After 36 football games and a 15-21 record, the Derek Dooley era at Tennessee has officially come to an end.
The 44-year-old Dooley was dismissed Sunday morning by vice chancellor and director of athletics Dave Hart on the heels of the Vols' 41-18 loss at Vanderbilt, a game that marked Dooley's final appearance as head coach at the University of Tennessee.
UT officials confirmed the news this morning to VolQuest.com, and a press conference is scheduled for 2 p.m.
"We very much appreciate the effort and energy that Derek Dooley and his staff have poured into our football program at the University of Tennessee. Derek and I met early this morning, and I informed him that I believed a change in leadership, despite the positive contributions he has made to the overall health of the program, was in the best long-term interests of Tennessee football," Hart said in a statement released by UT. "We will immediately begin the search for the best possible candidate to assume this leadership role."
Sources told VolQuest.com, which reported last Sunday that Dooley's tenure on Rocky Top was drawing to an imminent close, that Dooley was offered the option of coaching Tennessee's regular-season finale but declined. Jim Chaney is expected to be named interim head coach for the Vols.
Staff meetings were scheduled subsequent Dooley's television show this morning on the UT campus, and Hart was expected to address the team after meeting with Dooley's staff, sources told VolQuest.com, to deliver the news of Dooley's dismissal.
"I am sorry we could not generate enough wins to create hope for a brighter future," Dooley said in a statement. "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."
Tennessee entered its game against Vanderbilt still mathematically alive for a bowl berth and trailed only 13-10 at the half. But the homestanding Commodores outscored their guests 28-8 across the final 30 minutes, ensuring the Vols of their third-straight losing season, fourth in five years and fifth since 2005. It is the first time since the late-1970s that Tennessee will not advance to postseason play in consecutive years, and the loss to Vanderbilt was the program's worst in that one-sided rivalry in more than 50 years. The Vols' eight-game SEC losing streak is also their longest since being a charter member of football's most storied conference.
Dooley praised his players' and coaches' efforts till the very end.
"I hurt for them. They gave their all. We gave our all," Dooley said Sunday morning on his final coach's show. "It wasn't enough."
Dooley is 0-15 in his Tennessee career against ranked opponents. Last Saturday's loss to Missouri was only the second time a Dooley-coached team had lost when leading at the half. Going into that game, sources told VolQuest.com that Dooley would have had a chance to survive had he won out and got to 7-5. But Tennessee couldn't hold onto a 14-point halftime lead in falling to the Tigers 51-48 in four overtimes, and it lead only briefly in the first half at Vanderbilt.
Following last week's home loss to the Tigers, Dooley appeared to be emotional in his post-game press conference and was said to be extremely down, indicating that he didn't expect this tenure could survive the loss. Sources told VolQuest.com that it was again a very emotional scene in the Vols' locker room after the loss at Vanderbilt and that Dooley apologized to the players and made clear he shouldered the blame for the disappointing results of this season.
Dooley's contract states that he is to be awarded a $5 million buyout that is payable to him over 36 months. The total cost to buy out the Vols' football coach staff, at its maximum, is more than $7 million.
Hart is expected to address the move forward and the program's direction, one that sources indicate it is imperative to have everyone on campus moving in the same direction for success.