The excitement around Knoxville is palpable as football fans await Athletic Director Dave Hart’s scheduled press conference to announce UT’s next head football coach. Talk radio is abuzz with rumors and speculation on who the next scapegoat will be, and some fans have already created signs for the home opener calling for the coach’s resignation.
“It’s just great to have so much anticipation,” says Slosh D. Frat III, a third year freshman and lifelong fan. “Since Dooley got fired, I haven’t gotten to hate a coach for a whole week. Knowing that there’s a new guy just days away. Well, I just almost can’t stand it.”
Asked if there’s any chance he’ll like the new coach, Slosh was contemplative.
“If it’s Gruden, I’ll give him until spring ball before I turn on him. Other than that, I’ll pretty much start screaming for him to be fired that afternoon.”
Other Vol fans echo the sentiment.
“We have a tradition to uphold,” says Iggy Norant, long-time talk radio enthusiast. “Around the nation, we are known as some of the loudest, most uninformed sports fans in college athletics. ESPN has long heralded us as the dumbest, and we have to keep up that tradition. I’ve been a part of running off two head coaches and one coordinator already, and I can’t wait to run off the next guy!”
When asked how the fans’ rabid and rampant intolerance for rebuilding a program mired in mediocrity might impact future recruiting, Norant was incredulous.
“Recruits don’t care who the coach is!” he bellowed. “They come here because of the school’s tolerance of criminal behavior.”
Officials at the university were unavailable for comment, as they were conducting a seminar warning the student body of the perils of butt-chugging. However, in a prepared statement, the school states that it is ready to fire the next coach as soon as boosters give them the approval and the funds to pay off the buyout clause.
Amid the speculation, two names have surfaced as leading candidates for the position. Jon Gruden, Super Bowl winning coach and current Monday Night Football color guy, is considered the fan favorite because of his deep ties to the university, including his marriage to a former UT cheerleader and his cousin’s best friend’s neighbor’s plumber helping institute butt-chugging on fraternity row.
“Jon’s practically an alum,” beams Norant.
However, one name has both sports fans and scientists excited. According to an unnamed source with close ties to important people associated with big-time boosters, geneticists at the university have cloned General Robert Neyland from hair fibers and plan to have his growth accelerated in order to have him ready for recruiting season.
“I’m not sure who this Bob guy is, but he doesn’t have much experience at the SEC level,” Norant said. ”We fans will have him on a very short leash. It would be kind of cool to have a coach with the same name as the stadium, though.”
With that, Iggy Norant excused himself, stating that it was time for him to call into the first of the five talk radio shows to which he’s a regular contributor.
Tennessee fans, you don’t deserve a winning team. You simply don’t. The bile and venom spewed at Coach Dooley over the last three years is shameful and disgusting. The vast majority of you are classless, short-sighted jerks who disgrace the legacy of the program with your behavior. If UT fires Coach Dooley Monday, which likely they will, you will get what you’ve asked for, and more than likely, you’ve condemned the program to at least another five years or more of mediocrity. Virtually no reputable coach with any sense would want to come to the university given your win-now-or-else absurdity.
First, a little history lesson for you. After the National Championship season in 98, the program slowly began to erode. The first major warning sign of this erosion for me was the Peach Bowl after the 2003 season. At the end of a disappointing 14-27 performance against a mediocre Clemson team, many players were seen on the sidelines joking, laughing, and talking on cell phones. For me, this raised alarm bells about the team’s character and commitment. Coach Fulmer seemed oblivious to his players’ lack of passion for competition. I wasn’t in the locker room and don’t know if he addressed it, but if memory serves, no one was released from the team.
Then, in 2005, the erosion of talent and dedication bottomed out. The team went 5-7 overall and 3-5 in SEC play, missing its first bowl game under Coach Fulmer. The team was slow at the skill positions and weak along the lines, and the players simply couldn’t execute. Of course, you refused to acknowledge that anything was wrong with the talent. Instead, you blamed Randy Sanders and ran him from the program in one of the most tasteless and ridiculous smear campaigns I’ve ever witnessed. Coach Sanders bled orange and loved the university. Today, because of you, he refers to it as “that place.”
