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David Climer: Vols AD can't decide Dooley's fate alone
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David Climer: Vols AD can't decide Dooley's fate alone

Commentary by David Climer | The Tennessean

Tennessee Vols fans who are anxious for a coaching change are trusting Dave Hart to call upon all his experience and insight and make the correct decision.

Hart's fire/hire record with coaches at UT:

* He elevated Holly Warlick to Lady Vols basketball coach when Pat Summitt announced her semi-retirement.

* He hired Brian Pensky to coach the women's soccer team.

That's it.

As for the perception Hart has streamlined and cut out the fat at UT's athletics department, some numbers indicate exactly the opposite. When Hart was hired, the support staff consisted of six senior associate ADs, 11 associate ADs and seven assistant ADs. The organization shows one executive senior AD, six senior associate ADs, 13 associate ADs and 10 assistant ADs.

And you think the bureaucracy in Washington is bad. How would you like to be in charge of bringing the doughnuts to Hart's next staff meeting?

OK, OK. Hart has been around the intercollegiate athletics block a few times. He's been athletics director at East Carolina and Florida State, the latter for 13 years. More recently, he served as second-in-command at Alabama, working under Mal Moore.

That's the same Mal Moore who hired Nick Saban.

But it's also the same Mal Moore who hired Mike Price, Dennis Franchione and Mike Shula before finally getting it right with Saban.

Look, I'm not saying Hart isn't capable of handling this. It's just that a decision of this magnitude should not fall to one person.

Why would a system president, a university chancellor, its board of trustees and leading financial supporters distance themselves from the Derek Dooley debate? Why wouldn't everyone with a significant leadership role at the school insist he or she is involved?

This should be a group decision, not something decided in a vacuum by one person. Hart may be the athletics director -- or the vice chancellor/director of athletics for those reading from the organizational chart -- but the future of UT football is bigger than any one individual.

Former UT President Joe Johnson knew the score. He famously called the athletics department "the front porch of the university." And at UT, the football program is the first step to that front porch. A look at those distinctive orange jerseys on TV is the first exposure most of the country gets to the school.

It's either that or the story about alcohol enemas on frat row.

But quality leadership has been in short supply at UT for years -- and it has left a mark.

Since 1999, the president's office has been manned by such dignitaries as J. Wade Gilley (who resigned for "health reasons" after the university turned up 400-plus pages of emails that appeared to link him romantically with an underling), John Shumaker (who ran up a $30,000 tab for using the university plane for personal travel) and John Petersen (whose wife verbally attacked a donor at the UT president's residence).

Current UT Chancellor Jimmy Cheek hasn't been taken seriously since August 2010 when he sided with then-athletics director Mike Hamilton in support of embattled Vols basketball coach Bruce Pearl, who had admitted to the indefensible act of lying to NCAA investigators.

At a press conference that should live in infamy, Cheek said: "Bruce is our coach and he's going to be our coach for many years. We're going to get through this adversity."

Seven months later, UT fired Pearl. At that time, Cheek released a statement that said in part:

"Mike Hamilton has my support. I join him in looking forward to continued success."

Less than four months later, Hamilton resigned under pressure.

With that as background, why not take another look at the football program? Considering the chaos elsewhere at UT, maybe Derek Dooley isn't doing such a bad job after all.

David Climer's columns appear on Friday, Sunday, Monday and Wednesday. Contact him at 615-259-8020 or dclimer@tennessean.com.

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