But that improvement didn’t show up in Tennessee’s record, so Dooley no longer is the Vols’ coach.
Dooley was fired Sunday after posting Tennessee’s longest run of consecutive losing seasons in over a century. Dooley owned a 15-21 record that included an 0-15 mark against Top 25 teams. Dooley was 4-19 in Southeastern Conference competition and had lost 14 of his last 15 league games.
“This is a result-based profession,” Hart said. “You cannot ignore the results at the end of the day.”
The Vols’ (4-7, 0-7 SEC) must beat Kentucky on Saturday to avoid going winless in SEC play for the first time in school history. Offensive coordinator Jim Chaney will serve as Tennessee’s interim coach for the Kentucky game. Hart said Dooley turned down an opportunity to coach the season finale out of concern that it would affect the players’ focus.
Tennessee’s 41-18 loss to Vanderbilt on Saturday guaranteed the Volunteers their third consecutive losing season, the first time they have finished below .500 in three straight years since 1909-11. Tennessee’s loss to Vanderbilt marked only the second time in 30 years that the Vols had fallen to their in-state rival.
The Vols will fail to reach a bowl in back-to-back seasons for the first time since being left out four consecutive years from 1975-78.
“I am sorry we could not generate enough wins to create hope for a brighter future,” Dooley said in a statement released by the university. “Although progress was not reflected in our record, I am proud of the strides we made to strengthen the foundation for future success in all areas of the program. During the last 34 months, I’ve given my all for Tennessee, and our family appreciates all this University and the Knoxville community has given us.”
Dooley’s successor will become the Vols’ fourth coach in a six-year stretch. Phillip Fulmer was fired in the midst of a 5-7 season in 2008 and ended his 17-year tenure with a 152-52 record. Lane Kiffin stayed for just one year before Southern California hired him away. Now Dooley is leaving after only three seasons.
Dooley didn’t enter an ideal situation when he arrived at Tennessee in January 2010 after going 17-20 in three seasons at Louisiana Tech. Tennessee went a combined 12-13 in the two years leading up to his arrival.
“Derek Dooley did indeed improve this football program,” Hart said. “There is no question about that. He inherited a very, very difficult environment, one that I’m now very familiar with having been here for these 13 months. And quite honestly, he was given a pretty short stick to take into that battle. I think given those facts that he did a good job in a lot of areas in putting a solid foundation under our football program.”
Hart said he probably wouldn’t use a search firm in choosing his next coach. He considers previous head coaching experience “critically important.”
After Dooley led Tennessee to a 6-7 record and Music City Bowl bid in 2010, the Vols went 5-7 last season and closed the year with a 10-7 loss to Kentucky, ending the Vols’ 26-game winning streak in that annual series.
Dooley overhauled his coaching staff over the winter, most notably adding Sal Sunseri as defensive coordinator after Justin Wilcox left to take the same position at Washington. The Vols were confident they could turn things around this year. Dooley said during the SEC Media Days that “you’re not going to have Tennessee to kick around anymore.”
It hasn’t worked out that way. The Vols briefly entered the Top 25 after winning their first two games, but they’ve lost seven of nine since. Their defense has allowed 37.4 points and 476.8 yards per game to rank statistically among the worst in school history.