By Alex Norman
By the time you read this article, there will be less than 75 days to go until the Tennessee Volunteers open the 2019 season on August 31st at home against Georgia State.
And there isn’t very much chatter about it.
I’ve lived in Knoxville for nearly 20 years, and don’t recall a time when there has been this little anticipation for an upcoming football campaign.
The obvious reason is that many Tennessee fans are finally done buying in without seeing results. For far too long, the Vols have underachieved. It’s hard to believe, but Tennessee hasn’t won the SEC East title since 2007. They haven’t beaten their biggest rivals very often either. The Vols are winless against Alabama since 2006 and only have one victory against Florida since 2004.
The losses and the disappointments have piled up, and the Vols are still trying to find their way back to the glory days of the Phillip Fulmer era.
But there are other underlying reasons for the lack of attention to the program.
First of all, the new head coach isn’t exactly personality personified. Jeremy Pruitt operates in the mold of Nick Saban. He isn’t a big fan of the media obligations that come with the multi-million dollar salary. He allows his assistant coaches to talk about as often as a lunar eclipse. If you are winning like Saban, fans will show up no matter what. But Pruitt is in the middle of a rebuild at Tennessee, so you can’t reasonably expect the Vols to be an SEC contender this season.
The flip side this coin is that former Tennessee coach Butch Jones was a carnival barker. Jones was so concerned with hyping his program that he seemed to forget about player development or learning how to be an in-game coach, which cost the Vols dearly during his five year tenure.
Another reason is the lack of a Big Orange Caravan this year. These were opportunities for fans to get excited about the program across the state and other parts of the southeast. The decision to abandon that for the “Summer of Smokey” took away media attention in Memphis, Nashville, the Tri-Cities… all places where Vols fans live but the passion for the program remains high.
Part of the current apathy rests in the schedule. The two biggest rivalry games are on the road (Florida, Alabama). Georgia and South Carolina are at home, but the Bulldogs are rolling these days and for whatever reason Tennessee simply can’t beat a Will Muschamp led team (4-0 with Florida, 3-0 with the Gamecocks). The Vols other SEC West opponent is Mississippi State, which isn’t exactly shaping up to be a can’t miss affair. And Tennessee has eight home games as well.
Another factor might be the success that Tennessee’s men’s basketball team has been having in recent years. Certainly that’s a terrific development, but perhaps fans only have so much of their attention to give.
Of course we haven’t even hit late June as of yet, and once SEC Media Days get underway in mid-July, and then practice starts in early August. So the present day quiet will cease to an extent.
But Tennessee needs to give their fans a reason to get excited again.
And the easiest way to do that is to win some games.