How do you revive Tennessee? How do you bring this storied program back to prominence? After all, it shouldn’t be this difficult. Tennessee has every resource you could ever want — a brand identity that spans from coast to coast, facilities, the fanbase — it’s all there.
And yet Tennessee is in the midst of one of the longest droughts in school history. Overall instability is the main reason why, and Tennessee has to find a way to break that cycle. Enter new athletics director Danny White, who is tasked with just that over the next few years. Finally, Tennessee has new blood leading the athletics department as the Volunteers try to finally find some long-term stability.
White brought his football coach with him from UCF, and the two will try to lead this traditional power out of the darkness.
“This is Tennessee,” Josh Heupel said during SEC Media Days. “This is one of the iconic programs in all of college sports, in all of college football. We have an opportunity to celebrate the great traditions while putting a new age approach on it.”
What exactly does a new-age approach look like? According to Heupel, it begins with communications and relationships.
“It’s going to take a lot of different forms,” Heupel said. “It’s the way that we communicate inside of our building. Every interaction that we have with players, with staff, with janitors, it doesn’t matter who it is, creating and harnessing energy inside of our building. I think that’s a really important thing that we’ve tried to build with our VFLs too is harnessing that energy and creating positive momentum that surrounds our program where our kids feel that every single day. It’s the way that we interact with them outside the game, the things that we’ve talked about and I’ve done with our players in the 5 1/2 months that we’ve been here.”
His new-age approach may also bring a new look on the field. Tennessee has been hesitant in the past to change much about their traditional orange and white look, but that sounds like it could change going forward.
We figured this may be coming after seeing some of the various looks that UCF came up with, and Heupel pretty much confirmed that it’s something that they’re looking at for the future.
“As we move forward, it may be different opportunities as far as what the uniform looks like when you run out on the field,” Heupel said. “Look good, feel good, play good. We want to create a positive player experience from the moment that they step on campus until they’re done but have a long-term relationship with them that lasts forever.”
Tennessee has dabbled with different looks in the past, from the infamous black jerseys under Lane Kiffin, the the ‘smokey gray’ look under Butch Jones. Jeremy Pruitt and Phillip Fulmer brought back the traditional look with black cleats during their time. Those black cleats have already been scrapped by the new staff, by the way.
The Jeremy Pruitt-Phillip Fulmer era was an attempt, perhaps a final one, at doing things the old school way. The Danny White-Josh Heupel era feels like Tennessee’s step into the future, both on and off of the field. Will it work? Nobody knows just yet. There’s plenty of work to be done on this roster, recruiting relationships to heal, and perceptions to change.
With Alabama, Georgia, Florida and others seemingly putting distance on Tennessee each day, it was time to try something different. This is a pretty dramatic swing in a new direction, hopefully one that will bring some much needed stability to Knoxville for years to come.