'Hitting a bottom' sobering for Vols

Tennessee coach Derek Dooley talked about “hitting a bottom” Saturday following the Vols’ 10-7 loss to Kentucky.

Senior running back Tauren Poole was even more cryptic. He said bluntly, “It’s embarrassing just to be a Vol right now.”

Obviously, the Vols’ coaches and players were feeling the pain of having their 26-game winning streak over the Wildcats halted.

That and the realization that they had just put the wraps on their second consecutive losing season, something that hasn’t happened at Tennessee since 1910 and 1911.

So “hitting a bottom” is probably an appropriate way of putting it when trying to describe where this once-proud Tennessee program is right now.

But even more sobering than that is the simple fact that the Vols are as irrelevant as they’ve been on the college football landscape in eons … and maybe ever.

You’re talking about a program that has now suffered through four losing seasons in the past seven years.

The Vols haven’t won a bowl game since the 2007 season. They’ve lost 11 in a row to nationally ranked teams. They haven’t been nationally ranked themselves since the 2008 preseason poll.

And, now, with the first loss to Kentucky since 1984 sure to resonate all offseason, the debate about whether or not Dooley is the man to lead the Vols back to respectability will heat up more than ever.

He walked into a mess, for sure, and the Vols were extremely unlucky this season when it came to injuries.

But Season No. 3 under Dooley had better be all about progress and making up some serious ground in an Eastern Division race that has been there for the taking the past couple of years.

The movers and shakers at Tennessee won’t be interested in hearing about all of the things that are wrong with the program heading into next season, be it injuries, youth, inexperience or a lack of leadership.

Something says they’ve had their fill of that.

What they’ll be interested in hearing about is Dooley’s plan to fix a program that went to five SEC championship games in an 11-year span from 1997-2007.

That was during an era of Tennessee football when simply making it to Atlanta on a regular basis wasn’t enough for Phillip Fulmer to keep his job.

Eras come and go, though, and Dooley’s window to get to Atlanta closed some Saturday with the Vols’ first loss to Kentucky in more than a quarter-century.