Perception: Tennessee Is The School of Hard Knox

Dusty Rhodes knows a thing or two about times. And hard times have come to the University of Tennessee’s once-proud football program. Black Monday is typically limited to the NFL, but Jan. 2 will go down as a dark time for the Volunteers.

Gone from Derek Dooley’s staff are defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox and linebackers coach Peter Sirmon. The effects were felt immediately. reported earlier Monday of two de-commitments: Keithon Redding and Khalid Henderson. The circumstances of Henderson’s about-face have to be particularly troubling for Volunteer fans.

Per The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Henderson said:

“I guess if Tennessee is out there looking for other linebackers, then I can do find another place to go. Tennessee is where I wanted to go, and that’s where I’ve been loyal to ever since June.”

The loss of recruits is a troubling sign, only compounded with the departure of a key recruiter in Sirmon. And that Tennessee was unable to keep assistants from abandoning ship for what would, in past years, be considered a significant downgrade is a testament to where UT is at now.

Henderson isn’t the sole player with Tennessee ties to have a negative experience with Dooley in the past week. There is much the public doesn’t know about the situation involving DeAnthony Arnett’s request for a transfer. But perception doesn’t look good when a family member of Arnett says his seeking a transfer has nothing to do with dissatisfaction with the university, but rather the health of his ailing and his release becomes conditional.

Perception of some is that Dooley might be in over his head.

Dooley had name recognition when UT tabbed him to succeed Lane Kiffin after the 2009 season, the son of Georgia’s Vince Dooley. Otherwise, all UT had on which to base its decision was a brief tenure at Louisiana Tech that climaxed in the 2008 Independence Bowl. The Bulldogs’ bowl campaign was bookended with sub-.500 campaigns.

Sonny Dykes guided that same La. Tech program to its best season, winning the WAC championship and taking powerful TCU to the brink in the Poinsettia Bowl. Some of Dykes’ pieces were Dooley recruits, like reserve quarterback Colby Cameron, who came on strong in the Bulldogs’ seven-game win streak to close the regular season. Some of the Bulldogs’ success belongs to Dooley, without question.

But Quinton Patton, the Bulldogs’ talented wideout, was a Dykes signee. As was Taulib Ikharo. Adding salt to Vols’ fans wounds is that Tech’s leading rusher, Lennon Creer, was once a Tennessee product.

Not all of Tennessee’s failings in its consecutive seasons below the .500 are Dooley’s. Certainly Tyler Bray’s injury hindered the Volunteers midway through the campaign, and despite popular opinion of late, a coach cannot truly be judged until an entire recruiting class comes through the system.

And that latter point is what makes today’s decommits so troubling for UT. Such public misfires credited directly to a head coach indicate bad things on the horizon. Recruiting is based heavily on perception: perception of the program’s direction, perception of compatibility with players and staff, perception of future involvement, perception of the university.

Perception of Tennessee is none too positive. That, baby, is hard times.

Tags: Coaches Derek Dooley Tennessee Volunteers

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