As Tennessee implodes, happy Gators fans watch it burn
The embers on the tire fire that was the worst Florida football season since 1979 were still smoldering Sunday morning, and Gators fans were still wondering if Saturday’s humbling 38-22 defeat to a miserable Florida State team was rock-bottom. Then news began to leak that Scott Frost, the apple of so many Gators’ fans eyes, would not meet with Florida about its vacant head coaching position after all.
We reported Frost wouldn’t meet with Florida as early as Friday night, but in the midst of agonizing, gloomy darkness, Gators fans just wanted to believe that wasn’t true. But as multiple reports leaked Sunday morning confirming Florida would miss on both Frost and Chip Kelly, Florida fans faced a stark, hopeless reality. And so most Gators fans spent a crisp November Sunday morning making a list of grievances and checking it twice ahead of Festivus, wondering when dawn would break and release the hovering blackness engulfing the Florida football program for most of a decade.
There was little joy in Hogtown, and most Gators were waiting for the other shoe to drop. What awful event would happen next?
Then, suddenly, a Sunday ray of light in Gainesville.
News broke that Florida was set to hire Dan Mullen, the offensive architect behind two Gator national championships, away from Mississippi State. The school had declined for years to even interview Mullen, despite him being an obvious fit, and there had been, even Sunday morning, legitimate questions as to whether Mullen would even take the job if asked. He did, and with the hire, Florida didn’t just get a consolation prize, they got the hero they need right now.
Dawn was breaking over Lake Alice, and if you looked hard enough, you could see the glint of an alligator’s smile in the receding dark.
Almost simultaneously, news broke that rival Tennessee was also about to hire a head coach.
Over the past season, both Florida and Tennessee have competed to see which fan base was most angry and miserable, a race to the bottom where the biggest loser was the sport of football and the only real winner was mutual rival Georgia, basking in the glory of an 11-1 campaign.
In theory, Florida had a small edge, with three conference wins to Tennessee’s none and having beaten the Vols, but even that game was essentially a comedy of errors where all that separated the two programs was six points and the Heave to Cleve.
Whatever the case, Florida and Tennessee fans had been watching each other closely all year, taking solace in each other’s mutual misery. The two programs ended Saturday in the same spot.
Then Sunday happened.
I am very happy that Tennessee football exists to ensure Florida will never be the biggest dumpster fire in the SEC
— Jaguars plz (@bcbjoey) November 28, 2017
Now Florida had Mullen, and things were looking up. Naturally, this was Tennessee’s chance to respond.
Could the Grumors finally be real?
Had the housing market in Knoxville finally cooled off to the point where Jon Gruden, who has been searching for a home on Rocky Top since 2008, felt comfortable enough to buy?
Normally, hiring the former head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers would make a huge splash, sending fans into rapturous joy.
Instead, athletic director John Currie and Tennessee hired the wrong ex-Bucs coach, sending Knoxville and Vol Nation into riots.
The hire of Greg Schiano led Vol Nation into full-fledged revolt.
The former Rutgers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach wasn’t who the people wanted and they immediately let Currie and the Tennessee administration know about.
In town, fans marched on the university administration, and painted the famous Tennessee rock. But the real damage was done on social media. On Facebook and Twitter folks blasted the decision to hire Schiano and laid siege from every angle, from the football record to the personal to the political.
Eventually, things took a darker, more sinister turn, as Tennessee fans rallied around the argument — supported by only double hearsay — that Schiano was somehow involved in Jerry Sandusky’s molestation of young boys at Penn State. Schiano was an assistant at Penn State at the time of the Sandusky crimes, but unlike other Nittany Lions coaches and administrators, who are in prison for their roles in the sexual abuse of children, Schiano has never been charged criminally or sued in civil court. And the FBI and multiple, reputed private agencies did exhaustive criminal and civil investigations.
The entire revolt was remarkable in both scale and speed. Vols fans mobilized quickly, led largely by the formidable, loud college football media presence of Clay Travis, an unabashed, unapologetic Vols fan.
We’ll never know for sure, of course, whether folks in Tennessee revolted because Schiano was merely 68-67 in his tenure at Rutgers or failed in the NFL, or if Tennessee fans truly revolted because of moral clarity concerns.
The thinking among the media and opposing fan bases generally has been that it was the former, especially given that Tennessee didn’t seem to care too much in 2014 when Butch Jones called former Vols player Drae Bowles a “traitor” for wanting to testify on behalf of a woman who claimed she had been assaulted by some other UT players.
— Lenn Robbins (@LennRobbins) November 27, 2017
Whatever the reason, a decent man and football coach who was thoroughly vetted, and who multiple individuals said they would trust with their own children, was dragged through the mud Sunday, and for what? And on what evidence? Because Tennessee didn’t like the hire?
The bottom line is Tennessee has done unassailable damage to its football program, and Florida fans are here for it, watching it burn.
The raging tire fire that is Tennessee football burns uncontrollably, and the flames are visible down Interstate 75 all the way to Gainesville. In fact, it might be demeaning to dumpster fires to call Tennessee one. It has its own monstrous size, stench and scale.
Don't feel bad for Schiano. He avoided disaster. The #TennesseeFootball fan base is a dumpster fire. The Vols have been insignificant for 15 years. Looks like they are locking up 15 more awful years. Schiavo can and will do better.
— Doug Johnson (@bleacherscreech) November 27, 2017
It may take a while to fix it, too.
The last 48 hours of #tennesseefootball is a perfect illustration of why it’s the dumpster fire of the #SEC right now. What decent coach in their right mind takes that job with the fan base as disillusioned as it is?
— Dennis J. Williams (@DJWilliams77) November 27, 2017
Mike Norvell has said he’s happy at Memphis. Duke’s David Cutcliffe has said no. It could get worse.
Travis — who has long sounded out the alarm over false narratives in college football and elsewhere — fed the frenzy.
Now he and the Vols fans will reap the consequences, while the Gators move forward under Dan Mullen, the guy Tennessee reportedly wanted to hire all along, at least once Calhoun’s realized it wasn’t Jon Gruden in that private room.
As dark as things have been in Gainesville, this week was yet another reminder to Florida fans that it could be worse.
It could be Tennessee.