One more year? Um, okay. (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)
This whole piece is really about Derek Dooley, who like a lot of coaches is stuck somewhere between a team's perceived potential and what it might actually be. That margin is the killer, because we know that a.) Derek Dooley inherited a barn fire, and b.) that barn fire has not been made any better by injuries, the brutal realities of playing in the SEC, or the winds of random stupidity gusting through Knoxville from time to time.
There's also this. Tennessee has money, even after buying out a coach recently and putting some bigger rims and a spoiler on Neyland Stadium. They have a large fanbase, abused and miserable as they currently may be. They have a unique recruiting profile, but that isn't a death sentence by any stretch of the imagination, especially given the money in that perpetually swollen recruiting budget. The university makes admissions allowances for student-athletes where other schools would not. The schedule...well, the schedule will still suck, but it's not like the SEC East has been blowing out windows lately with anything but the thunderous farts of its own mediocrity.
We do know that Tennessee's circumstances have changed, and that before evaluating Dooley's tenure you have to take into account how far the theoretical ceiling is from the current floor. To this point, it's a very bad one thus far by the numbers, at least: 11-14 overall, and 4-12 in conference with zero wins over ranked opponents. Tennessee does have a win over a ranked opponent outside the conference, but mentioning FCS #12 Montana in 2011 is just cruel.
Then again, if Will Muschamp's got the same hatful of empty at this time next year--and no wins over ranked opponents as he had in 2011--we'll be saying the same about him. We don't know if circumstances have totally sabotaged either or both of them, but in Dooley's case after two years it can't be all snares and bear traps as far as the eye can see. We don't completely know how good Dooley can be as a coach, but what you as a Tennessee fan suspect in the dark is a terrible thing, especially when it's telling you the skylights are getting a little further away every second, and there's no obvious answers waiting at daybreak.
TL;DR: It's not entirely about the coaches, but they're in the equation, too, and what you suspect about Derek Dooley in your bones might not be entirely good for Tennessee.