It's officially Alabama week in Vol Nation. UT players, coaches, and fans are focused on a win over the Crimson Tide come Saturday. But, the Vols will take on the number one team in the nation, following three losses already this season to ranked opponents. There is no doubt emotions--and speculation about Head Coach Derek Dooley's future--are running high ahead of the rivalry game.
One of the biggest groups of Vol football fans got together on Monday for its regular, weekly lunch meeting. Members of the Knoxville Quarterback Club showed strong support for the Vols as former Alabama Head Coach Gene Stallings shared his thoughts about what it takes to win.
"If you're a coach at Alabama and you don't enjoy coming to Knoxville, Tennessee to play a game, then you have no business being in college sports. This is a great atmosphere," Stallings told the crowd.
The Crimson Tide legend did not specifically mention Dooley during his talk, but Quarterback Club board member, and former UT basketball player, Lloyd Richardson said he thinks Stallings' words apply to the current state of the Vol football program.
"One of the things that really caught my ear that Coach Stallings so eloquently talked about, and which is exactly the truth, is that so much has changed within parameters of college athletics, and college football. But, the thing that has not changed, but has truly been ramped up has been expectations...We have a long tradition and we should expect an awful lot, but it's a hard thing to realize that on occasions those expectations might be a little bit high in some years," Richardson said.
Just like Richardson, dozens of other Quarterback Club members at Monday's luncheon realize the stakes are high on Rocky Top going in to the remainder of the season. So does Coach Dooley.
"We got kicked around in this the last two years and we haven't gotten the results that we want, but we're playing better," Dooley said Monday morning at a press conference."
The Vols are three and three so far this season, with no SEC victories. They were competitive against Florida at home, and Georgia and Mississippi State on the road. Pressure is mounting for a conference win. That has some fans frustrated.
Dooley knows some of those fans are speculating about his future, and he's addressed that with his players.
"To tell an 18 year old not to read that stuff, I mean, I tell my 13 year old and he reads it so he doesn't listen to me either and so then you gotta get 'Plan B', which is you can't let them define who you are," Dooley said.
Richardson, however, thinks it's too soon to consider Dooley's demise.
"We've seen that little bit of instability and it makes for a tough, tough situation for all involved," Richardson explained.
The team is still in transition four years after Phillip Fulmer got fired and Lane Kiffin fled from the program.
In Fulmer's case, the university is on the hook until December 2012 for his contract buyout. According to Fulmer's separation agreement from the university, he will have received $6 million since 2008.
Add to that similar buyout agreements the university is still paying to former Men's Basketball Coach Bruce Pearl, former Athletic Director Mike Hamilton, and former Assistant Head Football Coach Charlie Baggett. Documents show the athletic department will spend nearly $8 million trading up its leaders by June 2014. That's when Hamilton's buyout, the agreement that expires last in the group, is scheduled to end.
That amount increases by an additional $5 million if Dooley leaves before February 16, 2014. Athletic Director Dave Hart is ultimately in charge of that decision.
"He will make the proper decision as to whether or not this is the time. Hopefully it isn't, but if it is and he chooses to do so then our blood still has to bleed orange," Richardson said about Hart.
An athletic department spokesperson tells 10News that money for the buyouts that are currently being paid was placed in savings accounts when the agreements were initially signed. The money was taken out of the department's general fund account in the years the buyouts started.
The Vols take on the Crimson Tide at Neyland Stadium, Saturday, October 20. Kick off is set for 7 p.m. The game is scheduled to be nationally televised on ESPN.