Life was good as a Vol during the early afternoon hours of December 31, 2009. Fans prepared to juggle an afternoon of the BasketVols versus Memphis followed by a Chick-Fil-A match-up versus Virginia Tech. Calm seemed to find comfort in the Tennessee valley after a chaotic year following Phil Fulmer's departure.
Things started oddly in Memphis that night as JP Prince goofed off prior to the tip - off. Regardless of JP's antics and some ups and downs during that game, the Vols beat in-state rival Memphis, and the 2009 - 10 basketball season was shaping up beautifully.
A quick trip to the indoor tailgate prior to the Chick-Fil-A bowl allowed Vol fans to turn their attention to the gridiron. Undoubtedly fathers and sons debated the Vols prospects versus the Hokies as a resurgent Jonathan Crompton became a respected signal caller during the final games of 2009. And then came kickoff. The Vols kept the score close for a while, but VTU eventually pulled away with a 27-14 win.
The next two weeks were utter turmoil highlighted by an epic basketball game.
Twelve hours after Lane Kiffin coached his last game as a Vol, a carload of BasketVols were pulled over on Alcoa Highway. Guns were found. Suspensions and dismissals ensued. The most notable dismissal was native Tennessean and all-conference player Tyler Smith. Three other Vols were suspended, and the Vols basketball hopes seemed destined for a distant wasteland.
A funny thing happened on the way to that wasteland, though. Top ranked Kansas came to town and succumbed to a team of walk-ons and battlers. The scrappy Vols mustered a heroic win on the shoulders of Skylar McBee's late three. The worries of New Years Day were drained through the same net as McBee's three.
But the roller coaster ride of 2010 was just beginning. Days later ESPN broke news that Lane Kiffin was departing for USC. Local outlets quickly confirmed and the news spread quickly at around 8:30 PM on January 12, 2010. Studios congregated and "rioted" outside the football complex while inside a fierce debate raged regarding Kiffin's farewell press conference. Surely this wasn't happening. Kiffin was brash, but when the brash guy is wearing your favorite team's colors, you start to like the brashness. You like the jabs at opposing coaches and the exuding confidence. Kiffin parlayed a 1 1/3 year stint with the Oakland Raiders and 1 year stint with Tennessee into a coaching job at USC. And he took his Dad and Coach O with him.
Before the Vols could look ahead to a new coach, there was much debate about the manner in which Kiffin et al left town. Did they call Vol commits? Did they tell early enrollees not to begin class the following day? There was enough smoke there for many Vol fans to believe a fire was nearby.
Derek Dooley was hired away from Louisiana Tech a few days later. The hire was not necessarily celebrated as most Vol fans felt a bigger name was suitable for the west sideline at Neyland Stadium. Dooley secured a solid recruiting class in three short weeks, but his initial distance from the fanbase and focus on the process, concerned many.
The next few months were generally positive as the Basket Vols made a run to the Elite Eight which eventually ended in a difficult loss to Michigan State. Regardless of the outcome, this was a banner performance for the Basket Vols.
The major sports quiet season begins just after the NCAA tournament and Spring Football games and picks up before fall camp begins. Vol fans got an early fall football gift with the Bar Knoxville brawl on a Friday morning in July. Allegations arose regarding officers being assaulted, players fleeing, and punches flying. There were more suspensions and a dismissal, and yet again, frustration ensued in Big Orange Country.
August was relatively calm to the public eye as football practice started. The Vols played impressively versus an undermatched UT Martin. On the eve of a nationally televised football game versus Oregon, though, basketball stole the limelight as UT announced significant penalties for the basketball coaching staff following an apparent NCAA violation, investigation, and coordinated cover-up by the staff.
A rain storm drenched a good first half performance by the Vols against Oregon, and most Vol fans wondered, as Gerald Jones subsequently said "what did we do to deserve this?"
Then came losses to Florida and an overtime win versus UAB. Both were painful, but that pain was temporary compared to the scar of what happened in Baton Rouge, LA on the first Saturday of October. Much as been written about thirteen men on the field, Les Miles' clock management, and everything surrounding the victory and defeat at Baton Rouge. Vol fans will never forget the CBS graphic depicting thirteen men on the field and the image of Chris Walker face first in the LSU endzone as Tigers' celebrate behind him.
The Vols followed the LSU loss with three additional October losses and stumbled into November with a 2-6 record and true freshman at QB as new damaging information arose about the aforementioned basketball violation cover up.
November and early December were wonderful times in Vol - land. Four straight football wins and a bowl bid were accompanied by an undefeated basketball season and Pre-season NIT Championship including wins over highly ranked Pitt and Villanova. The Basket Vols struggled to validate those wins with three consecutive losses to far inferior opponents, and as this post is written, the Vols trial College of Charleston by 20.
Capping off all these remarkable events was the 2010 Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl which saw the Vols, for the second time in one season, both win a game and lose a game on the same night. This loss was almost more remarkable than the LSU loss since UNC was able to convert a penalty to their own use and secure a victory in two overtimes.
Instead of producing a season highlight DVD, the Vol Network should sell the rights to Vol fans will undoubtedly be ready to see 11:59 give way to 12:00 on New Years Eve night.
My apologies for misspellings and typos. I was too depressed to proofread.