In 2006, the team went 9-4 overall and 5-3 in the SEC, which on the surface was respectable. However, the team was 2-4 against ranked opponents. In 2007, Coach Fulmer seemed to have it back, going 10-4 and 6-2, winning the SEC East and taking LSU to the final gun in the SEC Championship. However, the losses included Cal 31-45, Florida 20-59, Alabama 17-41. More alarmingly, the wins included beating South Carolina by 3, Vandy by 1, and Kentucky by 2. Very easily, that team could have been 3-5 in SEC play. In 2008, the team did go 5-7 and 3-5, and Coach Fulmer lost his job.
Enter Lane Kiffin. Remember him? He came in full of bravado and promises. He landed some incredible talent and had the team looking competitive against ranked opponents for the first time in several seasons. There was optimism and momentum surrounding the university. Do you remember how that ended? January 12, 2010, Kiffin called a press conference late in the evening to announce he was leaving the school to take the USC job. In the middle of recruiting. After one season. Can your short-sighted-ness fathom what that did to a program already on the decline? Much of his first recruiting class left the university. Most of his second recruiting class followed him to USC or bolted to other SEC schools.
So in the midst of turmoil, UT began looking for a new coach. Will Muschamp turned the job down, flat out. So did Jon Gruden and Bill Cowher. Do you remember that? I wonder if the treatment of Coaches Sanders and Fulmer had anything to with their decisions. Maybe it’s just me, but if I were a coach looking at potential jobs, the last place I would want to land is a school with a loud, obnoxious, ignorant fan base with a history of running off coaches. But I digress.
During this turmoil, Tennessee hired virtually unknown Derek Dooley, and some of you started asking for his head the next day. Coach Dooley immediately went to work and salvaged what he could from the recruiting class, including keeping Tyler Bray. He also started rebuilding Tennessee’s image. For most of Coach Fulmer’s tenure, the team was notorious for the sheer volume of arrests. It seemed like every weekend, often after games, 2-3 players would get busted for disorderly conduct or worse. Then, it turned out some of Kiffin’s recruits were felons-in-training, so the program was not only sub-par on the field, but rife with off field issues.
Coach Dooley vowed to clean this up and implemented measures to hold players accountable. He began to build the character of these young men as much as their football skills. He also recruited some fine talent. Given the mess he walked into, he did a commendable job righting the ship. He brought pride and passion back to the program. The young men on his teams play for the Tennessee Volunteers, and they compete hard in every game. Yes, they are not quite up to SEC standards yet, but it’s not from lack of effort or lack of hard work.
I can’t defend Coach Dooley’s win-loss record. It’s awful. I can’t defend some of his coaching blunders. They are glaring. What I can do is remember a young Bill Cowher making his fair share of blunders with the Steelers. I can also look up the records of some of the greatest coaches in history and see early poor records. I’m not saying Dooley will ever be the next Bear Bryant. What I am saying is that Tennessee fans will never have a Bear Bryant as long as you continue with your hot-headed, crude behavior because you’ll never attract the right coach and then you’ll never give him time to build. Win now or else.
To Coach Dooley, I’d like to say thank you. Thank you for doing things the right way. Thank you for soldiering through an absurd situation. Thank you for being classy and dignified in the face of adversity. I’d also like to apologize for the behavior of the ignorant buffoons who will probably run you out of town. Please know, some of us saw the positive and appreciate the job you’ve done. Some of us understand that college athletics is supposed to be about more than money and wins. Some of us would love to give you one more year before judging you. Good luck, Coach Dooley, whatever the future holds for you.
A dull thud tapped me on the forehead, like someone had taken their palm and bumped me playfully. The next thing I knew, I was sitting on the ground with two shotputs in my lap, which strange because I’d only been carrying one. I rolled them away and tried to get my bearings, but everything was a swirl of colors and sounds. Then, I felt a tickle on my eyebrow, like sweat was dripping, so I reached up to wipe it away and pulled back a hand coated in blood. That’s when I knew something bizarre had happened.
