Tennessee isn’t home to The Beverly Hillbillies. Tennessee isn’t home to The Simple Life. Tennessee isn’t home to any other backwoods, redneck, marry-your-cousin(s) stereotype perpetuated by talking heads looking for a few yuk-yuks.
Tennessee – all 42,181 square miles – is many things (some that your neck of the woods isn’t, so you’re excused for not understanding). Above all, Tennessee is a feeling complete with its own swagger: Southern by birth, Tennessee by the grace of God.
Tennessee is now the butt of too-many-to-count jokes because former athletics director John Currie lit a dumpster fire while trying to hire a head football coach.
Tennessee deserved better than Greg Schiano. Or Dave Doeren. And the fan base let everyone, including Currie and deep-pocket booster Jimmy Haslam, know about it. You may have caught some of the Volshevik revolution on social media …
Tennessee has aired its dirty laundry before. Johnny Majors came marching home in 1977, then was unceremoniously dumped in favor of Phillip Fulmer in 1992. Karma was a bitch; Fulmer was likewise sent packing in 2008, with a national championship and a record 100 games above .500. Then came the Lane Kiffin error, followed by Derek Dooley and Butch Jones – collectively 45-48 in the past nine seasons. (UT’s record is 46-50 but who remembers Jim Chaney’s win and who can forget Brady Hoke’s two losses?)
Tennessee again showed its underbelly during the sh*tshow that was Currie trying to get someone’s – anyone’s – name on the dotted line. And now that Currie has been ousted and replaced by Fulmer, everyone who could not understand why the fan base was up in arms should have a seat and STFU.
Tennessee did not want Schiano, who was mentioned under oath by Mike McQueary as part of the investigation into molestation charges against former Penn State assistant coach Jerry Sandusky. Yes, Schiano has denied seeing anything improper between Sandusky and a youth – but even the whiff of that stench … no, Tennessee didn’t need it.
Tennessee didn’t need Greg Schiano sitting in living rooms of 17-, 18-year-old kids. Tennessee didn’t need to combat what other SEC teams would say on the recruiting trail. Tennessee didn’t need to be reminded that it had recently showered in the wake of sexual assault allegations.
Tennessee also did not need a coach who was 68-67 at Rutgers with an underwhelming 28-48 mark in vaunted Big East play. Spare us the “He got Rutgers ranked” (yes, once in 11 seasons). No need to discuss his 11-21 mark in the NFL or how that tenure ended in flames.
Tennessee also did not need to settle for Dan Doeren, who reportedly was out of a job unless NC State beat North Carolina, which it did. (And now he’ll get a pay bump after flirting with Currie & Co. Everybody wins!) Doeren is 33-30 overall with a 15-25 conference mark. Those are Kiffin-Dooley-Jones digits. Sorry, been there, done that. Next …
Tennessee made its bed, however. Several high-profile VFLs abandoned ship under Jones, who was fired on Nov. 12. When the Vols began looking for his replacement, Jon Gruden became the focus of countless #Grumors. Kiffin was forgiven and courted by #VolTwitter. Then came a litany of coaches Currie targeted: Dan Mullen, Schiano, Matt Campbell, David Cutcliffe, Doeren, Chad Morris, Mike Gundy, Jeff Brohm, Mike Leach. … Even Eric Taylor was rumored to have turned down the gig.
Tennessee faithful turned its lonely eyes to Tee Martin, who led the Vols to a national championship in 1998. Now at USC, some believe he should have been brought on board to right the ship. Others point to the fact he’s been an offensive coordinator for only two seasons; the crown of a head coach would have been too heavy. I disagree. Given Martin’s recruiting prowess, and by surrounding him with other VFLs as assistant coaches, it would have paved the road for a longer honeymoon. Maybe that will happen someday …
Tennessee pulled the plug on Currie on Friday. Fulmer was tabbed to be the face of salving the open wounds within the fan base and to hire a head coach. Given the laughingstock nature of the search, it’s a tall task. “I think with the background that I have here, and as well as we’ve done at different times here, with the facilities and leadership we have here, I definitely think there will be people that will be interested,” Fulmer said.
Tennessee is generations. Loyalty to all things orange is passed from father to son, mother to daughter. Loyalty to all things orange also is passed from father to daughter, mother to son. Being a Volunteer is being part of a legacy. It is a family on The Hill.
Tennessee now can look forward to again being the pride of the Southland. Among SEC schools, UT has produced the most College Football Hall of Fame members – 28, from Gene McEver to Peyton Manning. Alabama has 20, Georgia 13, and Florida 12. Giving your all for Tennessee, it still means something in the SEC East and on the Third Saturday in October.
Tennessee was the training ground for NFL stars including Bill Bates, Dale Carter, Arian Foster, Willie Gault, Albert Haynesworth, Jamaal Lewis, Leonard Little, Terry McDaniel, Raleigh McKenzie, Stanley Morgan, Carl Pickens, “Hacksaw” Reynolds, Al Wilson, and Jason Witten.
Tennessee was home to The Minister of Defense, Reggie White, hallowed be his name. Tennessee is Wide Receiver U. Tennessee is Smokey, the Bluetick Coonhound that is Tennessee-born and bred.
Tennessee is “Give him six!” How many other schools have a song dedicated to its play-by-play announcer? Only on Rocky Top do our hearts still swell with a “20-15-10-5 … Touchdown, Tennessee!” from John Ward.
Tennessee is not a stepping-stone; Neyland Stadium is a destination. Four Tennessee head coaches are enshrined in the College Football Hall of Fame: Gen. Robert Neyland, Bowden Wyatt, Doug Dickey, and Fulmer. (Majors, a two-time SEC player of the year and runner-up in the 1956 Heisman, is inducted as a player. He was 185-137-10 as a head coach and won the 1976 national championship with Pitt.)
Tennessee is 102,455 strong. On a football Saturday, Neyland is the seventh-largest city in Tennessee – a shade less than Bristol, Farragut, Shelbyville, East Ridge, and Tullahoma combined. And the Tennessee River is patrolled by the Vol Navy.
Tennessee is battered. Tennessee is bruised. But damn it, as everyone in Vol Nation has learned: If at first the game – or the breaks – go against you, don’t let up. Put on more steam! “Our football program has the history, the facilities, the tradition and the resources to play with anyone anytime, and that’s what we’re going to do again,” Fulmer said Friday.
Tennessee is now prepared to carry the fight to our opponent and keep it there for 60 minutes. Gen. Neyland would have it no other way.