By LARRY VAUGHT
Folks at Vanderbilt must be feeling really good today because in the last two weeks the Commodores have drilled Kentucky and Tennessee and forced both schools to fire their coaches the day after the loss.
However, there’s one big difference in what Tennessee did Sunday when it released Derek Dooley compared to how Kentucky fired Joker Phillips.
Tennessee athletics director Dave Hart didn’t post a letter to fans on a website. Instead, he held a press conference to talk about his decision and what direction the coaching search would go. Dooley issued a statement.
Kentucky athletics director Mitch Barnhart announced Phillips’ firing on the UK website and has yet to talk publicly about it as speculation continues to swirl about who the next coach might be. Phillips has met with media members five times since his firing and has been open, cordial and informative.
Dooley and Phillips have had about the same lack of success in their three years. Dooley was 15-21 at Tennessee and was 0-15 against top 25 teams. He lost 14 of his last 15 SEC games, including one at UK last year. The Vols must beat Kentucky on Saturday to avoid going winless in SEC play for the first time in school history. Offensive coordinator Jim Chaney will serve as Tennessee’s interim coach while Phillips will coach his final game after UK beat Samford last week and players carried Phillips off the field.
Tennessee will be looking for its fourth coach in six years. Phillip Fulmer was fired in 2008, Lane Kiffin coached one year and then Dooley came from Louisiana Tech where he had a losing record and is gone after three years.
Hart said he probably wouldn’t use a search firm in choosing his next coach. Is Barnhart? We don’t know. He won’t tell us.
Hart said he considers previous head coaching experience “critically important.” Does Barnhart? We don’t know. He won’t tell us.
For those who say the Tennessee program is more attractive, remember the Tennessee football program is on probation until August 2015. The university’s athletic department posted a $3.98 million budget deficit for the last fiscal year and is paying buyouts to Fulmer, former athletics director Mike Hamilton, former basketball coach Bruce Pearl and former baseball coach Todd Raleigh. Now add another $5 million buyout for Dooley. That makes about $2.5 million for Phillips look like nothing.
Rumors swirled again Saturday that UK was close to a deal with Fulmer. On Sunday, speculation was that Cincinnati coach Butch Jones — who turned down a lucrative offer from Illinois last year — was offered the job.
What sales pitch is Barnhart using considering UK has had three straight losing seasons, attendance has dropped dramatically and the 2013 schedule is more difficult than the one this year? We don’t know. Barnhart won’t tell us.
What about Hart? What’s he selling at Tennessee?
“This is the ultimate challenge, which competitors embrace,” Hart said. “This is the ultimate challenge, for a football coach to come into this league. If you’re a competitor and you want to prove your worth, come into the Southeastern Conference. Come to the University of Tennessee. You’ll get that opportunity.”
Sounds like a possible sales pitch to Bobby Petrino to me.
Hopefully, Barnhart is saying the same — and more — to possible coaches even if Petrino, the former Louisville and Arkansas coach, is obviously not on his list.