And I’m not talking about a coaching change. More on that later.
Man, I love Tennessee. I love that bright orange. The color of happiness. I love our history, our traditions. I love the "family" element that has always been such a huge part of inhabiting Vol Nation. I love our setting, nestled in among the East Tennessee hills, the mighty stadium standing proudly by the banks of the Tennessee River. I love our name: not the "Tigers" or the "Gators" or the "Bulldogs" or "Eagles" or "Panthers" or any such totemic nonsense. We are the VOLUNTEERS, man! We are a concept! But not in the murky way a "Crimson Tide" or "Green Wave" is conceptual. "Volunteers" connote what is best in mankind. The bold, the brave; those who rush to the defense of the beleaguered, whether it be militarily or charitably. The Good Guys!
And so it has been for the whole of our storied history — which really started with General Neyland, and our ascendence to the pinnacle of college football. I remember sitting in the stadium named after him in 2002, the Arkansas game (what — 5, 6, 7 OTs?). A graphic came on the scoreboard screen: "Since 1926, UT is the winningest program in college football…".
I am certain that is no longer the case. And the reason it’s not: the last 15 years or so. But the thing that drives me crazy is not so much the "why" of the last 15 years or so. But the "how"? How is it possible for things to go so consistently wrong for such a long span of time? It seems like just by accident, things would occasionally work out. That the "blind hog" would come across an occasional acorn.
I’m going to catalog some of the major disasters, along with some of the minor ones that contributed to them (the latter designated by a " * "). Mostly just to get them off my own chest. And just for the head-shaking "wow" factor of them.
2005: pre-season #3. Athlon forecasts us in the BCS championship game against USC. The team is LOADED. We wind up 5-6. That season deserves its own blog. Suffice it to say for this one: it set the table for what was to follow.
2008: All indications are we have the makings of a very solid team. Maybe considerably better than that. We have a young, innovative guru for an OC. We have a Jr. QB who was the bell-cow of one of the nation’s top recruiting classes 3 years earlier. He, along with the rest of the team, are the picture of ineptness as we muddle along to 5-6 again. So long, Phil.
2009: We bring in a bright, energetic young coach from one of the nation’s top programs. With him comes his legendary defensive coaching father. Excitement swells. The team — especially the QB — shows marked improvement. We’re a blocked FG from beating mighty Bama! If only our kicker hadn’t been injured*…. Recruiting is going gangbusters. We’re riding a rocket back to national prominence —
And then Pete Carrol takes the Seahawks job. In short order, we lose our coach; our recruiting class; and we are faced with a coaching search, barely a year after our last one.
2010: In comes Derek Dooley. Bright guy. Young. Good coaching tree. Maybe this guy can be our analytical Nick Saban type? And then comes the LSU game in Baton Rouge*. And the UNC bowl game*. Strange, dramatic, gut-wrenching losses. But, let’s keep the faith…
2012: Now you’re talking. We’ve got offensive fire power out the ying-yang. And a DC from mighty Alabama. This is the year we’re going to show who’s who, and what’s what. Until… the most bizarrely inept defense ever seen until this past Saturday begins to manifest itself. Wtf? Can’t we stop ANYBODY? A by now starting-to-get-familiar swirling starts, as the program heads back down the hole. So long, Derek.
2013: Hey — this guy looks like a football coach. Crew cut, burly — straight out of central casting. Especially if you’re looking to cast the guy that played Sgt. Carter in "Gomer Pyle USMC". Talks the talk. Hi-energy type. Says things like "dream job" and "brick by brick".
And he proceeds to go and get some "bricks".
2015: Man, we’re so close. We got some players. We SHOULDA beat Oklahoma. We SHOULDA beat Florida. We shoulda beat Arky. And we coulda beat mighty Alabama! Went toe to toe with ‘em. We’re a force to be reckoned with. We can play with anybody — we showed it!
2016: Now you’re talking. We. Are. BACK! Preseason #9. Win over UF. Win over UGA. But man — the injuries. Piling up*. Aww — we drop a close one at TAMU. Oh, man. Bama blasts us again. Oh, come on! South Cackalacky?* CRAP!!! Oh, no. Not Vandy*. Please. Not VANDY!
All we can do now is enjoy beating a mediocre Nebraska team. Say goodby to a ton of talent. And see what next year brings.
2017: excuse me while I puke. So long, Lyle. Enjoy that intern job. Along with the few millions of dollars...
2018: The sorriest excuse for a coaching search on record. Hello again, Phil. Good to see you. Please restore some order to this fustercluck. We don’t know how much more of this we can take. Oh — the Alabama DC?
Well, okay. We’ve whiffed the last three times. Surely, just by the law of averages, this time… Sure seems like a football guy. Sure has a good resume. He’s gotta know what it takes to win at the highest level — look at those NC rings! Hey — he can recruit. Good job with the first class. Great job with the 2nd! Look at those studs he recruited to a 5-7 team!
2019: Aight. Now it gets started. Got rid of some coaching deadwood. "Best staff in America". Don’t have all the pieces yet. But "bigger, faster, stronger". Settle for 7 this year. Hope for 8 or better. QB should be a lot better! Especially if his line helps him. Let’s go! Let’s get this thing started! Aw, crap. Not our best returning interior DL*. What — our best LB*? 2 weeks? Are you serious? Our Frosh A-A DB*?
Why? Why?? Why???
Or rather — "how"? How is it possible that over and over and over… key injuries. Always to our most important guys. Coaches that seem like they can, but can’t. 4 times in a row? In 32 years, we had two HCs. One played for a coach who played for The General. The other coached under him. Both hold degrees from UTK. Both have NC rings.
In ten years, we’ve gone through 4 coaches. The only ties to UT any of ‘em had was playing or coaching against us.
It’s time for all of this to change. It really, really has gone on long enough.
Now — here’s the thing. I don’t want to change coaches again. I mean, I think we need to. I don’t think our current guy has the temperament, or the leadership or people skills to be a successful coach at UT. I submit as evidence of the veracity of those statements: August 31, 2019.
So that’s what needs to change. This guy has to be a quick study. He’s already made about all the mistakes he’s allowed. He has to grow into a leader. He has to grow some personality. He has to show some fire, some wit, some passion. He needs to learn to speak English a little better.
I presume he has some knowledge about football. He knows something about what it takes to win. But he has to get better — a LOT better, and really, really fast — at translating and transferring that knowledge to his players and staff.
If he can’t; if he doesn’t —
then we can look forward to probably another 5 years of misery, at a minimum. But if he CAN: and if he can SHOW that he can, by growing the dreadful squad we saw against GSU into a bowl-eligible team, and hang on to and lure some more promising recruits —
then maybe he can stick around long enough for his Crimson-colored blood to turn Volunteer Big Orange. And maybe he can get us to where 8-wins is not considered a really good season, and 10-wins almost unobtainable…
Hey — Vince Dooley came from Auburn…
This thing has GOT to change.