The announcement of the hiring of John Currie as Tennessee’s next athletic director, no doubt, sent many Vol fans up the wall. I have been a Vol fan all of my life and remember some of the best days of our program as well as the utterly heartbreaking moments. It all started in 2008 when Phillip Fulmer went 5-7 and was abruptly fired at seasons end. This after only his second losing season of his tenure as UT’s coach. The next four seasons was much of the same. We came close in some games and got embarrassed in others. Not to mention, we suffered recruiting mishaps and program discipline issues throughout.
The following season Butch Jones took the helm to try and restore Tennessee to prominence. In 2013, he went 5-7 with a signature win against #11 South Carolina. In his 2014 campaign, he posted a 7-6 record and a blowout bowl win against Iowa. That was the program’s first bowl victory since 2007. On came the 2015 season where Tennessee ended with a 9-4 season and another impressive bowl win against Northwestern. That season, Tennessee let several teams off the hook. We led Oklahoma, Florida, and Alabama in the 4th and came within minutes of beating those teams.
2016 was Tennessee’s year. This was the year Tennessee was supposed to make the jump to the next level. The roster boasted the most talented it had been in years. Tennessee got their first win against Florida in 11 years, followed by a heart pumping win against Georgia. The Vols started 5-0 and then it all went downhill from there with losses against South Carolina and Vanderbilt. Tennessee should have handled those teams easily. Tennessee lost its chance to be in the Sugar Bowl. The Sugar Bowl could’ve repaired some of the mistakes last season. Nevertheless, Tennessee ended the season with a 9-4 record and a bowl win against Nebraska.
Now, enough living in the past. I too was pretty upset, like several other Vol fans, with the losses to South Carolina and Vandy. At many points, I was not happy with play-calling in certain situations or time management. Expectations for the 2016 season were sky high, and many picked the Vols to finish 9-3 or 10-2. With that being said, Tennessee fared pretty well at seasons end. Was it disappointing? Sure. Was it still a solid season, given all the injuries? Yes.
Many fans will say this is Tennessee, and we shouldn’t settle for a mediocre record. When you consider where Tennessee is compared to when they were with Kiffin and Dooley, this is a large improvement. Johnny Majors only reached 8 wins in his fifth season. He lasted as the Vols coach from 1977-1992. Now, Fulmer changed the game and set a high bar. It is a misconception that Tennessee is supposed to be a perennial 10+ win team every year. While this past year Tennessee should have definitely eclipsed double digit wins, Tennessee’s history suggest otherwise.
Fulmer’s run as Tennessee’s coach spoiled many Vol fans. In the 90’s and early 2000’s, it was the norm to win 9 or more games a year. We reached the mark 11 out of 16 seasons. The only other Tennessee coach to rival Fulmer’s success was General Neyland. To put things in perspective, from 1902 to 1992, Tennessee had a 9+ win season only 30 percent of the time. That is not to say Tennessee wasn’t successful. In the early days of the program, 6 win seasons were considered winning seasons. Our history is sprinkled with highs, averages, and lows. I’m not trying to throw off on Tennessee’s great history, but to expect to always be at the top every year is unrealistic. However, we should continually strive to achieve that mark in our program.
What fans should expect?
Year in and year out, we should expect to beat Vanderbilt, Kentucky, and generally South Carolina. We should expect sound culture in the program. We should expect good recruiting. And, we should expect to consistently improve and at some point compete for championships. If a coaching staff doesn’t complete these goals, it’s time for a change.
Where our fan base goes wrong
As a fan base, we have been ranked as the most annoying fans in the nation. That’s not surprising considering how often we engage in twitter arguments with other fan bases to an extreme level, tweet at players or recruits after something bad happens (which you shouldn’t do by the way), analyze every single thing a coach does, and call for his job after anything goes wrong.
When should there be change?
Many fans were calling for Butch’s job following the Vanderbilt. First off, there definitely shouldn’t have been a change when UT did not have an athletic director. We lacked anybody to make the new hire! You would not want to look for an AD and coach at the same time. That would be a disaster waiting to happen.
Change should occur when the team has several losing seasons one after the other (Dooley). Change should happen when you can’t consistently recruit at a high level (Dooley again). It should happen when the culture of the program is corrupt(Baylor). Change should happen when you lose against rival teams you should win against every year. Finally, change should happen when your team is in a rut and not improving. So far, Butch doesn’t fit any of those categories. Sure, you may not like his coach speak. That’s okay, but if he is winning, that’s all that matters.
The program finds itself in an interesting place at the moment. In the off season, the coaching staff has undergone an overhaul and made several top notch hires. The athletic director search has been completed. Many fans are already grumbling since it’s someone not named David Blackburn or Phillip Fulmer. Give Currie a chance before you make up your mind up on him. He is, in fact, a “Tennessee guy”. Next season will be a true test of where our program is at. Anything less than 8 wins may mean Butch is in trouble. Eight wins in the regular season then Butch earns a make or break year to improve in 2018 or that’s it. Nine or more wins in the regular season means Butch is safe.
As fans, we can (and should) be passionate about the Vols. Be upset when we lose, but when we do don’t go off the rails and call for the coaches job at every turn. Please stop thinking we are entitled to call every shot in the program. Let the men who have been entrusted the responsibility of our program do their jobs for an extended period of time. Now is when we need to take a step back and support the program we love so much.