Dawn Finally Breaks on Rocky Top, Sources Say NCAA Investigation of Tennessee has Concluded

Smoky Mountain Sunrise (via Pen Waggener)

[Note by Joel Hollingsworth, 08/24/11 11:22 AM EDT ] Um, never mind!

I've been a Tennessee fan for about 15 years, and I've been blogging about them as a fan since 2005. Yeah, that season. Since 2005, the Volunteer football team has gone 5-6, 9-4, 10-4, 5-7, 7-6, and 6-7. That's 42-34, four games shy of a coin flip. There have been highlights, no doubt, but we've also seen national notoriety for player arrests and other wrongdoings, the division of the fan base over a career Vol head coach, the ill-advised hiring and embracing of Lane Kiffin and Ed Orgeron, PR nightmares, and the, ahem, affections of NCAA investigators.

Through much of it, we at least had a resurgent basketball program to run to, including among many other great moments, a special memory- and history-making trip to the Elite Eight. But only a few short months after that high water mark, and on top of all of the football and other athletic administration turmoil, we were shocked by the sight of Bruce Pearl crying at a podium about a mistake he made that would bring it all crashing back to earth in a heap of shards.

Over the past year or two, as disappointment and frustration has mounted, I've told friends on several occasions that I thought there were three kinds of fans. You have your bandwagon fans, those who jump on board for the first time when the team is competing for something special like a national title or otherwise making some positive national news. Then you have your fair weather fans, those who identify themselves as fans, but aren't really engaged unless the sun is shining on the team. And then you have your die hards, those who are fans even when the blackest storm clouds overtake every aspect of the program. These are the folks who sit soaking in the stands and dare the lightning to strike again.

 

After nearly seven years of blogging about a struggling program, I've learned that periodic bouts of bad news or on-the-field struggles can bring traffic spikes to a site and can serve to unite a frustrated fan base and provide an opportunity to commiserate, which can be good for the soul. Firing a coach and searching for a new one is good for page views, and a losing season can be interesting, informative, and even a little humorous if you look at it with the right perspective.

But too much for too long can have a serious burnout effect on the entire fan base. Bandwagon fans are wearing your rivals' colors, and fair weather fans are out shopping or eating or watching sitcoms or anything to get out of the rain. All that's left are the die hards, and they're all some form of frustrated, whether it's pissed or distant or just plain tired. Still smarting over attempting to manage the division of a community I love over Phillip Fulmer's termination, the tingle-faced embarrassment of defending Lane Kiffin, consecutive years of a complete overhaul of the coaching staff and the resulting transitional attrition, and a multi-faceted and multi-year NCAA investigation that had more legs than a millipede, the form of frustration this die hard fan blogger felt most often over the past several years is fatigue. Peering intently through the dark of night at the horizon waiting for the first signs of dawn can be exhausting.

I've misinterpreted a temporary glow as daybreak enough times on this blog to know that I shouldn't run into the streets and implore everyone to wake up and marvel at the glorious sunrise, but . . . this has to be dawn, doesn't it?

Tennessee has cleaned house. Regardless of where you stood on Phillip Fulmer, he's moved on. Lane Kiffin and his risky behavior have left for the West Coast, and good riddance. Even the athletic director is gone. And sources say that Tennessee will receive word from the NCAA today that sullied darling of the basketball program Bruce Pearl will bear the brunt of his own mistakes and that the program's already self-imposed penalties are sufficient.

We now have Derek Dooley and Cuonzo Martin and a yet-to-be-named athletic director, all of whom either by character or circumstance are/will/better be sticklers for compliance. We've already begun rebuilding. Our players have character, and they're developing chemistry and talent. More is on the way.

Maybe it's just the approach of kickoff and the positive vibes that always accompany this time of year, but I can't help but thinking that now that the NCAA has hammered the gavel, announced "time-served," and moved down the docket to Ohio State and Miami, it's a brand new day on Rocky Top, and the forecast is calling for fair weather. Gear up, fellow die hards, because the bandwagons might not be too far behind.

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