Friday, November 18, 2011

Tennessee Football in Steady Decline

On August 24, Tennessee alum Gene Wojohowski wrote a column for, Trying Times for Tennessee Volunteers, contrasting Pat Summit’s announcement of her early onset dementia diagnosis with the Kiffin/Pearl debacles and the overall unrest within the athletic department.

That was before the hope surrounding Tennessee football began to fade.

That was before the lose to now underwhelming Florida, four straight conference loses, and a 42 point embarrassment at Arkansas. That was before perennial conference doormat Vanderbilt was declared a one point favorite against the Vols.

Obviously, Wojohowski’s “trying times” reference was meant primarily for Summit’s battle with dementia (as well it should), but the outlook for the Vols has never looked bleaker. From 1919 until 2004, Tennessee had nine losing seasons. Nine. Included in those years are two national titles and 16 conference championships. Unless the Vols can pull out wins over Vanderbilt and Kentucky, 2011 will be the team’s fourth losing season in last seven years. Out of 346 loses in the program’s history, 41 have come since 2005. And one of those was to Wyoming.

The most significant sea change, however, has been among the Tennessee fan base. Where UT was once among college football’s elite, media coverage now features reassurances our newly hired coach (who was hired after multiple candidates reportedly turned down the position) is committed to the university.

“How can you ask for anything more than the University of Tennessee,” Derek Dooley said upon being introduced as football coach. “The times of worrying about what happened are over.”

*Dooley is now 10-13 at Tennessee.*

The language was clear. The university that produced Peyton Manning and Reggie White is now the girl with a good personality. And high school recruits want prom queens.

Contrasting Tennessee’s decline is Vanderbilt, who have lost 27 of their last 28 meetings with the Vols. These, however, are not the same Commodores. Aside from being favored at Neyland Stadium, Vanderbilt lost to Georgia, Florida, and Arkansas this season by a combined 13 points. By comparison, the Vols lost to those same teams by 60. With bowl hopes for both teams on the line, John Adams Knoxville News Sentinel headline summed up the differing paths the two universities find themselves on:

“Vandy, Vols aren’t what they used to be.”

I was sitting in the student section in 2005 when the ‘Dores last beat Tennessee, the first in my lifetime. Late in the game, a student sitting behind me said, “Okay, I’ll take next semester off and graduate next fall so this won’t be my last football game.”

Even with that ridiculous statement, it came with an assumption next year won’t be so bad. Today, that belief is fading quickly.

No comments:

Post a Comment