For all the talk surrounding Derek Dooley and his likely doomed fate following the aftermath of Saturday's loss to Missouri, one person has been conspicuously silent.
That's the person who, largely to a degree, holds Dooley's fate in his hands.
While it's likely that Dooley's future has already been decided, and perhaps sealed by the latest on-field meltdown Saturday afternoon, he contended that athletic director Dave Hart told him that no
decision has been made.
Of course, Hart has made very few comments this fall and continues to relay through UT spokesman Jimmy Stanton that he will make an evaluation of the program at the conclusion of the 2012 season.
However, unless Hart has been absent from a number of the games this year, it's likely he has seen enough of Dooley's resume to know just what he's got at the helm of the Vols. Hart, a collegiate athletics administration veteran, has been around successful programs in the past.
Under his watch in Knoxville, the Vols have been historically bad. Levels perhaps not even foreseen by those who knew that Tennessee was in serious trouble after firing Phillip Fulmer and seeing Lane Kiffin bolt for Los Angeles 14 months later.
On Saturday, Tennessee became the first-ever team in the SEC to allow 38 points or more in six straight games.
Tennessee is one loss away from it's third straight losing record, after only compiling one instance of consecutive sub-.500 seasons in it's history. The only time that Tennessee had back-to-back losing campaigns was a century ago.
Speaking of losing, Tennessee hasn't won a league game in almost a calendar year and Dooley is responsible for almost 10 percent of the program's losses in SEC play.
The numbers add up. They don't equal another chance for Dooley.
That's why Sunday's report by Volquest.com
, which cited sources that the question of Dooley's ouster was a matter of when, not if, was as easy to see coming with the writing already squarely on the
That's why it's almost imperative that Hart move in some form or fashion. Two other SEC schools are already actively looking for head coaches, with Auburn likely to join the coaching carousel soon.
But a quick decision by Hart almost alleviates the pressure on Dooley and the Tennessee program.
Like an axe hanging by a thread, you know it is going to drop - you just don't know when. It's tough enough for the Tennessee players - several of whom suffered from the Fulmer firing and the Kiffin debacle - but think of Dooley and his family.
The facial expression of the embattled Tennessee coach following Saturday's loss, showed he knew that his time in Knoxville was growing nigh. It's a sad realization for a man, with a proud pedigree and appreciation for southern football, to know - even perhaps if he wasn't fully qualified for the job - that he was massively failing in the public eye.
It also takes a toll on his family, including wife Allison - who quickly ushered through the media center on Saturday evening following the game with her three children in toll. The same family members who Dooley described as being "beat up" with the rumors of his firing on Sunday.
Football is an agonizingly tough profession. The pressures on a coach and his family come daily. College football comes with high stakes and high rewards. It's a big boy business.
That's why Hart needs to become a big boy and make the call to end the Dooley era now, which hasn't seen any rewards at all.