writes:

I can't understand why He did not go and get a proven DC. There are some great DC that do not coach in the SEC. At least you know what he has done in the past and what the future could look like. I believe this was a Hart hire more than a Dooley hire. A good ol Alabama boy.

BIVOLAR_BEARE writes:

in response to Colts_VolFan:

I bet he would swap the 3-4 for a 7-1 or 6-2.

Uhhh, it's 3 & 5.

rockypop writes:

It's simply amazing that the overwhelming majority of posters on this board wholeheartedly approved the hiring of Sunseri at the time, but now, almost wholeheartedly disapprove. Remember that when UT hires the "next Nick Saban."

volfaninbuckeyeland writes:

Thanks, guys. Would have checked myself but satellite internet with cloudy skies is not much faster than dialup. Do remember now that it was Sarkisian I saw on the sidelines Sat. nite. Wonder how Wilcox must feel though in seeing his team beat a top 10?

Seahawk writes:

in response to VOLtage:

The great Nick Saban's start at Michigan State
1995 6–5–1
1996 6–6
1997 7–5
1998 6–6
1999 9–2
Mmmm not too good until the 5th year. Patience is a virtue.

Saban inherited a MSU team that had just been put on NCAA probation. And George Perles had run the program into the ground. That said, Dooley inherited a mess too. Just not as substantial.

cltvol writes:

in response to lemme_axya_this:

There are some who would run you out if town for a post like that.

Run him out of town? Who would do it? How? On a rail? Like in Huck Finn? Voltage makes a good point

CrankE writes:

You're not going to have Tennessee to kick around anymore.

Go Dooley! And take Sal, John Adams, and Bob Kesling with you.

pcshowtime writes:

in response to SummerfieldVol:

I can't understand why He did not go and get a proven DC. There are some great DC that do not coach in the SEC. At least you know what he has done in the past and what the future could look like. I believe this was a Hart hire more than a Dooley hire. A good ol Alabama boy.

I hear what you are saying about this being harts call to hire Sunseri. Have you read anything or seen anything saying this. If hart did hire Sunseri Dooley sure appears to be playing along with it. If it happend to me I would be leaking out
I am not call you out on it just wondering if you new something I don't. If not:

The only thing that makes the Hart hired him theory is that no one can believe Dooley is that stupid to change the defense in a critical year. Maybe he just is.

voodoo101 writes:

in response to roloyo:

Agreed. Dooley is nothing more, than a Bill Battle with a law degree.

Sorry, have to call BS on that one. Bill Battle featured the most unimaginative, boring offenses imaginable. It was like if you saw one game you saw them all. Losing is bad, but it's worse when the entertainment value is absolutely lacking. Battle's offenses made Randy Sanders look like pure genius.

firemancooper writes:

in response to Colts_VolFan:

I bet he would swap the 3-4 for a 7-1 or 6-2.

That's funny right there, I don't care who you are

Retiredvol writes:

in response to vq4nfo:

He will be around at least another year if they win the remaining games. Probably will be around if they lose one of the four.

I think he will be around next year but only if he wins out. 8-5 would be an improvement

BIVOLAR_BEARE writes:

in response to Seahawk:

Saban inherited a MSU team that had just been put on NCAA probation. And George Perles had run the program into the ground. That said, Dooley inherited a mess too. Just not as substantial.

Blah blah blah..UT's 3 coaches in 3 yrs is the same as receiving NCAA sanctions with attrition and instability at the HC position..Can you honestly sit there and say it didn't affect recruiting and players adjusting to 3 different coaches in 3yrs??

Volborn writes:

Sometimes it looks like they are litterally playing a 3-4, as in 7 defenders total.

VOLet_parking writes:

in response to VOLtage:

The great Nick Saban's start at Michigan State
1995 6–5–1
1996 6–6
1997 7–5
1998 6–6
1999 9–2
Mmmm not too good until the 5th year. Patience is a virtue.

Saban=winning record.

Dooley=losing record.

End of story.

voodoo101 writes:

in response to Seahawk:

Saban inherited a MSU team that had just been put on NCAA probation. And George Perles had run the program into the ground. That said, Dooley inherited a mess too. Just not as substantial.

In addition to what BEARE says we were under an NCAA investigation that looked like it could be pretty nasty. We were probably saved only because we had Dooley and Kiffin had moved on.

vq4nfo writes:

in response to BIVOLAR_BEARE:

Blah blah blah..UT's 3 coaches in 3 yrs is the same as receiving NCAA sanctions with attrition and instability at the HC position..Can you honestly sit there and say it didn't affect recruiting and players adjusting to 3 different coaches in 3yrs??

