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The Greatest Enemy of the Vols: Us.

[Note by hooper, 09/25/08 4:45 PM EDT ]  Nunes explains that the distance from family is the reason for softening the commit.  The family sounds very reasonable and optimistic about UT's future.  Again, I hope the kid makes the right decision for his future (including his post-college goals) and I applaud his thoughtfulness.  But since I used him as an example, it's only honest to keep his side of the story straight.

When things started breaking against the Volunteers on the football field, I made a decision to stay out of the discussion.  I didn't see the benefit to choosing a side on the future of the Vols and arguing back and forth over the internet about it, and I'd much rather keep cheering for the Vols from the comfort of my proverbial jammies and Mom's basement.  But something needs addressed. 


I'm going to first start by opening up and filling you in a little bit on my own background; that way my following comments are in context.  If you want to skip that and go straight to my argument, click on the jump and read from that point on.

Some of you already know that I am a grad student at the University of Tennessee.  My undergrad is from the University of Wyoming - the only 4-year institution in the state I grew up in.  (Yes, the only one.)  As a de facto fan of a "small fish" school, I learned very quickly to enjoy cheering for my team regardless of their talent.  I was in the marching band when I saw my Cowboys rise all the way to 13th in the polls and eventually get snubbed for a bowl game (despite being ranked) because they were a "small fish".  I also had the 'pleasure' of watching my team descend to horridness under a string of successively incapable coaches.  I've seen the top of that program and the bottom, and I've seen the slide between them.  And I've enjoyed cheering for them the entire time.

Even during my time in Wyoming (long before considering UT as a grad school), I grew to appreciate the Volunteers.  Whenever the Vols were on TV, the fanbase came across as very sportsmanlike and very enthusiastic.  There was a charm to UT football that couldn't be found in many other programs.  When I came through East Tennessee on occasional travels, I was always impressed with the courtesy of the people I met and the congenial atmosphere.  When grad school became an option, I was ecstatic to have a chance to live in the area and experience East Tennessee firsthand.

My first live UT game was in Neyland stadium against Air Force.  With student tickets, I was seated next to the band (literally) and had a chance to pet the Air Force falcon.  I had a bird's eye view of USAFA's failed two-point conversion play that gave UT the win.  (Side note: the MWC side of me appreciated USAFA's representation of the conference, even if I was happier for UT to win.)  On the way out, I heard the obligatory "it's great to be a [insert SEC team name here]" cheer for the first time.

Fast forward to today.

I have tried several times to write my thoughts out coherently, but never felt good about them.  Earlier today, Joel and I had a chat about Josh Nunes and his de-commit, and I feel that the conversation that transpired was my best expression yet.  With Joel's permission, I include the raw text chat with only one minor deletion early on, a few links for clarity, and with the closing comments deleted for brevity.  All typos are left in; I think you'll get the point in raw form.  You'll see a bit behind the tag-team game we play to run the site, but that's ok.  The transcript is too valuable to not post.

(me = hooper; Rocky = Joel)

Rocky Got a minute?

 me:  sure.
lunch break

 Rocky:  Me, too. Was thinking of striking on the Nunes thing [del -- hooper].
My thoughts . . .
recap the article, emphasize that he's reconsidering, not saying booing reason, but probably.
Fans not helping matters.

 me:  sounds right

 Rocky:  Cope w/ humor, like the Blogpoll, w/ objective analysis, like the UFR, or w/ discretion, like Gate 21 did this morning.
But not that way.
That's essentially what I would try to throw up in the next 30 min.

 me:  go for it.

 Rocky:  How does that fit w/ what you had planned? Does it gut it?

 me:  let me give you my outsider's eyeballs for a second.

 Rocky:  Don't want to mess up anything you've been working on.

 me:  in the 90s, when I first started liking UT football, everyting about the program came across very well on TV.  Unlike the Criminoles and the other Florida teams, UT was very family-friendly and very classy
huge sense of community
(btw you won't mess anything up)

 Rocky:  notes to myself: change is going to happen; Fulmer's going to get it turned around or there will be a change. Remember Berry's comments.

 me:  to a guy like Nunes, the TV image is huge.

 Rocky:  Okay. Yeah, that's a good point.

 me:  in the early 2000s, it took a hit with the Future stuff and the NFL-guy imagery, but nothing too bad
but having the FANS come across as ugly is a death-knell to recruiting
nobody will decide to come here if they aren't a lifelong UT fan if the program looks ugly
we're not Notre Dame
Nunes is smart to open his recruiting up.  He has a potential NFL career riding on this.  If UT looks like 4 years of ugliness, he won't want to risk his career on it
The fans are forgetting that our best recruits come from out of state.  They are looking for a reason to come here, and that first lies in the character of the program.
Every recruit that visits absolutely glows about the coaches, the facilities, the campus, and the character.
But if the fanbase gives teh opposite image, they'll wonder how much of their visits were window-dressing.

 Rocky:  Excellent. You know, I think your perspective is better.
thinking . . .
how quick do you think you could have something like that up?

 me:  Fans are reacting because their pride is hurt.  Recruits will react if they sense their future is hurt.


This is not analogous to the end of either Battle's or Majors's tenure as head coach.  Back then, when the fans turned ugly, it wasn't broadcast on every news outlet across the coast as thoroughly as it is now.  Recruits are also far smarter about comparing schools now that all the information is at their fingertips.  They're looking for the best option for them, much like you might go house-shopping.  No matter how good the house might be, it won't get sold if the lawn looks like trash.

Josh Nunes's response to the Florida game is just the beginning.  If the fans make UT look ugly, national recruiting will absolutely shut down.  Then it won't matter who the coach is, we won't keep up with the rest of the SEC.  It's not like we're Vanderbilt, where we can offer a top-10 private-school lawyer/doctor education as a carrot.

If you want Fulmer fired, fine.  (I'm not taking sides on this one.)  Understand though, that when the fans boo louder than they cheer, and when half the stadium is empty before the 4th quarter, you're hurting the program beyond the capability of any head coach to repair.  There are better ways to express displeasure that don't cripple the program.  Try writing a hand-written letter to the AD.  Let the boosters use their financial clout.  But do not project ugly; you become UT's worst enemy when you do.