Slash and Burn


I'd been out of the Army for less than 6 months and still had my head on a swivel. Now I found myself climbing cell towers for a living, trying to find an adrenaline high that matched my time in service.

Idaho was under siege during this time. Not from a foreign government, or occupy protesters, but rather from Mother Nature.

I was looking for a AWS cell site that was in the area, and unfortunately I was not going to be able to get to it. The smoke factor was just too great, as the fire's were on the outskirts of town. Being 300 feet up was one thing, but being 300 feet up in a smoke filled environment is another entirely.

Instead of a horizon, all one could see was black smoke rising for what seemed to be forever in to a cloudless sky.

Three years prior I had been in Yakima, Washington when a similar fire had developed at the training area. We spent the better part of a week fighting it. The following year Ft. Lewis asked for volunteers to help fight other fire's in Northern Idaho as the National Guard and local fire departments were over taxed.

You learn some interesting things during these the fact that Northwest Pine tree's that are over 100 feet tall turn in to rockets and can explode like anti-personnel munitions when a core temperature is reached. That tree's become roman candles, and despite what anyone says Mother Nature is not always your friend and she can be a vindictive witch when she wants to grind you in to oblivion.

It doesn't take too long under these conditions that your holiday fire in the fireplace no longer seems so calming or homey.

Today there is little sign these fire's took place. The undergrowth is lush and green. The tree's are back in force and the wild life is plentiful. I had the good fortune to see reclamation of the area after those flames just two years ago, and it looked little like the scorched earth that I remember. 

Once in a while a tree with burn marks was visible, but for the vast majority the areas was in a word, beautiful.

It takes these types of events to remind us how insignificant we are, and often times they occur in a sort of come uppence way, to keep us humble.

For years farmers did a similar method, burning their aging crops to revitalize the earth below. Destruction to reap harvest. Slash and Burn.

Tennessee is little different.

For years we were a dominate program, a program to be reckoned with. We laughed at our adversaries, we mocked our opponents and our pride, well....our pride was full and robust.

Now our opposition laughs, and the taste is sour in our mouths, ashes as it were.

It is our turn at the bottom of the barrel, the stability that kept us so dominate gone, and the integrity that made us prideful in question. It is these moments, that make us savor our victories so much more, and savour the success we once had. It makes you appreciate the good things more, and suddenly all of those times when we cursed performances by the likes of Arian Foster, Luke Stocker and other now looks almost practically plated in gold. We'd pay good money for those days again, to have that moment back.

But the here now is here to stay, and there is no going back. We can not undo, what was done.

Make no mistake, these problems can not be fixed over night and they won't be. It takes years for reforestation to occur after a fire, and for certain our program was torched as surely as those acres in Idaho a decade ago. 

As fans we don't like this fall from grace. For some it is something that is new, frightening, anger inducing, and unusual as we have always been winners. For others of us, it is something we had hoped we were passed, those days long gone. In any event these days are here, and a stark reminder of the fact that our program was in trouble, and will not be lush and plentiful immediately again.

Many of us talk of "elite recruits".

Seasons such as ours do not draw elite recruits. It draws a handful of good solid ones, and a multitude of lesser ones. An elite who arrives here will shine, but they will bear the brunt of any failure from our vehement fan base. It's been demonstrated over and over again. Even our current athletes bear our fans ire.

It is one reason I have never questioned the fact of scholar athletes and program to "pay" them: as a scholar you may fail a science test, but no one will be sending your family death threats because you did so, but I digress....

We scream over our Coach. His decisions, his choices, his rational and his actions. We foam at the mouth and rail at the heavens that brought us this historical day that we wish had never occurred. We cry, we curse, we rant.

But Change Still Happens

It is not necessary to change, as W. Edward Deming once pointed out, as survival is not mandatory. However the Tennessee fan base demanded change in 2008 and rid themselves of their stability in Phillip Fulmer, because in the SEC survival is mandatory, and change it was believed, would bring relevance.

The only difference between a rut, and a grave, is their dimensions. So we heralded in a new comer, who when he left burned every bridge left standing in his retreat.

The fireman arrived, a Volunteer fireman. Because no one else wanted this program, no elite big name coach wished to be associated with the firestorm.

No one wanted to get burned.

Barely two years later and again our fan base demands change, and thinks a big name coach will change everything. Again, the fire's are burning, and while not as great two years ago it's barely under control.

Recruits are waiting, and watching. They see the pitchforks and the fires. Change is something that as a Project Manager, I encounter every day, and one of my chief directives is to take away the fear of a change. Because change is a threat, change is a evil entity that hides under your bed at night and awaits in your closet when the lights go out. Change is a unknown, and people fear those things they do not know or do not understand. A program in change, is a program elite recruits avoid, and big name coaches have no desire to be part of.

Successful rebuilding coaches are all given the same thing: time. Time and patience. Once again if we demand change, we can not undo what will be done. If we pull the chalk blocks and let it rip, the fire that burns down the program could take more than just a few seasons to fix, but years. Because our integrity will be questioned and our stability will be a laughing stock.

It takes time to fight a wild fire, to keep it from causing more damage, to get it contained and controlled. It takes time for it to regrow, and for the earth to rebuild from the ashes. It takes a stable leadership, and people who see the goal, understand the end game, and commit to the cause.

Programs are no different.

In three years time, which side will you say you were part of:

The Fire?

Or the Firemen?

Go Vols!

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