|Tennessee fired Derek Dooley on Sunday, announcing that OC Jim Chaney will coach the final game. (US Presswire)|
Derek Dooley will not return as Tennessee's coach, the school announced on Sunday.
The process for hiring a replacement will begin immediately, and Dooley will not coach the Volunteers' final game of the season at home against Kentucky on Nov. 24. Offensive coordinator Jim Chaney will serve as the interim coach for that game.
"I am sorry we could not generate enough wins to create hope for a brighter future," Dooley said in a statement released by the school. "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."
There is a press conference scheduled for Sunday at 2 p.m. ET at Neyland Stadium. There, athletic director Dave Hart will address the media and Tennessee fans regarding the decision. The press conference will also be streamed online through the school's website.
"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," Hart said in the university statement. "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. We will immediately begin the search for the best possible candidate to assume this leadership role."
The decision comes after an embarrassing 41-18 loss to in-state rival Vanderbilt on the road and a week after a 51-48 overtime loss to Missouri at home. Dooley knew that he would likely be coaching for his job in 2012, and the final result is far from unexpected. The issue now for Hart and the Tennessee administration is finding a suitable replacement after two unsuccessful attempts at landing the next long-term coach.
The short list for the Vols obviously includes former Bucs and Raiders coach John Gruden, one of the most popular names in coaching since he took his current broadcasting job with ESPN.
According to CBS Sports NFL Insider Jason LaConfora, both Tennessee and Arkansas are targeting Gruden. Sources say that Arkansas is prepared for a bidding war, and current Browns owner Jimmy Haslam will be no doubt be pushing for Gruden at Tennessee - where Haslam is a top booster. LaConfora points out that Gruden's wife attended Tennessee, and the lifestyle college coaching presents may make it more intriguing than a NFL job.
Gruden, who could in the end opt to stay at ESPN, has tremendous leverage, and will have NFL opportunities as well, but according to league sources, as he has made calls identifying possible staff members, his focus has seemed more on the college game, asking questions about recruiting and issues that do not relate to pro football. Numerous sources who have talked to him in recent weeks came away with the impression that Gruden was more serious about return to coaching now than at any time since he left, although it also became clear that it still would have to be a perfect situation to lure him from his current job, where he is heavily compensated yet still gets to have a fairly normal lifestyle with his family (as opposed to his maniacal approach to coaching nearly round-the-clock).
Dooley leaves Tennessee with a 4-19 record in SEC play, only one bowl appearance and no winning seasons. He was hired from Louisiana Tech after Lane Kiffin left to take the coaching job at USC.
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