After a decade of lows, is Tennessee's trajectory about to change? It feels that way
Since 2008, Tennessee’s football program has experienced so many low points, it is a fools errand to remember all of them.
I’m going to throw a few out there.
Was the low point when Phillip Fulmer cried at the press conference announcing that he was stepping down as coach in 2008 and said, “I love Tennessee too much to let her stay divided.” Was the low point on that night in January 2010, when Lane Kiffin bolted for his “dream job,” sparking a student riot? Was the low point 3 days later when Tennessee panicked and hired Derek Dooley?
Was the low point the 2011 loss to Kentucky, snapping a 26 game win streak, and prompting a massive amount of assistant coach defections and de-commitments? Or was the low point in 2015, when the Vols blew a 13-point lead in the 4th quarter at Florida? Maybe it came in 2016, when Tennessee beat Florida and Georgia — and still finished 2 games out of first place in the SEC East.
The low point might have come when Butch Jones was fired in 2017… or maybe it was when AD John Currie tried to hire Greg Schiano, sparking a revolt among Tennessee fans, alums, boosters and state politicians? Maybe the low point came a few days later when Currie was missing in action as he headed to California to interview Mike Leach on a plane with no WiFi …
Or did we experience the low point recently when Jeremy Pruitt was fired as head coach, and AD Phillip Fulmer retired?
You can make an argument for any of the examples I threw out there, and you probably have a few that I neglected to add.
But for the purpose of this article let’s say that the end of the Pruitt/Fulmer era is the true low point. Pruitt and 9 others were fired for alleged recruiting violations. NCAA punishments are now pretty much inevitable. A Tennessee legend then was pushed out the door … for the second time! The transfer portal became filled with many of the Vols best players. Oh, and the athletics department was staring at a deficit in tens of millions of dollars, but still will give Fulmer a 7-figure buyout.
As always, remember that the buyout life remains undefeated.
In “The Dark Knight,” Harvey Dent said, “The night is darkest just before the dawn. And I promise you, the dawn is coming.”
Vols fans hope that their dawn is here. The hiring of Central Florida AD Danny White changed a lot of minds in Vol Nation because Tennessee finally made an AD hire that made headlines for the right reasons. Wednesday morning, we learned that White hired his former coach at UCF, Josh Heupel, to replace Pruitt. Reaction was mixed — nothing new there — but Heupel went 28-8 in 3 years as UCF’s head coach.
But bringing in White was the first step in moving Tennessee into the modern era of collegiate athletics. White has the résumé in fundraising and most importantly in hiring coaches that should get Vols fans excited about the future. Many of the same folks who ripped the Fulmer hire have praised the White hire.
Does this guarantee that White found a football coach in Heupel who will get the Vols back to the mountain top? No. No, it does not.
But for the first time in a long time, it feels like Tennessee has started making the climb.