On this day in 1989 at roughly 3:30 in the afternoon, I nearly lost my life. An 8 lb. shotput had struck me on the right side of the head just above the hairline. I suffered a nasty laceration, exposing my skull, a severe brain contusion, and at the time, when they still graded concussions, the highest grade concussion on the chart. Fortunately, it had hit me on the hardest part of the skull and didn’t fracture or even crack the bone. Also, because of the angle, it mostly glanced off my head instead of impacting with full force. I spent three days in the hospital, lost 20 lbs. from the trauma, and literally nearly died. To this day, I live with some symptoms of post-concussion syndrome.
For many years, I wallowed in self-pity for everything the accident took from me: mostly the opportunities to play college football and join the marines on an ROTC scholarship. Then, one day I woke up and realized that I was fortunate simply to be alive. Today, as I mark the 23rd anniversary of the day that changed my life, I want to focus more on what the accident has given me, namely an appreciation for my life and my creativity. Without those, I wouldn’t be the man I am today, and I’m fairly happy with that man.
In terms of appreciation, I see each day as a blessing, as time I’ve been granted by grace. Even with all the turmoil and difficulties of the last five years, being alive and on this earth allows me the opportunity to learn and grow and laugh and love. I’ve gotten to experience fatherhood, and if it took enduring that accident a hundred times to have my sons, line me up. In terms of creativity, I’m convinced that at least in part, the injury awakened some part of my brain that had mostly been dormant. At the very least, it forced me to turn my attention away from athletics and towards writing, so I see now that the accident has given me far more than it took.
Not too long ago, I found Bobby, the boy who had mistakenly thrown it, and got to tell him, after years of needing to share this, that I had never harbored any ill-will for him, even during the worst of my headaches and the darkest of days. We were unsupervised kids, and even if he had had been trying to hit me, there was no way he could have done so on purpose. It was just a dumb, fluke accident. I hope he knows in his heart that he wasn’t to blame, and I hope he doesn’t carry around any misplaced feelings of guilt. Bobby, if you happen to read this, I love you, man.
So today, as I remember that day and the subsequent years of symptoms, I ask all of you to do one thing. Contact those you love most and tell them how you feel. Don’t wait. Do it now because you never know what split-second, dumb fluke could end their or your life. Embrace your darkest moments, for even those days are blessings. None of us are promised anything on the other side; everything beyond this world is pure speculation, so cherish each day on this earth. Any day above ground is a good day.
Dear sons, I wish I could describe for you just how much I loved playing sports as a kid. I didn’t really blossom as an athlete until about 14 or 15, but I loved sports, even when I was a chubby, uncoordinated kid without much skill. My sport was football, and my position was nose tackle/defensive tackle. I know I didn’t have the size or talent to ever play pro ball, but if not for my accident, I think I could’ve at least made the roster for a small college. One of the only things that nags and gnaws at me is the fact I’ll never know the answer to that question. Was I talented enough to play college football? I don’t dwell on it often, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think about it from time to time.
I want to share with you one of my fondest memories from the eight years I played. It was my junior year of high school, and I was 15. From a couple of years of intense weight-lifting, I was strong beyond my years and had earned a starting spot as the right defensive tackle. We were playing Cocke County, at the time one of our biggest rivals because our head coach was originally from there and couldn’t stand losing to them. The left guard who blocked me that night was 5-6 inches taller than me and was pretty athletic. Play after play, we battled like we were in a street fight. One play he would beat me, the next I him, and the next, we’d stalemate. It was without a doubt the most intense one-on-one matchup of my football life. I left everything I had on the field and played an extremely sound game, giving up hardly any rushing yards to my side.
