The curtain closes on 2012, and we Tennessee fans are still here. We're still here.
One of the main articles featured on the front page of Rocky Top Tennessee 2012 was something about Derek Dooley. I say "something about Derek Dooley" because it was the subtitle that really mattered: "Change is Coming, One Way or Another."
Depending on your perspective, it was "One Way" or it was "Another," but either way, change came to Rocky Top in 2012. Again. It was inevitable. And like most change, it kind of stunk, and it kind of came as a relief.
So I thought that on this last day of 2012, we'd crawl through the most important RTT posts of the past 12 months and bind them all together for posterity. This SBNU hub collects a little over 100 of those posts, but here are just a few highlights.
What is it about January around here? Lane Kiffin struck in January, and so did Justin Wilcox and Peter Sirmon in 2012 when they decided to leave for . . . Washington? Really? Looking back on it, that really should have been our first clue, and to many of us it was, but we didn't want to admit it. Really, it's okay, because Randy Shannon's coming to Tennessee. Oh, it's Alabama assistant Sal Sunseri? Well, he must be good, coming from Alabama and all, right?
Meanwhile, the basketball team was finding its legs, getting a standing ovation from Will for a game against Florida, coming with 3 points of eventual national champion Kentucky, and also beating the Huskies by 3. All of that led us to call our team suddenly dangerous just before getting embarrassed by Vanderbilt.But the Vols closed strong, and we made the argument that late-season momentum should matter in a tournament sport, all to no avail, as Tennessee was left out of the Big Dance, and the season drew to a disappointing close against MTSU in the NIT.
Even the Lady Vols missed the Final Four after losing to Baylor and then, as if that wasn't bad enough, they lost institutional icon Pat Summitt. Wait, make that international heroine. And yet still somehow one of us.
And so we turned back to football. Da'Rick Rogers was still squirrley, and we wondered whether there was time for the transition to the 3-4. The spring game provided no information, although we did find some hope in the ground game. We just needed the defense to be decent. It could be decent, right?
In April, we hoped that this would be the last time we wouldn't care about the NFL Draft, and in May the Dooley 2012 Campaign began. By the way . . . Phillip Fulmer, the guy we'd let go because he wasn't good enough? He was being elected into the College Football Hall of Fame this month. Just thought I'd point that out.
The summer wiled away. We lost Izzy Lanier. Tyler Bray threw his beer bottles and went hot-dogging. We lamented four of the most difficult years in all of college football while at the same time clinging to the good medicine of a positive outlook. And we kept coming back to the same question we knew would be key to everything: Can the Tennessee defense be good, and can it be good quickly enough? Spoiler alert: The answer was no. Oh, and Da'Rick Rogers squirreled himself right out of the tree.
But no matter. We were awesome against NC State, and we dominated Georgia State. And ESPN Gameday was coming back to Knoxville for the Florida game. This was it.
Turns out that was it. Season ruined the third Saturday in September for the nth time in a row, because who's counting anymore?
And so we started talking about Derek Dooley and the most fair criteria on which to judge him, including only those things that he himself promised. A close loss to Georgia didn't help. Dooley was getting impatient with our impatience. The black cloud gathered mass after a loss to Mississippi State, and Dooley lost Will after losing to South Carolina and lost me after deciding not to use wisely the time and best opportunities he had against Missouri, which made me realize that wasn't just a problem in that particular game.
And so we moved on to the 2012 coaching search even before it was official. Dooley was fired after the loss to Vanderbilt, but by that time, we'd already been explaining that the next hire had to be a home run, had to be the right hire. And so it was Jon Gruden and then everyone else. And then it wasn't Jon Gruden. Nor was it Charlie Strong, Mike Gundy, or Larry Fedora.
But it was Butch Jones, and our reactions were all over the place. The hire of another wait-and-see coach was simply asking too much of fans! Remember your optimism meds! Give Jones a chance! Butch, make me a believer!
And finally, hey, we're here because we love our team, and love bears, believes, hopes, and endures all things, right?
That is why we're here. It's why we love sports in general and the Tennessee Volunteers in particular. It's why we write things like Will's terrific post on sports, life, and change and Brad's goose-bumper post about generations of fathers and sons taking in games together. It's why we continue to say, "Go Vols," even after a series of disappointing seasons.
So goodbye, 2012. Hello, 2013.
And Go Vols.