Entering last season, much of the talk was about the temperature of Mark Richt’s hot seat. After compiling a 6-7 record, the natives were restless. One year, one division title, one top-five recruiting class and one new contract extension later, Richt appears to be sitting atop the icebox at the SEC coaches’ picnic. But some of his fellow coaches are sweating, and after seeing the situation up close, we are wondering: “Which SEC coach has the most pressure on him going into the 2012 season?”
David Ching: Although it is somewhat unfair given the disaster he inherited, I believe Tennessee coach Derek Dooley's seat is probably the hottest entering the season. The Volunteers went 5-7 last season and are a mediocre 11-14 in his two seasons after taking over from Lane Kiffin.
It is apparent that the fans in Knoxville are dissatisfied after the team missed out on the SEC championship game through four straight years -- the Vols' longest drought since 1992-96, when Florida went to each of the first five league title games. The Vols have given no indication that they are ready to contend for an SEC East title, so their drought is likely to reach five this fall.
Even if they don't make it to Atlanta, the Vols might need to take steps in the right direction for Dooley to remain. Tennessee has a good chance to improve this season, however, thanks to a potentially high-powered passing game featuring quarterback Tyler Bray and receivers Da'Rick Rogers, Justin Hunter and juco transfer Cordarrelle Patterson.
Radi Nabulsi: I agree that it has to be Derek Dooley, but I think Joker Phillips could roast some marshmallows over his chair as well. Through two years he has amassed an 11-14 record, and this season looks daunting. Aside from the games with Kent State and Samford, the Wildcats have the SEC East gantlet to run as well as contests with Missouri, Arkansas and Mississippi State. Out-of-conference games against Louisville and Western Kentucky will be tough. In fact the Hilltoppers won seven of their last eight games and Charlie Strong’s Cardinals are returning 16 of their 22 young starters that beat Kentucky last season on the road.
Despite beating Tennessee last season in the final game -- ending a 26-year losing streak to the Volunteers -- Phillips has won just four SEC games in his two years. Beating Ole Miss and Vandy is not exactly a resume builder.
Phillips has only been at Kentucky for two years, so maybe it is too early for the hot seat talk. But the honeymoon with a new coach only lasts about two years, and the fans expect serious improvement in the third year. After losing two of his top players on defense, linebacker Danny Trevathan and safety Winston Guy, Phillips has his work cut out for him this season.
Kipp Adams: Derek Dooley at Tennessee.
Last year was a nightmare for Volunteers fans, but even with an ugly loss to Kentucky things could have been much worse. If officials had gone by the blown whistle and not reviewed and subsequently overturned a ruling saying Eric Gordon's knee was down, in-state rival Vanderbilt might have defeated Tennessee, giving the Vols their third loss to the Commodores in the last 30 years and its worst record (4-8) since 1977.
He might have been left with a mess after the departure of Lane Kiffin to USC, but Derek Dooley has to turn it around in Year 3. Tennessee enjoyed 13 straight winning seasons with Phillip Fulmer and averaged more than eight wins a year from 2000 to 2009. The fan base is conditioned to much better results, especially the possibility of a third straight losing season, which has not happened to Tennessee in more than 100 years.
Some have speculated that Dooley's staff saw the writing on the wall. Seven assistant coaches left UT without promotions. Nevertheless, things are not all doom and gloom for Dooley in 2012. The potential is there for an explosive passing attack with highly talented quarterback Tyler Bray and one of the most -- if not the most -- physically gifted wide receiver corps in the country with Justin Hunter, Da'Rick Rogers and junior college addition Cordarrelle Patterson.
But potential does not always amount to wins, and if the Vols cannot hold their own in the SEC East this fall, new athletic director Dave Hart could look to bring in his own guy soon.
wbrown55: It has to be Derek Dooley. Last year was a disaster, even with low expectations. The Volunteers escaped a loss to Vanderbilt and closed the season with a loss to lowly Kentucky. They're now coming off their first back-to-back losing seasons since 1911. Maybe even worse, the team looked like it quit at times last season -- see the Kentucky game -- and morale is low.
With quarterback Tyler Bray back to being healthy and three big-time playmakers at wide receiver, Volunteers fans are expecting to make some noise and surprise people. Tennessee has Florida in Knoxville in Week 3 -- a lot of fans will use that as a benchmark. If they win that game they should be 4-0 coming into Athens to play Georgia.
But if Dooley can't turn things around and the Vols are staring down another .500 finish and a fourth or worse placing in the SEC East, I think Tennessee fans will be howling. Dooley’s days in orange pants will be numbered.
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