In the end, we lost the game, but as the teams were shaking hands, he pulled me out of line and hugged me like an old friend. ”That was the most fun I ever had,” he said. ”You’re a warrior, man.” I thanked him and told him he had played a great game, but in the moment, the sting of the loss hurt too much. I walked back to our dressing room and sat down outside against the brick wall. Then, I just started crying. And I cried pretty hard, too. I couldn’t believe we had lost that game, and losing hurt, especially after I had played one of the best games of my life. Several of the Cocke County fans had gathered outside our dressing room to taunt us, and when they saw me crying, they really let me have it. Some of my own teammates gave me a hard time, too, yelling at me to stop, but I didn’t care. To this day, I’m not ashamed of crying after that loss because when I really care about something, I give it my all, and when you give your all and still come up short, it’s painful.
I sometimes think about that left guard and wonder if he remembers that game as well as I do. I wonder if he remembers how hard we battled play after play after play, neither one willing to quit, neither one willing to back down. I wonder if he ever looks back on that game and feels the way I felt out there on the field, like I’d never been so alive. I hope he does, and I hope that you both one day will get to experience something like that, even if you have to suffer the same sting of defeat, because that memory is one of the most fulfilling of my life. As old age takes me and my brain begins to fade, I hope the memory of that game on that night against that guy will stay with me until the end because the memory of feeling that alive and that present in the moment isn’t experienced very often, and it’s a pretty amazing feeling.
I would love to write a full entry today, but the end-of-the-semester-crunch has me worn down. I hope to get a good night’s sleep tonight and be able to write the humorous follow-up to my recent Education Ramblings tomorrow. Until then, please come join my new Facebook page, “Fire Tennessee’s Fair-Weathered Fans.”
That’s all for now.
I’ve told this story hundreds if not thousands of times, but one of the most important lessons I ever learned in life came my freshman year of high school. I played defensive end on a 5-3 defense, which would be fairly close to the equivalent to the OLB on a modern 3-4. During a scrimmage with Knox Carter, I missed a tackle because I half-assed got into the backfield and didn’t set a solid edge. Then, to compound matters, I dove at the running back as he sprinted by me and lay on the ground, feeling sorry for myself for not making the play. As I lay there, I heard Coach Brumley Greene come charging onto the field.
He grabbed my facemask, lifted me from the ground, and got in my face. For the next two minutes, he proceeded to berate me for my pathetic effort on the play. As he yelled and shook my facemask, spit flew from his mouth onto my glasses, cheeks, and lips. He let me know without question that I, and I alone, was the only person responsible for the effort I gave. This incident occurred in front of at least 100 people, most of them my age, and at the tender age of 13, I was mortified by the embarrassment. As soon as Coach Greene finished humiliating me, he turned to the other team’s coach and ordered him to run the same play. ”Yes, sir,” was the only response.
On my second attempt, I nearly killed the poor ball carrier, and even before I could get to my feet, here came Coach Greene. Again, he grabbed my facemask and sprayed me with spittle, but this time it was in congratulations. Even at 13, I got it. My effort was the only difference in the two plays, and despite the humiliation, or maybe more accurately because of it, I learned in that moment the importance of giving my all. To this day, I cherish Coach Greene for teaching me that so early in life.
Today, however, he would be fired the moment he touched me. The spit alone would be grounds for a lawsuit, and that, I wholeheartedly believe, is the crux of where we’ve strayed as a nation. In a misguided attempt to protect young people’s feelings, we have robbed educators of some the most powerful teaching weapons in the arsenal. Humiliation, shame, and fear are mighty motivators, and some of the best life lessons we learn have to bruise our feelings to leave a lasting impression. From my own experience I can attest, the humiliation faded rather quickly, but the lesson has lasted my entire life. Thank you, Coach Greene, for caring enough to teach me that lesson.
Fans disgust me most times. I’m as big of a sports enthusiast as you will find, but the way fans turn on players and coaches during adversity illuminates the worst of humanity. Today, Tennessee had a terrible game. The offense looked pathetic; the defense played okay but let a WR run a spread option offense for too many yards; and the special teams was anything but special. The two most disappointing aspects of this loss were that it was against Kentucky and a win would have made the Vols bowl eligible. Losing was pretty disappointing and put an ellipse on an overall bad year.
