When first-year Vanderbilt coach James Franklin takes his team to Neyland Stadium for the first time on Saturday, he’ll do so as a favorite. The Vegas Line opened at Commodores -1 and has since moved to VU -1.5.
Vandy has a better record than Tennessee (5-5 to 4-6). With a win the Dores will go bowling and the Vols will not. And they’ve been more competitive than the UT in several games against common foes:
South Carolina 21, Vanderbilt 3… South Carolina 14, Tennessee 3
Alabama 34, Vanderbilt 0… Alabama 37, Tennessee 6
Georgia 33, Vanderbilt 28… Georgia 20, Tennessee 12
Arkansas 31, Vanderbilt 28… Arkansas 49, Tennessee 7
Florida 26, Vanderbilt 21… Florida 33, Tennessee 23
Franklin’s immediate success hasn’t been good for second-year Tennessee coach Derek Dooley. Vol fans know that he took over a program that had declined under Phillip Fulmer and had been razed by Lane Kiffin’s quick exit, but 10-13 over (and 3-11 in the SEC) is still tough pill to swallow.
Many already believe Dooley shown all that he’s capable of and that that isn’t much. Some are already spreading the word on messageboards and talkshows that it should be nine wins of bust for UT’s coach next year.
But before too many people compare Dooley to Franklin and decide that it’s time — again — for change in Knoxville, they should first look at the following numbers:
|Starters By Class||Vanderbilt||Tennessee|
Franklin inherited a team with 15 upperclassmen in its starting lineup. Dooley is trying to coax wins from a squad featuring 14 underclassmen at the top of his depth chart. If picking between a team with six freshman starters and a team with zero freshman starters, 99% of coaches would take the team of veterans.
This isn’t to say Dooley will eventually succeed in Knoxville. He may not. In fact, his decision to start a true freshman quarterback in a winnable game against South Carolina — a game UT ultimately lost — was hard to fathom.
But Vol fans need to give Dooley a chance to coach a team that will have depth (unlike his 2010 squad) and will have some experience (unlike his team this season). If not for Dooley’s sake, then for the sake of their own program.
Dooley is on his way to his third straight Top 15 signing class. He’s stopped the bleeding when it comes to attrition in UT’s program and — for the most part — his players haven’t spent too much time in handcuffs, which is a far cry from previous regimes.
Instead of comparing Dooley to Franklin, people in the Volunteer State should instead compare him to Mike Shula.
The former Alabama head coach — like Dooley, the son of a coaching legend — took over his alma mater in the middle of stiff NCAA sanctions. Before being blown up after four seasons, Shula managed to stabilize the Tide program. He also recruited well enough to set the table for Nick Saban… who then went 26-2 and collected a national title in his second and third years in Tuscaloosa, thanks in part to key players he inherited from Shula.
No one can be sure what new Tennessee AD Dave Hart thinks of Dooley or of UT’s need for stability. If he’s sharp, he’ll probably tune out the talk radio callers and keep Shula in mind. Dooley can help the Vols’ program overall even if he’s not succeeding with his individual teams.
If Dooley falls to Vanderbilt on Saturday and has another ho-hum year in 2012, many will want his ouster. But giving him the boot would result in Tennessee trying to find its fourth coach in six seasons. That’s no way to rebuild.