Vols fire Dooley, 4 SEC coaching searches looming

Published on Nov. 18, 2012, at 1:22 p.m. Eastern.

By Brian Edwards

The Derek Dooley Era at the University of Tennessee came to a merciful end this morning when he was fired with only one game left in his third season at the school. Dooley lost 14 of his last 15 SEC games, including all seven this year.

Jim Chaney is expected to be named the interim head coach at a press conference in Knoxville at 2:00 p.m. Eastern. Dooley declined to coach UT’s final game against Kentucky when offered the option by Athletics Director Dave Hart, who hasn’t hired a football coach since his AD tenure at East Carolina back in the 1980s.

Tennessee lost at Vanderbilt for the first time since 1982 last night, as the Commodores trounced the Volunteers by a 41-18 count as 2 ½-point home favorites. The loss dropped Dooley’s UT record to 15-21.

The former head coach at La. Tech inherited a mess. First of all, Tennessee interviewed five or six candidates before focusing its search on Dooley.

When he arrived in Knoxville, he had a team with upperclassmen loyal to Phil Fulmer and underclassmen brought in by Lane Kiffin, who had just bolted the program after only one season.

Dooley never beat a ranked team and the Vols never won a game in which they trailed at halftime. Even though Dooley came into a bad situation, he didn’t make it any better. There’s no excuse for Tennessee to ever be 0-7 in SEC play.

Despite the recent woes, this is still a great job with great tradition, a rabid fan base and incredible facilities. But it says here that Jon Gruden isn’t walking through that door.

Gruden is undoubtedly the No. 1 choice, the home-run hire that the UT donors want to make. There are some valid connections, including Gruden’s friendship with new Browns owner and long-time UT booster Jimmy Haslam.

Gruden got his first coaching job at UT as a graduate assistant. His wife is from Tennessee and this is where they met. Nevertheless, I won’t believe it until I see it.

Therefore, I believe the two most likely choices will be Louisville head coach Charlie Strong or Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart.

Hart grew fond of Smart’s work when he was the Assistant AD at Alabama, but do Tennessee fans want another Nick Saban disciple like Dooley? With an excellent young team at U of L, including a dynamic quarterback in Teddy Bridgewater with two years of eligibility remaining, will Strong leave the Cardinals?

Plus, Strong could be in play for Auburn or Arkansas as well. Would he prefer one of those jobs rather than the head post at UT?

Is Smart content at Alabama for now? Does the UGA alum have his eyes on the job in Athens whenever Mark Richt leaves, retires or gets fired? (Richt will certainly be back next season but until he wins a national title, his status is a year-to-year thing. And yes, I’m aware that the Bulldogs could possibly win it all this year. But they won’t!)

Other names that could emerge include La. Tech’s Sonny Dykes, TCU’s Gary Patterson and Texas A&M offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury. Boise State’s Chris Petersen might be mentioned, but I don’t see him leaving Boise St. until Chip Kelly bolts Oregon for the NFL.

Arkansas and Kentucky are also looking for new head coaches and Auburn will join them at this point next week. I’m not sure that the Razorbacks fan base would think of Tommy Tuberville or Butch Davis as ‘sexy hires,’ but they could certainly do worse.

Both Tubs and Davis are from the state of Arkansas. Tubs has done an excellent job at Texas Tech, but he badly wants to return to the SEC. Davis would just love a job and his problems at North Carolina have now been exposed as issues that were rampant throughout the entire athletic department.

And Davis wasn’t directly involved in any of the NCAA violations.

Who knows what Auburn will do? I won’t be shocked if Petrino ends up there, but nothing that happens on The Plains will ever shock me.

I’ve said it several times recently and I’ll say it again: Kentucky should go get Phil Fulmer.

One last name that could come up with Auburn, Arkansas and/or Tennessee is Vanderbilt’s James Franklin. The remarkable job he’s done at Vandy in two years can’t possibly be overstated.

Anything can happen in SEC coaching searches. We’ll have at least four to entertain us in the coming weeks.

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