Founder of Kentucky Sports Radio makes argument that Tennessee won't be a great program again
Hosting one of the most popular radio shows doesn’t allow for much downtime, but even Paul Finebaum needs a break every now and then. The host of the Paul Finebaum Show stepped away from the microphone for a couple of days, and a new voice took his place.
Matt Jones, the founder of Kentucky Sports Radio, filled in for Finebaum on Tuesday and Wednesday, and he didn’t shy away from voicing his opinions. One such argument that Jones made might be of great interest to SEC fans, particularly those with strong feelings regarding the Tennessee Volunteers.
On Wednesday, Jones elaborated on an early statement he had made, which asserted that Nebraska, Notre Dame and Tennessee would never be great programs again in college football.
— Paul Finebaum (@finebaum) May 24, 2017
Much of Jones’ argument centers around what he claims is the “nationalization of the sport.” As the spotlight grew to encompass more than just a handful of programs, the advantage enjoyed by that handful began to shrink.
“The same teams that were good in the 60s were good in the 70s and good in the 80s,” Jones explained. “Then, all of a sudden in the 90s, everybody’s on TV. All of a sudden, it became a lot easier to get good … Kids started to realize they could go anywhere and still be on TV.”
Of course, there are several historically-great programs that are still dominant today, Alabama being the most obvious example. There are distinct reasons why Jones chose to single out the teams he did, and he went into greater detail about why the Vols’ best days may be behind them.
“Tennessee used to own Virginia, North Carolina and Tennessee. They’d recruit those places, and next thing you knew, all the best players — your Heath Shulers, everybody came to Tennessee. Now? Well, I can go to Virginia Tech. I can be Michael Vick at Virginia Tech. I can go to UNC. I can go to NC State. You can go a ton of places. So, Tennessee now has to play with a normal recruiting base, and guess what? The talent in Tennessee is not all that great. So, those three programs, in my opinion, they can have good years. Could they win a national championship? Maybe. Could there be a year where they’re a contender nationally? Sure. But will they be consistently great, like they were for decades? No. And I think the three that suffered the most from what I call sort of the nationalization of the sport where everybody is on TV — Notre Dame, Nebraska and Tennessee.”
It’s true that Tennessee no longer enjoys the regional recruiting advantage it once did, which seems to be one of the primary reasons for its inclusion in Jones’ trio. With recruiting as competitive as ever before, it’s not enough to rely on being a brand-name program.
None of this is to say that the Vols will never be a great team again, which may be the initial takeaway. In today’s overexposure world, there are no longer a select few teams that offer a national audience. Essentially, Vanderbilt now offers that same starting off point that Tennessee does. Players at both schools will face the same level of competition, and a standout with the Commodores is just as likely to turn pro as a Vols’ star.
Instead, the most likely game-changer in college football right now is a team’s head coach. Right now, any conversation about the top head coaches likely includes Nick Saban, Urban Meyer, Jimbo Fisher, Dabo Swinney and Jim Harbaugh.
Obviously, there are more than five great programs in college football. It doesn’t take an elite head coach to be a great program, but we’ve seen that it takes one to achieve sustained greatness on the field.
By any measure, Tennessee should be considered one of college football’s great programs; few schools can match its passion, history and overall success. It’s unlikely, however, that any program achieves generational success the way that some did in decades gone by.