I hate to say I told you so, Tennessee fans, but ... I told you so
Hopefully, Tennessee fans have learned once and for all that they no longer root for a premier program in college football.
Yes, the Volunteers have an adjusted record of 809-365-50, which is eighth on the all-time wins list between Notre Dame and Ohio State. Sure, Neyland Stadium has a capacity of 102,455, which is fifth biggest between Texas A&M’s Kyle Field and LSU’s Tiger Stadium.
UT has been to 52 bowl games and put together a respectable postseason mark of 28-24. There have been six national championships — although just one came in the last half-century, in 1998 — and 13 SEC titles. Not only are Doug Atkins and Reggie White in the school’s Hall of Fame, but they’re also in Canton. Peyton Manning soon will be, too.
However, those days are clearly long gone. The Vols are a laughingstock right now, and a big reason is unrealistic expectations.
Phillip Fulmer, the man who brought that ring home to his alma mater in ’98, won double-digit games eight times in 16 years. But after slipping to 5-7 in 2008, he was unceremoniously canned. Just the previous season, he’d captured the East.
Since then, Tennessee has gone 7-6 under Lane Liffin, 15-21 under Derek Dooley and 34-27 under Butch Jones — don’t forget a combined 1-2 with Jim Chaney and Brady Hoke, who coached on an interim basis after the in-season firings of Dooley and Jones, respectively. The Volunteers got nowhere near a division title.
Nevertheless, fans of the program remain convinced that this is one of the destination jobs in America. Sorry, but it isn’t.
The Volunteers made another hopeless run at Jon Gruden, who started his coaching career as a graduate assistant in Knoxville in 1986. Despite having one of the cushiest gigs on TV, he’s yet to officially close the door on a return to the sideline.
His wife was a UT cheerleader once upon a time. One of Gruden’s sons is a student there, as well. That was enough for Vols fans to think — hence the creation of the #Grumors hashtag — he was coming to the rescue. News flash: He’s not. The institution has courted him before and keeps getting rejected, so move on already.
Gruden’s like that married guy at the bar who loves to flirt with the single ladies. He’ll never stray, mind you, but the attention strokes his ego.
The preeminent name on the coaching carousel, Chip Kelly, would’ve made a bunch of Vols fans happy, of course. Even if his NFL career with the Philadelphia Eagles and San Francisco 49ers soured, what he did at Oregon was stunning.
It’s difficult to get confirmation one way or another on how exactly these things shook out — all parties have to protect their own narrative, of course — but some reports suggested that Kelly had no interest in Tennessee. Others claimed that Tennessee had no interest in Kelly. Regardless, another big catch wasn’t on his way to the Volunteer State.
Instead, Kelly landed at UCLA. He was apparently more comfortable in the laid-back Pac-12 than the pressure-cooker SEC.
For a while there, it looked like UT was preparing to reel in Dan Mullen (above). Considering the fact that he rebranded a perennial doormat like Mississippi State into a legit contender in the West, stealing him from a conference foe would’ve been quite the coup.
After the Bulldogs were upset on Thanksgiving night by Ole Miss in the Egg Bowl — a first-quarter injury to quarterback Nick Fitzgerald surely changed the outcome — a window of opportunity was open for the Vols. But then the Gators called. When it was time for him to weigh pros and cons of Knoxville vs. Gainesville, Mullen made the obvious choice.
The league’s top coaching target literally picked between Florida and Tennessee. Mullen went with Florida. What more evidence do you need, Tennessee fans?
No Gruden. No Kelly. No Mullen. The Volunteers were down to at least their fourth option. Just like when Jones was hired, and just like when Dooley was hired. It’s not like Kiffin had to fight off potential employers at the time, either.
With candidates disappearing across the country and public confidence in his ability to find the right guy dwindling, embattled athletic director John Currie secured a deal with Ohio State defensive coordinator Greg Schiano. What ensued was one of the most bizarre stories — frightening might be a better description — we’ve ever seen in this sport.
Schiano had the misfortunate of previously being on the same Penn State staff as convicted child molester Jerry Sandusky.
It was once thought that Schiano may have had knowledge of Sandusky’s crimes before they came to light, although there’s no evidence. It didn’t stop UT from going full lynch mob, though. Policitians got involved, as did prominent media and former players.
The outrage was so deafening that Currie was forced to pull the offer — he caved to social-media pressure, plain and simple. Truth be told, many fans used the Penn State excuse because Schiano wasn’t a sexy enough hire. He had about as much to do with the Sandusky scandal as a World Trade Center security guard had to do with 9/11.
I’ve asked this question a few times, yet not one of them has given me a coherent answer: If coaching the Volunteers is such a once-in-a-lifetime privilege, then why do their first, second and even third choices continue to say no?
What happens now is anyone’s guess. Currie will inevitably reach out to those with UT connections — Duke coach David Cutcliffe, USC offensive coordinator Tee Martin, etc. — and beg them to come home. But these days, a bad loss or two gets you slandered on The Rock. This is exactly the brand of lunacy that rightfully irked a guy like Kelly.
With the current combination of weak leadership and mob mentality, Rocky Top will never be home sweet home to anyone.