By Alex Norman
“She’s not gonna let us out.”
That was the memorable line from George Clooney’s character, ship captain Frank W. “Billy” Tyne, Jr., in “The Perfect Storm.” The Andrea Gail was fighting valiantly, but the storm was not going to allow the fishing vessel to escape.
Admit it, Tennessee fans… you thought that the “Curse of Kiffin” was about to finally let you and your program out of the rough waters.
I call it the “Curse of Kiffin” because ever since Lane Kiffin was hired as Tennessee’s football coach on December 1, 2008, it has been one devastating experience after another for the UT athletic program.
Is there any moment you can hang your hat on? After Kiffin’s midnight run to Southern California the Vols hired Derek Dooley, who will be remembered as the worst coach in the past 100 years of UT football. The football team has gone 23-27 in the past four years, with no bowl victories and three straight losing seasons.
The Vols basketball program got to the Elite Eight for the first time in 2010, only to see its coach (the beloved Bruce Pearl) fired after he lied to the NCAA about a barbeque (it still sounds surreal two years later). They have yet to return to the NCAA tournament under Cuonzo Martin.
The Lady Vols basketball program saw its head coach (the beloved Pat Summitt) retire following the 2011-2012 season after her diagnosis with dementia. On the court, the program hasn’t been to the Final Four since April 2008.
The baseball program hasn’t been to the SEC tournament since 2007.
The swimming program was rocked by scandal when long-time coach John Trembley was fired due to “gross misconduct” in 2012.
Tennessee’s track programs are no longer national powers.
The Vols have had athletes arrested. There have been lawsuits filed against the Tennessee athletic department. The buyouts that former coaches and administrators have received have been comical and a financial strain on the department.
With the exception of the softball team (Women’s College World Series appearances in 2010 and 2012), and Men’s Tennis, Tennessee athletics has felt the full effect of the curse over the past four and a half years.
Vols fans needed something, someone to believe in.
They got it in new football coach Butch Jones. Since his hiring on December 7th, Jones has spoken to numerous groups, gone on many television and radio programs, been active on twitter… and most importantly has been recruiting at a high level.
According to 247Sports, the Vols currently have a Class of 2014 that is in the top five in the nation.
He’s basically been the anti-Derek Dooley.
Jones has fans excited about the football program. So much so that an announced crowd of more than 61,000 fans showed up for the Orange & White game. And while the team likely will have their struggles in 2013 (road games at Oregon, Florida and Alabama… Egads!), the future of the program looks much brighter today than it did last fall.
But what has been the big news with Tennesseee sports recently?
The firing of Jenny Wright.
Wright was the director of the office of judicial affairs at UT, and according to Jimmy Hyams from The Sports Animal, she was terminated for refusing to cooperate into an investigation as to whether she had inappropriate relationships with athletes.
This followed the news that Tennessee basketball player Trae Golden was leaving the program.
The rumor mill is flying, and the University of Tennessee public relations folks are trying to put out yet another fire.
Look, it could be worse. The Chicago Cubs have tried to break their Billy Goat curse, which is still alive and kicking. The team hasn’t won a World Series since 1908, and hasn’t been to the World Series since 1945. Cleveland’s major professional sports teams haven’t won a title in any sport since 1964. The Vols have many years to go before reaching that level of futility.
The school year has ended. This is supposed to be the time when things slow down on campus.
But if we’ve learned one thing over the past few years, it is that the Kiffin curse can, and will pop up at anytime.
Be warned, Orange and White…