Wednesday, November 30, 2011

What Are You Thankful For?

I, like most, had an opportunity last week to reflect on all that I am thankful for, and the list is quite lengthy.  For me Thanksgiving is time to consider how fortunate and blessed I am, eat some turkey, and to watch a lot of football too.  So, Saturday as I watched the UT game, I really needed to stop and consider, yet again, what I am thankful for, and the conclusion I came to is I am actually thankful the 2011 season is over for the Vols.  What a dreadfully embarrassing performance that was Thanksgiving weekend.

Saturday was like torture.  I seriously doubt there has been a less inspired performance by a Tennessee football team.  To say they "didn't show up" would be generous.  To lose is one thing, to roll over is inexcusable.  And, the first place to lay the blame is at the feet of the coaching staff.  The easy target is Derek Dooley, and he certainly deserves much of the blame.  But, his coaching staff should be ashamed of themselves.  Specifically, the offensive coaching was particularly, well, offensive.  In fact, outside of the first drive, the defense actually adjusted to the Kentucky offense and played pretty well.  There's been a lot written this week about how Tennessee was beaten by a WR who was forced to play QB.  It's true.  But, while we're bashing coaches, how in the world did Kentucky not use that guy at QB prior to Saturday?  He was strong, fast, and determined.  There's a tight end winning NFL games at QB right now, and he has been the story of the NFL season.  His name is Tim Tebow.  He can't throw, and yet he's beating just about everyone he faces because of his athleticism and true grit determination.  That's the current football world we live in.  If a guy is strong and fast and understands how to read the defense he can run the option, and he can win.

I'm not going to belabor the point, because there was no excuse for the Vols to lose to Kentucky last weekend, period.  But, if the option is run well, it is very difficult to stop.  And, it's especially hard to stop when a defense hasn't really prepared for it.  And, even when prepared it requires a tremendous amount of discipline to stop, and discipline is something young players rarely exhibit.  And, if you don't think the Vols are young, you are not paying attention.  Youth is no excuse either, but perspective is very important for evaluating that game.

By the way, I fired the entire coaching staff Saturday several times.  I cussed, barked, groaned, pouted, and damn near got violent a couple of times.  But, in the end, I would much rather lose to Kentucky while we are down than to lose to them when we are up, and we've come very close to doing just that several times, including a couple of times with Peyton at QB.  But, I digress...

It is very disappointing that Dooley has been unable to turn things around, very disappointing.  But, he shouldn't be tossed completely under the bus either.  The Vols were painfully short on leadership on the field this season.  It was disappointing to hear seniors reporting after the game that some of the younger guys didn't care, and were uninterested in winning and going to a lower level bowl.  It was more disappointing that the seniors were willing to publicly voice that.  The fact that Tauren Poole was willing to voice that in interviews is irresponsible.  It's finger pointing, it's blaming others, it's refusing to take responsibility for his own short comings.  In fact, I would argue that while much of the writing this season has focused on the youth of the offensive line, Tauren Poole may be the least talented starting running back the Vols have had in decades.  Think about it.  Without transfers he would possibly be buried in the depth chart.  Freshman Marlon Lane showed more speed and explosiveness most of the season, and for a period of time, a walk on redshirt freshman got carries ahead of Poole.  Tauren Poole was dealt a very bad hand by the University of Tennessee.  He was one of only a handful of recruits left over from the Fulmer regime.  He's been through a lot, but he showed little if any leadership as a senior and then did the unthinkable, pointed his finger at everyone but himself. 

Dooley should get a full 4 years, or at least he should be allowed to coach well into the fourth season before UT decides to change directions yet again.  He inherited a total mess, and we Vols fans have been a bit spoiled over the past couple of decades.  The Vols have won a lot of games dating back to 1989.  But, I remind everyone wearing orange colored glasses that even in our most successful years, we've managed to blow opportunities and regularly have come up short.  And, for just a little further perspective consider these numbers---

Johnny Majors replaced Bill Battle in 1977.  Majors was fresh off of a National Championship at Pittsburgh.  Why in the world would a coach jump from a National Championship to rebuilding the University of Tennessee?  Two reasons- one he was returning home and two he no longer had Heisman winner Tony Dorsett at Pitt.  Pitt hasn't won anything since the 1976 championship.  He got the hell out of Dodge.  And, what did that National Championship winning coach do when he got to Knoxville?  In his first four seasons at Tennessee he went 4-7, 5-5-1, 7-5, and 5-6.  He was hardly "lighting up" the SEC.  What happened after that?  He won the SEC championship in 1985 with a 9-1-2 record and beat Miami in the Sugar Bowl which most certainly changed the perception of his coaching ability dramatically.  Majors led the Vols to the SEC championship in 1989 and 1990.  But, by the end of the 1992 season, the season in which he left due to a heart problems, the administration decided that Phillip Fulmer's interim coaching success was enough to move on from Majors. 

The point?  With the exception of the 1998 season, neither Johnny Majors or Phillip Fulmer did enough to keep their jobs.  Maybe the Tennessee job is harder than we are willing to admit?  Dooley deserves a genuine chance to build a winner.  If he can't do it, he can't do it, but making a change now is not what the program needs.  The program desperately needs some leadership on the field and changes at Offensive Coordinator and Special Teams coaching.  Speaking of special teams, the kicking game is more than an embarrassment.  It's so bad, there's no need to dissect the details.  The Special Teams are so inept the name should simply be changed to Train Wreck.  What a disaster.

So, the season is thankfully over.  The losing is done for now.  The embarrassment of losing to Kentucky will fade, just like the embarrassment faded from losing to Wyoming and Vandy.  Let's hope that Dooley, in year three will have enough veterans that youth is no longer an excuse.  Let's hope that some of the guys who have been around for a while will stand up and lead the way on the field.  Let's hope Justin Hunter fully recovers and he and Da'Rick Rogers make Tyler Bray a Heisman candidate.  Let's hope Dooley can bring in a junior college transfer or two who are big contributors, and let's hope he brings in a freshman or two who are big time players. 

If those things happen, the 2012 season should be much more enjoyable.  If those things don't happen, Dooley will get a long vacation, and we'll have Mike Hamilton to thank for yet another disaster.  Speaking of which, did you see the basketball team lose to Oakland University for the second season in a row?  Thanks Mike, you successfully destroyed the athletic department on Rocky Top.  But, we'll be back!!

Go Vols.  I'm OoooooouuuuuUT!
M