3 Changes Tennessee Has To Make To Improve In 2012

Photo from Icon SMI - Derek Dooley

Tennessee had a terrible season overall, and the Vol faithful is losing faith in the program and the direction it is heading. Derek Dooley was hired two years ago, and he has been criticized for his ability – or lack thereof – to coach the Volunteers on the field during his tenure. Some think he is in over his head and some think he has what it takes if he is given the time to turn things around, while others think he is just snake bit. I tend to think the latter, personally, with his losses against LSU and North Carolina a year ago. This year did not do much to prove that theory, though.

Anyway, Tennessee’s horrible 5-7 record, 1-7 in conference, should be criticized, and fans should be disappointed with the product on the field and the lack of heart shown in the latter portion of the season…or maybe all season.

As if it was not enough, Tennessee loses to Kentucky last weekend, erasing a 500-year winless drought for the Wildcats, or so it seemed.

Furthermore, everyone is aware that Tennessee needs stability within their coaching staff, all the while making necessary staff changes to help the direction of this program. Something has to give. Dooley figures to stay, but changes within the coaching staff have to be made.

Here are three changes Tennessee has to make moving forward, and none of them include firing Derek Dooley:

Photo from Icon SMI - Tyler Bray

1. Leadership in the locker room: There was none on this year’s team. No one wanted to step up and be ‘the guy’ for Tennessee in the locker room this season. There is a ton of youth within the program and its players, but no one wants to step up. Most notably, quarterback Tyler Bray and wide receiver Da’Rick Rogers need to become team players. Both are individual players right now. They, along with Justin Hunter, need to step up and be leaders on the offense, starting right now this off-season. For starters, defensive candidates for leadership could include freshmen AJ Johnson and Brian Randolph. Johnson was second in total tackles, while Randolph was fifth. Both players, along with Curt Maggit, will be the backbone of this defense for years to come. They need to take ownership – right now.

2. A new offensive coordinator: Jim Chaney’s game plans were easy to predict – try to run the football, but know it has to pass to win. Once the running game shows no signs of life, and Tennessee would only run a handful of running plays mind you, Chaney would abandon the run and live and die on the pass. This is not healthy nor is it in any way resembling a balanced offense, and it simply did not work. Oh, it worked against non-SEC opponents, but to win in the SEC, you have to have a running game. I thought Chaney abandoned the running game way too soon – and besides, there was no originality on the play calls in the running game. Tennessee used the same ole plays in the playbook, and they simply could not run the football at all. There has to be a change made here. I’m not sure which direction Dooley will go with this position on his staff, but change has to happen.

3. A formally named running backs coach: There is currently NO ONE on Tennessee’s coaching staff with this title, as Chaney coaches the running backs along with being the offensive coordinator. Tennessee was dead last in rushing in the SEC, only averaging 90.1 yards per game. For comparison reasons, Kentucky ranked 11th in the SEC in rushing and averaged 120.1 yards per game on the ground. 90.1 yards per game is a stunning number, especially for a storied university with former great running backs like Jamal Lewis, James “Little Man” Stewart and Jay Graham, among others. A specific running back position coach would go a long way in helping Marlin Lane, Rajion Neal and others establish some confidence and stability in the running game. Running the football in the SEC is a must, and it is a mindset, but it starts with the aforementioned offensive coordinator and offensive line. The offensive line will be good for a couple more years because of the youth and talent returning.

Two quick things of note that should also happen:

1. Derek Dooley has to take a good look in the mirror and stop berating his players. This only tears a football team apart. Also, he has to help this team find a passion to play. There was none this year. That starts with the head coach. Dooley has some work to do on his own. Of course, though, we love his one-liners.

2. The passion of Tennessee football has to return. A possible coaching candidate includes Tee Martin, who won the BCS National Championship with Tennessee and currently coaches the quarterbacks at Kentucky. He would be a great hire for this staff. Also, what about possibly bringing in former running back Jay Graham to coach the running backs? Graham is currently the running backs and tight ends coach at South Carolina. Both were Tennessee greats, and both would help to restore some foundation and restore some passion for Tennessee football. Someone has to get these kids excited to play, right?

The SEC is better overall when Tennessee is competitive, and with Tennessee and Florida being down in the East, it makes for an overall weak East.

College football is better when Tennessee is good…and I’m a Florida fan.