By Alex Norman
If you listen to sports talk radio… if you log on to twitter… if you check out Facebook… you would think that Tennessee will soon disband the football program and turn Neyland Stadium into condominiums.
The Vols underachieved and boy oh boy is the mob ready to strike.
The head coach is a buffoon. The assistant coaches are morons. The players aren’t very good. The fans didn’t support the team enough (yes there is fan on fan crime in play here too).
This is what happens when expectations are not reached.
Remember when Derek Dooley said before the 2012 season that the SEC wouldn’t have Tennessee to kick around anymore? The moment the Vols lost to Florida everything went downhill faster than Lindsey Vonn in Cortina d’Ampezzo.
Yes, I’ve made a skiing analogy. Don’t pretend you aren’t impressed.
Four years later the expectations were even higher for the Vols. Dramatic wins over Florida and Georgia ramped that hype to levels not seen in Knoxville in over a decade.
Winning the Eastern Division and playing for the SEC title was inevitable. The Vols were 5-0 with wins over their biggest rivals. Surely this was the time to get to Atlanta.
But those that don’t know their history often get a hard lesson in it. Back in 1992 Tennessee beat Florida and Georgia, then inexplicitly lost 3 SEC games to miss out on playing in the inaugural SEC championship game.
The culprits 24 years ago were Johnny Majors open-heart surgery, the rise of interim coach Phillip Fulmer, the return of Majors, and the rise of the Legions of the Miserable. What could have been a historic season on Rocky Top (the Vols had risen as high as 4th in the nation) ended with a coaching change.
This season the culprit was injuries, the inability to develop depth, and coaching missteps.
Losses to Texas A&M and Alabama were understandable. Tennessee was finishing a brutal stretch of games and was running on empty. Losses at South Carolina (after a bye week) and at Vanderbilt (yes, Vanderbilt) are never acceptable.
The Vols ended the regular season 8-4, and instead of the college football playoff, or the Sugar Bowl for the first time since 1991, or the sun and fun of a Florida bowl game, Tennessee will go back to Nashville for the 2nd time in 6 weeks to play Nebraska at the Music City Bowl.
This isn’t what anyone associated with Tennessee football wanted from 2016, and few expected it to go down this way.
But it is the holiday season, and it is a time to give thanks, so let’s give thanks for Tennessee football.
Let’s give thanks for the opportunity to watch Derek Barnett play for the Vols over the past three years. He will head to the NFL and has the potential to become of the league’s top pass rushers for years to come.
Let’s give thanks for Joshua Dobbs, and his dedication to school work, charity work, and hard work. Dobbs had a memorable four years at Tennessee, and could end up on an NFL roster next season. And if he doesn’t? Dobbs will be just fine.
Let’s give thanks for a quarterback battle this spring and summer, with Quinten Dormady and Jarrett Guarantano competing for the starting job.
Let’s give thanks that Tennessee football is back to a point where you can be a bit upset if the bowl game location isn’t what you wanted. It wasn’t long ago that Tennessee wasn’t going to bowl games, and that there were players in the roster that didn’t even want to go to bowl games so they lost to Kentucky to avoid the postseason.
Let’s give thanks that in December 2016, the University of Tennessee cut the final buyout check to Derek Dooley. For every month over the past four years, Dooley received a check worth approximately $102,000 from UT.
Each. And. Every. Month.
Let’s give thanks that in 2017 Tennessee will get a fresh start with an expected coaching staff shakeup. The realization is that changes will need to be made on Butch Jones’ staff and he does understand that.
And let’s give thanks that in 2017 Tennessee will have a new athletic director. The “resignation” of Dave Hart, who has been a divisive figure since he arrived in Knoxville in 2011, will be a positive and new blood likely will help energize the team that drives the athletic department engine.
When you break it down this way, you realize things really aren’t that bad.
But yeah… a trip to Atlanta woulda been nice…