Welcome, Coach Jones!
As a life-long Vols fan born and raised in the state of Tennessee, I sincerely hope that our university, state, and fanbase collectively do everything possible to ensure that Coach Jones wins as many games as is humanly possible.Those of us older than ten years of age grew up winning games...lots and lots of games. We like winning games. When we won those games, we were happy, happy, happy. We bought orange clothing and traveled to Knoxville and felt relatively confident that we would drive home with a big fat smile on the face. That smile remained on the face all week.
That was an enjoyable feeling, and a feeling I have not felt in a few years. In fact, in this troubled economy, I have not really wanted to spend my money on the gasoline required to drive home with a frown. Why the frown? Losing football games. Why do we lose those games? There are many possible explanations. Allow me to propose one:
We simply cannot compete in the modern SEC.
Tennessee has a long history of competing in the SEC...in the 20th Century. In the 20th Century, Nick Saban was in the Big 10, Les Miles was in the Big 12, Mark Richt was an assistant at Florida State, and nobody had ever heard of James Franklin. Steve Spurrier was our only problem. Now, he is two problems. He made Florida the national power it is today, and he has completely turned around a South Carolina program we used to dominate.
I do not mean to suggest that the coach in place is the only factor. It is well documented that Tennessee won the national championship primarily with players from OTHER Southeastern states. In the modern SEC, the best players in those states stay home (or go to Alabama). There are only a few SEC players in Tennessee high schools, and Vanderbilt is getting far more than they used to get.
How do we resolve this? Allow me one modest proposal: In this time of conference realignment, Tennessee should move to the ACC.
Some of you will be offended by this proposal. That's okay. The offended will likely be those individuals with:
1. Highly competitive natures
2. A love of the SEC
3. A sense of pride in the SEC
or 4. A genuine belief that we can return to the national title game if we just hire the right coach
I do not possess any of those things. In fact, I hate the 21st Century SEC because my team cannot compete in it. Furthermore, why brag about being in a conference in which you can only win one conference game? I quote Vince Lombardi: "Winning isn't everything...It's the only thing." I like winning. Winning is fun.
Here are my reasons for an ACC move:
1. We could compete for the national championship.
When the new playoff system comes in, the selection committee will likely choose three conference champions and one "at-large" team (according to ESPN). The second best SEC team will likely get the at-large spot. How likely is it that we are one of the top two SEC teams? Not likely at all, for reasons I have already addressed.
If we win the ACC, which is possible considering a .500 Georgia Tech team made it to the Championship Game, we would have to have a better record than any two conference champions from the Big 10, Big 12, or Pac 12. That is completely possible, considering we could compete in the ACC. Would we get killed? Maybe, maybe not. You can talk all month about Notre Dame's strength of schedule, but at least those jokers are IN the national game.
We cannot compete for the national playoffs in the SEC. We will lose too many games to be considered.
2. It would mean less travel for our Olympic sports.
Is Syracuse a long way from Knoxville? Yes, but so is College Station, Texas. Think about how often UT would be competing against the likes of NC State, Duke, North Carolina, and Wake Forest. Those are all in North Carolina, which is EXTREMELY close to Knoxville, relatively speaking. Plus, the ACC would be a great conference for basketball and soccer (two sports in which our women particularly excel).
3. I like winning.
When we beat NC State, I was happy. Why? Winning makes me happy. I think we could win more frequently in the ACC than we could in the SEC. I am tired of finishing 10th nationally in recruiting but 7th in our own conference. I would rather finish with a 17th-24th ranked recruiting class that is Top 3 in our conference. Furthermore, I would rather win actual football games. I would venture a guess that we could win consistently in the ACC and compete in bowl games on a yearly basis. I like going to bowl games, though I am starting to forget what they feel like.
4. Winning football is better for business.
Winning football means more sweatshirts sold, more tickets bought, more willingness to spend on gas, and more smiles on returns home. Joel would not have to worry about diversifying business. Winning means orange, orange everywhere. I never bought one single piece of Tennessee clothing because we are in the SEC. I bought orange clothing because we were winning.
4. We are who we are.
Let's face it. We are not Alabama, LSU, or Florida. We are North Carolina. We are Clemson and Virginia Tech (maybe). Even if other teams leave the ACC (one or more would be happy to take our place) for bigger conferences, I still think the ACC is the best conference for us. Again, to reference #3, I like winning.
I think this 4th one will be the toughest to swallow. The cold reality is this: It's not 1998 anymore.
But, hey, this is just one modest proposal for returning to winning football. If anyone else has a better proposal, I would love to hear it.
And don't say "hire a bigger name." We tried that. Charlie Strong would rather be in the ACC...and so would I.