For each of the past 15 Christmases, Santa has consistently left two items under my tree. One is a renewal of my subscription to Sports Illustrated. The other is a shiny new University of Tennessee football calendar. Like the now-extinct practice of opening up a vinyl LP record to reveal its treasures, I take pleasure in carefully removing the cellophane wrapper so as not to damage the vivid images captured inside.
At least I used to.
Last night, before I went to bed, the number 1 trending Twitter topic in the U.S. was "#TurnedDownTennessee". As a remote, non-alumni Tennessee fan and former student, I was embarrassed and angry. I can only imagine how the VFLs feel today (VFL=Vol For Life). Because, you see, it shouldn't be this way. At least on paper, that is.
Forget about the unrealistic expectations. Yes, Tennessee is one of those dozen or so schools whose fan base expect national championships and the occasional Super Bowl. There is passion and sometimes even more delusion. However, the faithful live for Saturday and descend upon venerable Neyland Stadium in massive numbers no matter the record. Ask fans of other teams who have made the trek to Knoxville, and almost all will agree that the game day experience is something to behold.
The region itself, the Tennessee Valley, is prime real estate once you get through East Knoxville. West of campus lies a booming real estate market in an area where you get to experience all 4 seasons (Spring, Summer, Football, Winter), a friendly community and a low crime rate. Oh, and everyone in that friendly community roots for the same team. It's awesome. On casual Fridays, everyone wears orange. There is nothing wrong with Knoxville. Once you people make me rich and famous, I intend to retire on a house right on the Tennessee River where I can join the Vol Navy and retire in peace.
I almost forgot. You can win there. Check the offensive statistics for this otherwise dismal Vol season. Tyler Bray, Cordarrelle Patterson and Justin Hunter will all be drafted in the first round of the NFL draft. If Jim Grobe had this talent to play with, Wake Forest would be enjoying bowl practice instead of playing Xbox. Don't let the smooth taste fool you.
Yet, (fill in the blank)"#TurnedDownTennessee."
To recap: the University of Tennessee dismissed Phillip Fulmer after the 2008 season. Coach Fulmer had amassed 6 division titles, 2 conference championships and hoisted the first BCS National Championship trophy. He was fired exactly 1 year after Tennessee played in the SEC Championship game because the powers that be recognized that complacency had set in and was affecting the direction of the program. Fair enough.
After a disaster of a search, Fulmer was replaced by Lane Kiffin. Lane Kiffin, after his tumultuous exit was replaced by Derek Dooley after an equally disastrous search. Both coaches were nowhere near the first or second preference for the folks conducting the search. Obviously, the Volunteers' next hire won't be, either.
You're telling me that's the best the University of Tennessee can do?
They have money. They have a 100,000 seat stadium. They have a rabid fan base (too rabid). They have tradition. They have a history of winning. They belong to the best conference in football, and that includes the AFC North. It is a gargantuan job to manage, but it is an equally gargantuan opportunity for a coach to win multiple championships.
So, what's the problem?
Meanwhile, in the ACC...
Can anyone remember the last football coaching dumpster fire in ACC country? I mean, one that made a difference, BC fans. Remember when Mack Brown left for Texas all those years ago? It made sense, didn't it? Football was a priority, money was no object and the decision to leave was a no-brainer.
Those days are long gone.
Jimbo Fisher may or may not have a tenuous relationship with his new AD, but declined to interview for a chance to get back in the SEC. Charlie Strong, a fantastic coach with SEC chops and championship rings, turned down an alleged 3.5 million Tennessee dollars in order to stay at new ACC member Louisville. David Cutcliffe, whose SEC pedigree is long and storied, was the first to say "don't call me." Later today, I expect Larry Fedora to do the same. Down the road, Debbie Yow has had her number one choice unpacked and working in his new office for almost a week.
Tennessee may or may not be talking to Tommy Bowden.
The moral of the story is this, Deacon fans: you don't know what you've got until it's gone, especially in football. To those clamoring for a head coaching change in the Wake Forest football office I say: If Tennessee can't find a coach to walk the Neyland sidelines do you really want to roll the dice and see who wants to come to Winston? Let's focus. The immediate problem involves the team playing across the street from BB&T Field.
Jim Grobe is astute enough and seasoned enough to recognize the existing problems. Heck, he was smart enough to turn Arkansas down, remember? It's time, Tie-Dye Nation, to recognize what you have. Come next September, the Deacons will field a senior-laden, experienced, talented football team that will more than likely have some new position coaches preparing them for the season. This will be a team that competes for a bowl game, and not one sponsored by a vegetable.
If not, I'm sure Derek Dooley will be available to save you.