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Former Players' Words Scarring An Already Injured Program

We're all mad.

There's no way around it. We're hurt, disappointed, a little bit embarrassed, certainly disenfranchised and just really unsure where the Tennessee football program goes from here.

We're not sure about whether our head coach is the answer to our decade-long swoon. We're concerned about the "silly season" that has now started much too early for the Tennessee Volunteers. Who will get fired? Who will leave for another coaching job? Will we lose any recruits? How about transfers? Will we ever have any leadership on this team? What's next moving forward?

Since losing 10-7 to Kentucky on Saturday, ending another forgettable season, we've listened to departing seniors Tauren Poole and Austin Johnson talk about how the team quit on Dooley, didn't want to be out there or about how some of the younger guys only care about stats. We've seen Justin Hunter tweet something about being "done" and tried to read into the words of a 19-year-old that may mean absolutely nothing. We've watched Da'Rick Rogers get in a twitter battle with our fans.

And that's only the beginning.

We're, once again, a broken fanbase split  in our support for our coach and desire to see signs of forward movement. Fans have taken to message boards, radio airwaves and other public forums to voice displeasure. National media sees blood in the water and feeds the flames with facts about Derek Dooley's lack of past success.

Much of this, in a sad sense, was predictable. It's even understandable. Failing to compete against any marquee teams and then losing to a division rival that you've beaten 26 consecutive times will turn things ugly in a heartbeat. Heck, we NEED to ask questions and be concerned. We need to demand better than this because, dang it, we're still Tennessee. Things need to get fixed, or things need to get changed. I get that. It's our right as fans to be pissed off right now. This reaction is, as I said, predictable.

But what is unpredictable, alarming and ultimately detrimental to the program's present and future is the throng of former players who are publicly grumbling about Dooley.

What good can come of this? As guys like Raynoch Thompson, Jabari Davis, Troy Fleming, Fred White and many others rip on the program they love and want to return to prominence, the coach that leads it and the decisions that have been made, why can't they see ...

They're doing much more harm than good.

When they exhaust their eligibility and their NFL dreams are over, players essentially become fans like the rest of us -- only with much more clout. The past three years, they've seen their father-figure coach Phillip Fulmer forced out, the fans and boosters split in their allegiances, brash Lane Kiffin hired, Kiffin leaving like a thief in the night after one season, an NCAA investigation, a no-name with a losing record hired to replace him, and the athletic director who orchestrated it all fired. In the midst of it all, the Vols have slumped to records of 7-6, 6-7 and 5-7.

In many of their minds, Fulmer should still be manning the UT sideline. Heck, I'm not even disputing anymore the possibility that we MAY be in a better position right now if the ax never came down on the big man. [Editor's note: I'm not saying I think that. Only that it's arguable. I was on the front lines of "Fulmer needs to go. I'm not backing off that now.] 

But what is this public verbal flogging accomplishing? Why go on the radio and spit bile toward your program's head coach now, when we need some continuity?

This crushes perception. It further confuses a fractured fanbase wanting to support the current regime when their favorite players of old can't. It cripples recruiting. It leads to unrest among players, coaches, within the program. Passion sometimes leads to ignorance, and this is a clear example.

You want him fired, guys? Now? I cannot even imagine the magnitude of a move like that -- again -- on our program at this point -- and I've been one of the people concerned about Dooley for months.

Does Dooley need to make changes? Absolutely. There are some staff changes that need to be made. Dooley -- for all of his Vol For Life mumbo jumbo -- needs to make the program more accessible to former players who still want to come around and be part of it. He probably needs to re-examine his postgame berating of the players and discussions of needing to hit rock bottom when both of those things directly reflect on his coaching. He needs to man up and take more responsibility for the things that happened, take measures -- whatever they may be -- to make this a stronger team physically and mentally. He needs to find leaders and recruit difference makers.

In all honesty, he needs to do a lot to save his job.

But this is still HIS job. We're still fans of the program HE is leading. And these former players with their mouths open and brains closed need to realize that in this world of noise where every voice is heard and every ear can listen -- the ears of recruits, of coaches, of current players, of administrators -- every ill word spoken can further damage the program they want restored.

My words can't do that. Theirs can. The disgruntled voices of many former players are heard throughout the country. Why can't they understand that the reason we're in this place as a program is because of all the change that has happened, all the wrong decisions made? This -- what we're experiencing now -- is the fallout.

Was Dooley the best Tennessee could do two years ago? I don't know, but he's what we did. And, for better or worse, we're stuck with this regime at least one more year. Anything less would spiral Tennessee football further into an abyss. We only thought we saw the bottom on Saturday ...

These past two days have been difficult with which to deal. Multiple times, I've sat in front of a computer screen with thoughts about what just happened on Saturday on my mind. Every time I tried to write, the words that came out were hateful, even irrational. Every time, I dragged my cursor over everything I'd written and deleted.

These are bad times, awful times for our program. We have more questions than answers, and there are reasons to worry about how long -- if ever -- it's going to take us to get back to where we think we belong. That's heavy stuff for any fanbase. Any word spoken or typed in moments of irrational anger or disappointment can be looked back on and regretted.

If only our former players realized that, too.