A year ago last week, I almost saved Derek Dooley’s job

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By Owen Driskill   

Tennessee’s game against Missouri Saturday reminded me of the day I almost saved Derek Dooley’s job with a phone call, an act that, according to the many-worlds theory, means a universe exists where Dooley is wearing orange pants this season.


That unsettling possibility exists because of the one time every 20 years I break out of my fan cocoon.


I’m a quiet loyalist. My family has had the same seats in Neyland Stadium for 45 years. My father modeled a devout stoicism in our fandom. During close games, rather than let his anxiety show at home in front of his wife and three children, he drove to a local store, wandered the aisles pretending to shop, circled by electronics to catch the score on the TVs, and then retreated to the calm shelter of the hardware section.

We went to the games, but he never yelled much. He was pleased when we won. When we lost a close one — the heartbreaker against Notre Dame in 1990, the annual failures against Alabama in the late 80s and early 90s — he expressed his displeasure with a terse “dammit” uttered under his breath as we trudged back to the car.

We stopped wearing orange to games in 1988 when Tennessee started 0-6 because obviously it was bad luck. Tennessee won the next five and the SEC title the following year.

So, while we listened to call-in shows, followed recruiting and talked Vols around the dinner table, we were never the rambunctious types who call in to every radio show and wear player jerseys.

Every now and then, though, destiny moved us to place a call to Vol Calls, the coach’s weekly fan show. We are the Halley’s Comet of Vol Calls. We dial in about once every 10-15 years. As best as I can remember, I’ve called three times in 38 years.

1. Dad asked me to call in to make sure Jay Graham was still committed to Tennessee. He had been left off a list in the local paper.

2. Dad asked me to call in to ask why Tennessee bothered to run option plays with Andy Kelly, a strong-armed but stiff-legged quarterback.

3. And then there was the third time, when I nearly relegated Tennessee to a fourth year of Derek Dooley.

One quarterback after another had carved up UT’s defense in 2012. I had an idea. In 1989, Johnny Majors shored up a vulnerable secondary by putting a freshman wide receiver named Carl Pickens at free safety. His job was simple —  be big and fast and go get the football.

Pickens intercepted five passes in five games and was defensive MVP of the Cotton Bowl.

Why not, I thought, find another Carl Pickens? Let’s put receiver Cordarrelle Patterson at free safety on obvious passing downs and let him go wherever the ball goes.

I called Vol Calls. Producers, I’m sure thrilled to have any callers at that point in the season, let me talk to Dooley. I suggested putting Patterson at free safety. To be fair to Dooley, he was polite. But alas, he did not heed my advice.

Fast forward to the Missouri game. Leading 28-21, Tennessee had Missouri in a 4th-and-12 with one minute left. Get the stop, and the Vols win.

Then this happened:


Dorial Green-Beckham caught a touchdown pass in the corner of the end zone on a play he later said he drew up on his hand. Missouri tied the game and then won in four overtimes.

Let’s suppose Dooley had taken my suggestion. Patterson, as fast a player as Tennessee has ever had, breaks on the ball and likely knocks it down. Tennessee wins and improves to 5-5. Buoyed by a big victory, the Vols actually show up against Vanderbilt, win, and then beat Kentucky to finish 7-5 and are bowl eligible. Dave Hart, clearly looking for reasons to keep Dooley and avoid a costly buyout, brings Dooley back for one more season.

All because of me.

Written by Clay Travis

Clay Travis is the founder of the fastest growing national multimedia platform, OutKick, that produces and distributes engaging content across sports and pop culture to millions of fans across the country. OutKick was created by Travis in 2011 and sold to the Fox Corporation in 2021.

One of the most electrifying and outspoken personalities in the industry, Travis hosts OutKick The Show where he provides his unfiltered opinion on the most compelling headlines throughout sports, culture, and politics. He also makes regular appearances on FOX News Media as a contributor providing analysis on a variety of subjects ranging from sports news to the cultural landscape. Throughout the college football season, Travis is on Big Noon Kickoff for Fox Sports breaking down the game and the latest storylines.

Additionally, Travis serves as a co-host of The Clay Travis and Buck Sexton Show, a three-hour conservative radio talk program syndicated across Premiere Networks radio stations nationwide.

Previously, he launched OutKick The Coverage on Fox Sports Radio that included interviews and listener interactions and was on Fox Sports Bet for four years. Additionally, Travis started an iHeartRadio Original Podcast called Wins & Losses that featured in-depth conversations with the biggest names in sports.

Travis is a graduate of George Washington University as well as Vanderbilt Law School. Based in Nashville, he is the author of Dixieland Delight, On Rocky Top, and Republicans Buy Sneakers Too.