But–and this is a big but–the way so many so-called fans turned on Derek Dooley after the game is ridiculous. First and foremost, Dooley inherited a mess, one of the biggest messes in college football history. Coach Fulmer had already let the program’s quality slip below elite SEC standards, and then, Lane Kiffin, who doesn’t deserve the title coach, betrayed the university in the most despicable manner possible, bolting for USC with less than a month left for recruiting. By the time Dooley was hired, he literally had less than two weeks to salvage the recruiting class.
Since taking over as head coach, Dooley has worked to return pride to the program and has implemented policies that hold players accountable for their actions on and off the field. At the beginning of this season, he stood behind his principles and kicked his best player off the team for misconduct. At the time, most of these same fans now calling for his head lauded him for his scruples, praised him for putting the program ahead of the individual.
During this year, the Vols lost their best offensive weapon early in the season and then their highly talented quarterback for nearly half of it. Their offensive line is extremely young , with only one junior in the lineup, and the starting tailback, the lone senior starting on the offense, would probably be the third-string runner for Alabama, LSU, Georgia, South Carolina, and Arkansas. The team lacks depth, experience, and explosiveness on the offensive side. Today, the starting quarterback, his throwing hand obviously bothering him, was ineffective. However, despite these facts, I repeatedly heard fans lambasting Dooley for the play-calling during the game. Well, when you have no running game and your passer is struggling because of injury, what plays do you call? Do you pull the starter for a true freshman?
My Alma Mater, the University of Memphis, has been on the coaching carousel for decades. A few years back, they hired Tommy West, and he got the school into back-to-back bowl games for the first time in school history. Then, he had a couple of mediocre seasons, so the “fans” turned on him and got him fired. Now, the team is back to the old losing ways. How many coaches have Vandy and Kentucky tried in the last 30 years?
If Tennessee fires Dooley now under these circumstances, it will be a worse mistake than keeping Fulmer around after his fire had dimmed and much worse than hiring Kiffin. Tennessee will be on the same mouse wheel as all of the other mediocre teams chasing a return to glory. The high profile coaches will shy away because the AD bows to pressure from the fans, and every young coach who jumps in will be chased away in 2-3 years. I’ve witnessed it firsthand with Memphis. And it’s not fun.
I must be getting old because I find myself thinking a lot about just how lost this current generation seems to be. Last night, I went to homecoming to support my niece, who was the junior representative for the court, and while watching the game, I found myself wondering how my coaches would’ve dealt with the egos and self-centered attitudes of the players. The stadium has a fairly impressive video screen, and for pre-game, the kids get to record their own introductions. It’s a pretty cool concept, but after watching the clips, I was simply disgusted.
First, all the boys acted in their videos like they were mugging for Monday Night Football. The cockiness and arrogance of their posturing was ridiculous. It might not put me off as badly if they had the skill to back it up, but their effort on the field was pretty disappointing. I can’t imagine what Buddy Sausbury or Brumley Greene would’ve said to us if we had arm-tackled like that. The defensive line to a player had weak technique, their first step typically being to stand up and look in the backfield. On the line, low man wins, and the side that gets the better push with leverage controls the game.
Second, there was an attitude of entitlement in the videos that is pretty symbolic of all that’s wrong with this generation. They’ve done nothing on the field to earn that swagger, yet they acted like they’re the defending state champs. How about you accomplish something before you tell me how good you are? I see that same mentality in the classroom and around campus. Kids park in the faculty and staff lot and, when confronted, act as if they deserve to park there because somehow they are above the rules and beyond reproach. At 38, I’ve paid my dues, kid. Accomplish something before you take my parking spot.
I also took great umbrage with their uniforms. I don’t know if it was a one game deal or what, and I don’t know who made the decision, but the team came out in all black. Those aren’t the Trojan colors. We wear crimson and silver. Have a little respect for tradition, please. A lot of people came before you to create that program, and we bled and sweated and toiled for those colors. It meant something to me to put on that jersey, and I think it meant something to most of us. Get rid of the black and wear the school colors, please.
