7. 2012: 5-7 (1-7)
One year after that horrendous 2011 season, Tennessee football was supposed to finally take a step forward under Derek Dooley. The Vols were set to get Tyler Bray and Justin Hunter back fully healthy, they signed Cordarrelle Patterson, a junior college superstar, and they returned a ton of talent on both sides of the ball.
However, there was a specific issue that held them back. The horrible 2011 campaign led to Dave Hart not publicly supporting Dooley, and that led to Dooley’s staff being poached. He lost seven members, and the most notable of them was defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox.
Kevin Steele would’ve replaced him, but he was then fired by the Clemson Tigers after allowing 70 points to the West Virginia Mountaineers in the Orange Bowl. That was the worst timing, as Dooley couldn’t then sell the Steele hire, so he settled on Alabama Crimson Tide linebackers coach Sal Sunseri.
This was just the backdrop. Sunseri brought in a 3-4 and threw everything at the defense early. That proved fatal. UT suffered through a historically great offensive season with a historically bad defensive season. They lost four games to SEC foes in which they scored 44, 31, 35 and 48 points.
After a 2-0 start that began with total domination over the N.C. State Wolfpack, the Vols lost to the Florida Gators 37-20 despite leading 20-13 late in the third. They would later lose four straight to the Georgia Bulldogs, Mississippi State Bulldogs, Alabama and South Carolina Gamecocks. Two of those losses were by one score.
Although they beat Troy 55-48, they then lost to the SEC newcomer Missouri Tigers at home. At 4-6, Dooley was fired in every way except officially, and with that hanging over the team’s head, they were blown out by the Vanderbilt Commodores 41-18.
At that point, Hart had to fire Dooley. Jim Chaney took over as interim coach, and they beat the Kentucky Wildcats. However, the Vols finished 5-7 with no top 25 wins, a loss to a team with a losing record in Mizzou and no wins over ranked teams, their best win coming against a 7-6 N.C. State team. That resume was worse than the 2011 team, so it’s higher up on this list.