During his Monday afternoon press conference, Tennessee Vols head coach Derek Dooley told reporters that Athletic Director Dave Hart hadn’t made a decision regarding his future.
The fact that Dooley hasn’t already been fired has many Vols’ fans wondering how much more evidence Hart needs to make a decision.
Putting aside all of the on-field issues with Tennessee’s football program, the only evidence Hart needs is the 42,000 empty seats at Neyland Stadium when the Vols played Missouri.
In 1988 under former coach Johnny Majors, the Vols began the season 0-6. At that time, Neyland Stadium’s official seating capacity was 91,110.
After the Volunteers picked up their first win of the season against then Memphis State, Tennessee played Boston College the following week at Neyland.
Despite being 1-6 and having no chance to receive a bowl invitation, 90,030 Volunteer fans filled Neyland to watch Tennessee beat Boston College. In their final home game of that season, Tennessee beat Kentucky in front of 90,353 fans.
Over the years, Tennessee’s football program has been supported by one of the most passionate fan bases in the nation. Since 1998, attendance at Neyland Stadium has been among the top five of all college football programs.
Even when the Vols were struggling on the field, fans packed Neyland Stadium to support it’s proud football program. But those days are clearly over. Fans aren’t going to support consistent losing, especially when there doesn’t appear to be any signs of hope on the horizon.
Those 42,000 empty seats at Neyland on Saturday speak volumes about the current state of affairs with Tennessee’s football program, and Hart can’t be blind to that.
Those empty seats go well beyond losing on the field. The loss in revenue alone amounted to more than $1 million and could potentially mean the loss of recruits considering the Vols.
Hart undoubtedly is weighing the pitfalls of paying Dooley his $5 million buyout. But given the mounting loss in attendance, the Vols football program stands to lose more than $5 million if Hart doesn’t fire Dooley.
Whether Hart realizes it or not, the decision has already been made to fire Dooley. The 42,000 fans that didn’t show up on Saturday made the decision for him.