I’m well aware that I sound like a cantankerous old man, and I know my opinion won’t hold much sway with anybody in the school system, student, teacher, or administrator. But I was disappointed with what I saw last night and had to express my feelings.
The NFL lockout is a pretty good metaphor for where we are as a nation. While billionaires and millionaires squabble over how to divvy up a $9-10 billion pie, the majority of us are struggling to keep gas in our cars. It’s shameful to think that we are so far out of balance and so disconnected as a society that we’ve ended up in this situation. Without us to buy their product, their revenue will dry up, but instead of looking at the bigger picture, both sides are focused on protecting their short-term interests without seeing the long-term ramifications.
To take it a step further, however, the owners seem to have disdain for the players. In this case, the players are the labor, and currently, Corporate America views labor as a nuisance and an expense, rather than a valuable asset. Without the players, the owners have nothing to sell, but instead of protecting their product and ensuring quality, ownership seeks to cut benefits, weaken the union, and maximize their profits. To me, that’s backwards thinking. The owners should recognize the value these workers add to their companies and maximize profits through the product they sell. Labor is not disposable, and customers are not guaranteed.
To a degree, I can understand the players’ position. They put their bodies on the line every day in practice and every game. They are the ones who fill the seats and generate the revenue, so they want fair compensation for the profits they generate. However, the fans are the ones buying the tickets, purchasing the merchandise, and watching the games on TV. Most of us earn a fraction of their salaries despite working jobs that are much more important to the nation as a whole. While we make hard choices about healthcare and retirement and food, they live lives of luxury and excess. It’s hard to sympathize with their desire for more when at the end of the month I’m rolling change for lunch money.
This us vs. them mentality between management and labor is truly at the heart of all of our problems as a country. The divisiveness of this issue permeates every aspect of our society. Until we heal this rift, our problems will continue to grow. Until both sides learn that they are really on the same side and are dependent on each other for sustenance, nothing will improve. Without labor generating their profits, billionaires can’t exist. Without management making wise, long-term decisions, labor has nothing to do. And without customers who have both the desire for and the ability to purchase their products, neither side has anything.
Hopefully, now, the comparisons will stop. LeBron James is not a better basketball player than Michael Jordan. Sorry Scottie Pippen. You were wrong. James might be an incredible physical specimen and could probably beat most one-on-one, but champions like Jordan have something more than physical ability when the pressure gets intense. In the fourth quarters of his championship runs, Jordan always did something to amaze me (And usually break my heart as I wasn’t a Bulls fan), whether it be a steal, a pass, or a shot. His will to be the best elevated him beyond his physical skills.
Bill Russell had that, too. So did Kareem Abdul Jabbar, Magic Johnson, and Larry Bird. They played their best when all was on the line. Last night, the Heat and LeBron quit with over two minutes to go in an elimination game. They simply stopped competing. It was obvious by their body language, their lazy defense down the stretch, and then their decision not to foul in the last minute until that stupid foul with .18 left when the game was over. I can’t imagine Michael Jordan ever letting his teammates quit in the Finals under any circumstances.
It’s not entirely James’s fault that he doesn’t have that will to win the others had. All his life, he’s been told he’s the best, and he didn’t have a Dean Smith or John Wooden to mold his competitive spirit during his late teens. Instead, he had multi-million dollar endorsement deals with commercials touting his greatness. Anyone’s ego would get over-blown under those circumstances. In many ways, he’s the perfect symbol for his generation–all flash and style, no heart.
I’m happy for the Mavericks, especially Jason Kidd. They deserve to be champions because they fought for it. Jason Kidd has worked as hard as anyone to win this title, and I respect his tenacity to get back to the Finals and get another chance. The Mavericks played as a team, and even in the two losses, they battled until the end. It was an entertaining series that came down to one simple equation: a good team fighting together can always beat a collection of individuals, no matter how athletic those individuals might be.