Originally written on Checkerboard Chatter  |  Last updated 11/5/14


We've all heard the idiomatic expression, "You can't fit a square peg in a round hole".  This nugget of wisdom can apply to a variety of situations both sports and non-sports related, but since this is a UT blog, I'll try to fashion it cloaked in Orange & White. 

There have been many coaching/team marriages that just never seemed right and henceforth, fall into the category of "square peg in a round hole".  For example, Nick Saban just never seemed comfortable as the Head Coach of the Miami Dolphins.  Whether he was nonchalantly stepping over a convulsing player or losing to division foes such as the New York Jets and Buffalo Bills, Saban just looked out of sorts roaming the sidelines as a NFL Head Coach (15-17 in two seasons).  Saban is clearly (in my opinion) the best Field General amongst his peers when pitted vs. college competition, but the NFL just wasn't his bag.  Square peg in a round hole....

My job often takes me to New England where I log many miles driving around that beautiful region of the country.  As I have listened to sports talk radio over the past few months in Boston and the Greater New England area, it's obvious that the whole Bobby Valentine experiment as the Manager of the Boston Red Sox is a massive square peg in a round hole.  Following the very popular "player's manager", Terry Francona, the abrasive Bobby V. has had his legs cut from under him by players and upper management alike.  This has created a volatile situation where Bobby V. has served as the lighter fluid to only increase the inferno.  Bobby V. has even threatened to punch a radio host "right in the mouth" and described the season as "miserable".  It's obvious that he's a dead man walking; John Henry, Larry Lucchino & Ben Cherington are probably standing at the drawing board as I type this post.  Square peg in a round hole....

The most egregious "square peg in a round hole" hire I can remember over the past 20 years or so involved a now Hall of Fame basketball coach taking the reins of the team that calls the "World's Most Famous Arena" home.  That's right, the New York Knicks hiring of Don Nelson in July 1995 was a brewing disaster from the start.  First of all, Nelson loved to play "small ball", not always using a true Center even before it was fashionable as it is in today's NBA.  He inherited a team that was anchored by Patrick Ewing and Charles Oakley.  You're not playing small ball with those two guys being two of your key players.  Also, Nellie loved to play up-tempo, and he inherited a group of hard-nosed defensive style veterans who weren't made to run the floor like race horses but preferred rather to play a half court brand of ball.  Maybe the Knicks brass thought Nellie would lead the Knicks to a championship with Anthony Mason as a point forward, but nevertheless, the plug was pulled 59 games into a respectable (yet disconsolate) 34-25 run for Nellie and the Knicks.  Square peg in a round hole....

Now let's move onto the curious case of Derek Dooley and his fit as the Head Coach at the University of Tennessee.  The maddening part about his tenure (thus far) wearing the Italian cotton Orange pants is this:  he's a square peg in a square hole.  Everything about Dooley fits the job such as his syrupy drawl, his SEC pedigree as a "Dooley", his respect for his predecessors (not Kiffin but rather Fulmer & Majors), his appreciation and reverence for the great General Neyland & his Game Maxims, his recruiting ability, the VFL Program, his training under Nick Saban and so on.  Dooley also has his fingerprints all over the $40 million (plus) football training complex that will serve as a recruiting weapon for years to come (for him or his successor).  With all of that fitting like a well tailored suit, none of it matters if he can't win SEC games, and judging by the Vols' past nine SEC contests, he simply can't.  During this span, Dooley's Vols are 1-8 with the only victory coming in overtime vs. Vanderbilt.  Also, Dooley's Vols have been outscored 149-26 in the second half of their past eight SEC tussles.  Initially, I pointed to the lack of depth as the main culprit for the team's woes coming out of halftime.  The Vols didn't have the depth and most certainly were worn down in the second half.  However, as this trend has continued along its path, I now most certainly blame the bulk of it on coaching or lack of coaching adjustments at halftime.  Also, the Vols seem to not believe that they can win these ballgames in the second half.  As much as I talk trash about Vandy and James Franklin, I must admit that his players believe they can win each and every ballgame.  They don't pucker up when they get in a tight ballgame like the Vols do. 

(Sidenote: By now, everyone knows Coach Dooley had a dumpster fire, literally the night Kiffin left, on his hands upon his arrival in Knoxville.  The Vols have dealt with injuries, lack of depth, suspensions, weird losses and assistant coach turnover.  However, like President Obama blaming President Bush for the ails of the nation, this crutch cannot be used forever by his ardent supporters.)

To close, the Vols still have a ton of season ahead of them.  It was tough to see them lose by 17 at home vs. a Florida team that seemed beatable coming into the ballgame, but Dooley still has time to get the ship pointed in the right direction.  The Vols may not be "loaded for bear", but they have NFL talent at the skill positions, an experienced O-Line and many more pieces to work with on defense than in the past couple of years.  The Vols will surely vanquish Akron this upcoming Saturday, but then the rubber meets the road in a four game stretch that includes Georgia, Mississippi State, Alabama and South Carolina (three of four on the road).  I see no way that Coach Dooley can survive a 0-4 mark vs. these four opponents.  A singular win during this stretch would give him his "signature SEC win" (even one against Mississippi State... sadly).  I hope Coach Dooley can somehow pull seven or eight wins out of this season and return next year to lead the team.  After all, he's a square peg in a square hole.

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