By Alex Norman
On November 11th, Tennessee’s men’s basketball team opened the season with a road game against Xavier. A late Vols rally fell a bit short in a hostile environment, with the Musketeers hanging on for a 67-63 victory.
The next day on local sports talk radio, the large majority of callers talked about the future of head coach Cuonzo Martin. Some wanted him fired… others wanted former head coach Bruce Pearl brought back after his NCAA “show cause” penalty expires next summer.
Remember, the Vols were 0-1. They had played one game. On the road. Against a perennial NCAA tournament team.
This, of course, begs the question…
What is wrong with these people?
Maybe you are one of them, maybe you aren’t, but the idea of wanting a coach fired after the first game of the season is asinine.
By my count the Vols will play a minimum of 32 games this season. So following the Xavier contest, Tennessee’s schedule was 3.1% complete.
I realize that Tennessee hasn’t been to the NCAA tournament since 2011, but they came very close in 2012 and 2013, probably a win shy of the field of 68 each time. And I think people forget the roster was gutted following Bruce Pearl’s firing, with seniors Brian Williams, Melvin Goins, Steven Pearl, Josh Bone and John Fields departing, as well as freshman Tobias Harris and junior Scotty Hopson choosing to turn pro.
But Bruce Pearl spoiled the Tennessee fan base with an exciting brand of basketball, and six straight NCAA tournament appearances. Before Pearl showed up, Tennessee had only been there 13 times in program history.
However the bigger issue is probably the fact that many fans have no patience anymore. We live in an immediate gratification society, and that translates to the world of sports. We want wins, and we don’t want to wait for them.
The University of Tennessee’s athletic department (and departments across the country) has learned that the days have passed when you could just open the doors to your football stadium and basketball arena and have all the seats filled. This is most important in football and men’s basketball, since these are the two sports that register a profit. The Lady Vols basketball program traditionally breaks even in that regard.
Football and basketball drive the economic engine of an athletic department, and most often, when a team is losing, the cash flow slows…
Sometimes though, the most critical fans… the ones that stop buying the popcorn and making the donations, do have a point. Many Vols football fans were vocal and calling for then head coach Derek Dooley’s firing after an embarrassing 10-7 loss to Kentucky at the end of the 2011 season. It was the first time Tennessee lost to the Wildcats in more than a quarter century. Dooley had lost the team, and players such as quarterback Tyler Bray and receiver Da’Rick Rogers reportedly told teammates that they didn’t want to play in a lower-tier bowl game.
Instead, Dooley was given a third season… which turned into another disaster. Wasting a collection of offensive talent at the skill positions, many of which would find their way onto NFL rosters, the Vols finished with a third straight losing season. Athlonsports.com recently had Dooley at the top of a rather dubious list… “College Football’s All-Time Worst Coaches at Great Programs.”
Dooley was the exception when regarding pulling the trigger on a dismissal.
But he’s not the rule.
So depending on how this Vols basketball season turns out, the folks wanting a change at the top might get even more vocal. If the Vols fail to advance to the NCAA tournament, the pressure on Tennessee athletic director Dave Hart to make a change will be high.
Can’t we at least get to the middle of December before everyone starts in with the “Bill Self has land in Union County” or “I saw Tom Izzo at McGhee-Tyson Airport” comments?
That would be the basketball equivalent of Jon Gruden rumors… right?
Take a deep breath people…