Tennessee ‘cause of it all’ coming to town

Marvin Westwestwords

Mark Nagi wrote an interesting book a few years ago about Tennessee’s decade of football dysfunction (2010-2020, a decade plus one, the worst).

I don’t recall Mark blaming James Lawrence Mora for starting that mess but I do. Well, indirectly.

That same Jim Mora will be in town Saturday at noon, in time for UT homecoming. He is coach at University of Connecticut.

Long ago, Jim was coach of the Seattle Seahawks for one season, 2009. If he had done a little better than 5-11, Volunteer history might have been different.

Seattle fired Mora. That a more famous coach, Pete Carroll, was available might have been a factor.

Pete was coach at Southern Cal. He was looking to flee Los Angeles because the NCAA was closing in on serious Trojan violations. He jumped at the Seahawks’ offer. Tennessee coach Lane Kiffin jumped at the sudden vacancy Carroll created.

Kiffin said Southern Cal was his dream job. Tough stuff that the timing was terrible, that he was walking out on the Volunteers after just one campaign, at a very inconvenient time, early January, too close for comfort to national signing day for recruits.

Stay with me now. We’ll get back to Mora.

Tennessee athletics director Mike Hamilton rushed to find a replacement. Why in the world he chose Derek Dooley remains a mystery.

No. 1 among his limited credentials was his last name – Dooley – a son of Vince and Barbara Dooley of Georgia football fame. Vince was a great coach. Barb was famous for giving their boys’ first names that begin with D. She said the fifth D stood for dammit.

Derek had a law degree. He was articulate. As a football coach, something was missing. A losing record at Louisiana Tech (17-20 in three seasons) somehow launched him into the Tennessee job. No clue what Hamilton thought he saw.

Dooley delivered three fruitless seasons (5-19 versus SEC foes) but left his mark. He once compared his team to ill-fated Germans of the Hitler era. He taught shower discipline. He read Shakespeare to his players to open their minds. He brought an orange ceramic dog and a coaching stool to the sideline.

In time, Dooley went away.

Tennessee athletics director Dave Hart chose Butch Jones as a replacement. That was an improvement – but not much. His record against SEC opponents was 0-8 in his going-away season.

Derek and Butch earned their places in the decade of dysfunction.

Trying to replace Jones resulted in the abrupt end of John Currie’s time as Tennessee athletics director. Currie’s replacement, Hall of Fame coach Phillip Fulmer, chose Jeremy Pruitt as the new coach. You know how that turned out.

What we don’t know is how things might have been different if Mora had won more games with Seattle. Carroll might have been forced to stay at Southern Cal and take his punishment. Kiffin might have gone on dreaming about someday coaching the Trojans.

There might have been no decade of dysfunction. Kiffin at Tennessee might have been a super success – after the Vols recovered from a probable NCAA probation.

If you stayed with me to here, through the twists and turns, you may see how the miserable decade could have been avoided. Nagi could have chosen some other subject. He’s good at what he does.

Mora isn’t bad. He just needed to win a couple more NFL games. With four or five more victories, he might still be there, a safe distance from UConn.

Marvin West welcomes comments or questions from readers. His address is marvinwest75@gmail.com


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