And I keep saying that you should not count the first year! Yes, he knew what he was getting into, but what a mess and a short time to get people on board.
LK did not stick around for long after his anouncement.

thevoice writes:

in response to Colts_VolFan:

I bet he would swap the 3-4 for a 7-1 or 6-2.

I think Dooley's playing an 0-0-0 defense.

kingofthevols writes:

I think it is reasonable to assume that Sunseri was not Dooley's first choice as dc after Wilcox left. Just as most of the coaches on Dooley's staff, save Chaney, jumped ship after last season, I think it's a safe bet that most of the respected and successful dc's in college football were gun shy about taking the Tennessee job with Dooley's job in jeopardy. So Dooley was forced to turn to a position coach to fill the dc role instead of a coordinator and he had to give this particular position coach a three-year contract to even get him.
If Dooley is allowed to keep his job for at least another season, I think it will be interesting to see whether he will keep Sunseri. Does Dooley have the courage to fire someone who he was responsible for hiring if he thinks it's necessary to keep his job beyond next season? Could he do that and save face to potentially save his job?

BIVOLAR_BEARE writes:

in response to vq4nfo:

And I keep saying that you should not count the first year! Yes, he knew what he was getting into, but what a mess and a short time to get people on board.
LK did not stick around for long after his anouncement.

No doubt, when Dooley said this is year zero he was absolutely correct..Too many witch hunters on this site, and not enough true fans with rational thought.

thevoice writes:

in response to Retiredvol:

I think he will be around next year but only if he wins out. 8-5 would be an improvement

I think he's gone regardless. First, his buyout is about the same now as it would be a year from now. Second, any buyout is spread out for several years, not paid at one time. Third, with the split fanbase, the athletic department stands to lose way too much $$$ next year if Dooley remains. Fourth, next year's schedule looks pretty daunting, leaving little hope for relief. Fifth, we may be losing some key players to the draft after this year. Sixth, our recruiting is average at best. Seventh, if we do win out, that only means we can compete with the teams that really don't matter.

pcshowtime writes:

We had 9 of 11 starters back from the 27th ranked defense last year. Do not tell me we do not have the talent. Now it is up to the coaches to put these kids in a system that will allow them to line up correctly and make plays.
Good coaches do not adapt player to their offensive and Defensive schemes. They adapt schemes to fit the player they have.
nstall what is panently, obviously the best collegiate defensive scheme that when matured will allow the Vols to compete with the nations's best.

The 3-4 defense is not a good choice on the college level Here are the facts.
NCAA Total defensive stats 2012 thus far.
1 Alabama 3-4 defense
2 Florida St. 4-3 defense
3 LSU 4-3 defense
4 BYU 4-3 defense
5 Michigan St. 4-3 defense
--------------------------------------------
year 3 in the 3-4 Defense.
38 Georgia
---------------------------------------------
and here we are.
97 Wyoming
98 Central Mich.
99 Tennessee
Worst in the SEC
Here is the link look for yourself.

http://www.ncaa.com/stats/football/fb...

He is 0-12 in UT games that matter FL, GA, Bama, and SC. I did not expect him to win 4 of those games with what he inherited as a program. However, I expected him to win one of two of them. You can not coach at UT and hang you hat on wins over vandy, ky, ole miss, Cincy, and NC state.
It is sad because if he would have kept some semblance of a defense this team could be 7-1. He could be up for coach of the year. But dooley wanted to change.

This team very well could have won the east this year 7-1 and looking forward to a rematch with Bama in Atl.
1. These kids that went through these last two years deserved better.
2. This fanbase needed this to be better.
3. The Atletic Dept. needed this to be better revenue wise.

It is over I do not care what he wins out he is done. I wanted dooley to succeed. because it meant my Volunteers were succeeding. He is done he will not be back you can count on it.

TritanVol writes:

in response to BIVOLAR_BEARE:

Uhhh, it's 3 & 5.

I don't think BIVOLAR was referring to the overall team record with that statement.... :)

lomas98 writes:

in response to VOLtage:

The great Nick Saban's start at Michigan State
1995 6–5–1
1996 6–6
1997 7–5
1998 6–6
1999 9–2
Mmmm not too good until the 5th year. Patience is a virtue.

1995. 4-3-1 in big ten. Beat rival Michigan. Won other road games. Played in bowl game.

1996. 5-3 in big ten. Lost in a bowl game

1997. Beat rival Notre dame on road an other conference games. 4-4 in big ten. Beat ranked teams. Lost in bowl game

1998. 4-4 in big ten. Beat a rival Notre dame. Would have made a bowl if there were as many bowl games as today.

