Originally written on Saturday Night Slant  |  Last updated 11/12/14
It took a four overtime loss to Missouri to seal his fate but late last night Wes Rucker, senior writer at govols247.com, tweeted that it's “Not a question of 'if,' but 'when' on Dooley. Don't think they'll announce anything until after a Vandy loss or after UK game, win or lose.” That's right, Derek Dooley and his patented orange pants will soon be seen in the unemployment line. The son of legendary Georgia head coach Vince Dooley has been in over his head in Knoxville – that was evident in his first year. Since then, things haven't improved with this being Dooley's magnum opus – a 4-6 overall record and 0-6 in the SEC. The Vols have two games remaining – at Vanderbilt and home vs Kentucky – and only one of those should be a guaranteed win. The only team that looks worse than Tennessee on the field this year is Kentucky but that's excusable because, well, it's Kentucky and their notoriously wretched at football. The Dooley hire in 2010 was somewhat of a head-scratcher. He had done a commendable job at Louisiana Tech and took them to a bowl in his 2nd year with the team. However, the year he was hired away from the Bulldog program he had finished 4-8 and held a 17-20 overall record. That certainly does not “wow” you with what he was able to accomplish. He was hired to replace Lane Kiffin and help clean up the mess left by him and Phillip Fulmer. That didn't exactly happen. Neither did the wins that he was hired to produce. Since arriving in Knoxville, Dooley is 15-19 overall but an embarrassingly poor 4-17 with zero of those wins being against a team other than Kentucky, Vanderbilt, or Ole Miss. So who does Tennessee turn to now? That all depends on how much money they are willing to spend. Dooley's buyout for him and his entire staff could reach up to $9.3 million which is a daunting total. Some of that money could be saved if the incoming head coach decides to retain certain members of the current staff but that's all up to who exactly is the next head coach. By being one of the premier SEC programs, Tennessee should have their pick of whomever they would like within reason. The Volunteer program is a sleeping giant that just needs to be pointing in the right direction and awakened from its dormancy. But who can do that? 1 - Jon Gruden (ESPN announcer) Ask any Tennessee fan who they want as their next head coach and Gruden's name is out of their mouth faster than you can complete the question. The former Super Bowl winning coach has multiple ties to Tennessee: his wife was a former cheerleader there but more importantly Tennessee is where Gruden first got his start into coaching. Also, Gruden and his wife visit the Knoxville region frequently in the offseason. Would Gruden leave his sweet gig at ESPN to resuscitate a SEC program? It all depends on who you ask but as long as the job remains open the Gruden rumors will still be there. 2 – Kirby Smart (Alabama defensive coordinator) Now this would definitely be a “smart” hire. Sorry, I couldn't resist. Smart also makes too much sense. Let's play a quick game of connect the dots. Tennessee's athletic director, Dave Hart, is from Alabama where he worked with Kirby. Tennessee's current defensive coordinator, Sal Sunseri, is a former linebackers coach under Smart at Alabama. By hiring Smart, he could very easily retain Sunseri as his defensive coordinator which would in turn save Tennessee money by not having to buy the latter out of his contract. That's it for connect the dots but there's a few more caveats to add – Hart would be hiring someone from the Nick Saban coaching tree who is also one of the hottest assistant coaches on the market and who knows how to recruit. 3 – James Franklin (Vanderbilt head coach) What Franklin has done in two years at Vandy is nothing short of remarkable. His combined efforts in recruiting and on and off the field coaching has paid dividends. The Commodores win this weekend against Ole Miss made them bowl eligible for the second straight year and with two games remaining against Tennessee and Wake Forest they could finish the season a stunning 8-4. Would Franklin be interested in leaving Vanderbilt after just two years there? That would likely be the biggest question facing Tennessee in trying to lure Franklin away. 4 – Kliff Kingsbury (Texas A&M offensive coordinator) The suave, perfectly coifed Kingsbury is probably second behind Kirby Smart in being one of the hottest assistant coaches in the SEC. His brilliantly executed game plan and play-calling against Alabama only raised his level of intrigue. Kingsbury is only 33 but his resume, ability as a playcaller, and quarterback developer, and game-planner speaks volumes. He has the swagger to be a head coach but would a program like Tennessee take the risk of hiring him? 5 – Gus Malzahn (Arkansas St. head coach) Could Malzahn be coaching Tyler Bray? It's possible. Known for his exciting, no-huddle offense, Malzahn has been successful in every coaching stop he's been at. He has four years experience of being an offensive coordinator in the SEC (1 year at Arkansas, 3 at Auburn) and helped the Tigers/War Eagles win their first BCS championship. In his first year at Arkansas St he already having the Red Wolves bowl eligible at 7-3. Hiring Malzahn would be an intriguing hire but that's if Arkansas doesn't get to him first. There are several other candidates – Mark Hudspeth, Bobby Petrino, Charlie Strong, just to name a few – that could receive consideration as well. Tennessee AD Dave Hart has a plethora of choices available to fill the orange pants left by Dooley's imminent departure most of which should make an immediate splash in Knoxville.
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