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Column: Is this how it ends?

Another embarrassment for the program.

Tennessee vs Arkansas Photo by Andrew Ferguson/Collegiate Images/Getty Images

If you watched the entirety of Saturday’s game, congratulations. You have more patience than most. Better yet, if you watched it without paying attention to the reports about a looming NCAA investigation into Tennessee, treat yourself to some holiday snacking. You are a more focused person than I could ever hope to be. 34-13, 52-0, 3-2, no score could have altered how I consumed that game.

Here’s all we know right now about the investigations. How much of it is genuine, legit investigation, and how much of it is routine NCAA compliance, no one is clear about. You can choose to believe it’s a program-rocking scandal, or you can believe it’s a nothingburger.

What’s not a matter of belief is the fact that Tennessee is 3-7 and a coach firing is on the table. More bad news swirls around a program that doesn’t have much good news anyways. It’s fair to say that a vast majority of Tennessee fans are leaning towards changes being made at the coaching level, if not the administration too.

So where does that put the Volunteers as of Sunday, December 20th? I don’t know.

I don’t have any answers right now. If even half the rumors are true about what’s going down behind the scenes, it’ll be another four years before Tennessee can ever think of being a competitive football team. There is zero trust in that locker room. Whoever the next coach is will have to first let the team know that they can trust him, then he will have to work on getting the players to trust each other, then he’ll have to get them trusting the scheme, etc.

Where does Tennessee go from here? Again, I don’t know. At this point, there is a serious argument that the program should go for the most vanilla hire possible and let the guy build. I’m thinking of someone like Dave Doeren or Dave Clawson. A coach that has proven they have a high floor of results, plays within their means, and keeps their program relatively scandal free. Both coaches have made their programs more respectable and a stable destination.

Tennessee is anything but stable. 12 years of mismanagement, 12 years of terrible results with only flashes of hope interspersed, 12 years of the most insanely unlucky events. Fans are not asking for undefeated seasons and dynasties. They’re asking for respectability. They’re asking to have a floor of, I don’t know, 7-5? Not getting embarrassed by programs that are holistically less equipped? Making a bowl game every year? How about not having a dysfunctional locker room?

You can parse my thoughts about Jeremy Pruitt’s job security. It’s not a matter of “If” he gets fired. He’ll be gone before the 2022 season ever comes around. Make fun of me if I’m wrong, screenshot my idiocy for years down the road, but I am pretty confident that this story has already been written.

I truly, genuinely, wholeheartedly believe Tennessee can still come back from this. The program isn’t dead yet. The money is still there, the history is still there, the resources are still there to make a product much better than what we’re currently getting. The administration needs to stop stepping on it’s own shoelaces and conduct an actual coaching search for a guy who has a proven track record. Again, no one is asking for a Nick Saban right now. What they want is a coach who will at least meet the baseline results that can be expected at a program like Tennessee.

Whatever happens over the next few days and months is going to test the resolve of Tennessee fans everywhere. In a year like 2020, I completely understand if anyone elects to step back from the fandom. It’s been a hell of a time. This type of stress is unnecessary, especially if you find your mood being completely sunk all because of what happens on Saturdays.

Don’t feel a compulsion to follow a clearly underperforming, embarrassing program. You are allowed to come back when things get better. You’ll be welcomed with open arms, and by then, I think we’re all going to want to look past days like these. No questions asked.