He showed more promise and actually beat some ranked teams, won on road, beat some key rivals.....none of which Dooley has done unless you count a road game against vandy and Memphis. Ranked teams is an 0 fer. Sure records are similar, but more was accomplished and no fan apathy.

Vol-TIL-I-FaLL writes:

in response to volbob:

Disagree completely after the first 2 paragraphs. Dooley never anticipated the switch would be a season-killer...and neither did probably 90% of the fan base. Hindsight is great, but there is no way any head coach would do what he did in hiring Sal and switching to a 3-4 AND saying the SEC didn't have UT to kick around anymore if he even remotely thought the switch would be a 2 year (minimum) project with the players on the team. This is nothing but a CYA article with a writer trying to act like he knew what was going to happen. Load of carp...gotta watch the censors.

i agree one thousand percent,now hes showing his contradictions if you jus pay close attention to what he says instead of how good he makes it sound..making loop holes ..those were his words..but as you said if you knew your defense would struggle why would you even say the kicked around theory..and their dumb coaching group sees the defense struggling and still run hurry,what a joke

cloudodust writes:

in response to Seahawk:

Saban inherited a MSU team that had just been put on NCAA probation. And George Perles had run the program into the ground. That said, Dooley inherited a mess too. Just not as substantial.

That's subjective, considering...

pcshowtime writes:

in response to rockypop:

It's simply amazing that the overwhelming majority of posters on this board wholeheartedly approved the hiring of Sunseri at the time, but now, almost wholeheartedly disapprove. Remember that when UT hires the "next Nick Saban."

I have all ways been against switching to a 3-4 scheme. Look at my old posts.

eVOLved writes:

I'm convinced that from the beginning to the smirky line about hurricane sandy was ghostwritten by adams.

I think talking about replacing a coach during the season is bad sportsmanship!

BIVOLAR_BEARE writes:

in response to TritanVol:

I don't think BIVOLAR was referring to the overall team record with that statement.... :)

I know, being cynical again..

laraccoon writes:

in response to CrankE:

You're not going to have Tennessee to kick around anymore.

Go Dooley! And take Sal, John Adams, and Bob Kesling with you.

Kesling and Adams maybe, unless you or I are going to put up some money the only way we will know of a coaching change or not is if the donors who really matter put up the money. Apparently , and i have not read it but giving Dooley another year saves UT money ,as long as the wheels dont come off down the stretch and as stretched as UT athletic dept. is thats a big part of it. im just glad to see Hart not panic like our previous AD did and wait .. Personally my feeling towards the Gruden rumor is that its embarrassing to vol fans and was started by members of the kindergarten club . if Dooley wins out and wins a bowl who can say what will be .

pcorange writes:

The longer this drags out, the more it looks like we've got another year of this mess. I like Dooley. I wish he could lead us out of this mess. I don't think he can, but since it's not going to change, I hope he proves me wrong. Go Big Orange.

OwensboroVol writes:

I do believe that Dooley deserves another year. He is not going to get it. Like I posted other places on this board, I hope Dave Hart is already lining up the next Coach. I don't want to go through the mess We went through last time with Coach after Coach turning us down and a few showing interest only to get a raise from their current schools.

nocleats writes:

Its the Bob Keisling curse...... Once Boring Bob leaves, the football Gods will be happy again..

pcorange writes:

in response to nocleats:

Its the Bob Keisling curse...... Once Boring Bob leaves, the football Gods will be happy again..

I'm glad someone else has noticed the marked dropoff in UT football since John Ward left the booth. Kesling is the worst announcer ever in college football. I hate Florida, but I enjoy listening to their games on XM much better than UT. You can't even tell who Kesling is for.

golfman1975 writes:

in response to VOLet_parking:

Saban=winning record.

Dooley=losing record.

End of story.

How many of those loses for Saban came to ranked teams? You have to look at who they losted to. We losted to 5 teams that were undefeated when they played us. All were ranked and still are....

mdboar#214875 writes:

in response to volfaninbuckeyeland:

And Washington managed to knock off a top 10 program if Wilcox's first year. Isn't that where Leach went as head coach?

Leach is at Washington State; Wilcox at Washington. Washington has actually knocked off Stanford and Oregon State when both of them were in the top ten at the time.

NashvillePreds writes:

The false assumption this column makes is there is somehow light at the end of the tunnel of defensive misery.
One fact that can not be disputed is Derek Dooley has made multiple excuses at every chance during his tenure.
The apologetic column strikes me as just one more excuse.
14-19 = toast

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