UT lookin’ for love in all the wrong places
By Marcus Fitzsimmons | (firstname.lastname@example.org)
The coaching carousel continued to turn Thursday with searches starting, searches ending and speculation on as yet unfulfilled searches building across the college landscape. But in Knoxville the song serenading the down stroke of UT athletic director Dave Hart’s horse with the empty seat beside it on the merry-go-round is eerily close to “Lookin’ for Love in All the Wrong Places.”
The Vols’ Hart-to Heart talks with what’s believed to be their top choices have all ended badly for Tennessee and left the rabid fan base with the stunned emotional equivalent of a program Pearl Harbor after the refusals of coaches to become a part of the once proud tradition.
But once proud means the pride is now lacking and the prestige that Tennessee established under General Neyland and that Johnny Majors and then Phil Fulmer carried back into the national eye in the ’80s and ’90s is in dire need of another resurrection.
The Tennessee job was once a coveted position and while it has lost some of its luster, the fan base that agonizes today is the same one that can fill Neyland Stadium and deafen the opposition with renditions of “Rocky Top” — a true selling point to any coach.
Maybe the Vols have done so poorly since Fulmer’s dismissal because college football’s landscape has changed so dramatically since 1977 when UT brought Majors in to replace Bill Battle after the — then youngest — head coach in the nation’s success faded from an 11-1 first season to a 6-5 last season. Fulmer’s transition to head coach in 1992-93 was far from smooth but it was also internal. So after firing Fulmer, UT was at best naive to the reality of coaching salaries measured by the number fronting six zeroes and the near complete erosion of the hiring principle the Vols always relied on in finding a product of the program when possible. Only Battle (Alabama) and Doug Dickey (Florida) were the exceptions to Tennessee men leading the program after Neyland’s retirement in 1952 until Lane Kiffin was hired to replace Fulmer.
And wasn’t that where the current trouble really began?
Maybe the days when a player from a top-tier, tradition-rich program fought fiercely to become a graduate assistant on the staff to break into the coaching ranks, move ever upward as an assistant at other schools until taking over a program of his own and proving himself, all to someday come back to his dream job at his alma mater are over.
If they are, then maybe our own little Division 3 Maryville College might feel more secure. If — and I say that as IF — but if ETSU were to restart its football program, it might follow the “our boy” hiring pattern that dates back to the time when the Wing-T was a new concept. Then the Bucs’ search for a proven winner as a head coach — someone that is an ETSU guy and will go beyond the dollars to win for his school — will surely be gauging Mike Rader’s interest in returning to the JC.
But if not, if the money of college football has taken all love and loyalty from the game, then can the Vols’ quest ever find the right guy for Tennessee? Kiffin showed UT’s unfamiliarity, not only with hiring a coach in these new times, but holding on to them once you have them.
There’s an empty seat on the coaching carousel and putting the right guy for the Vols in it can only be hard on the Hart.
Marcus Fitzsimmons is sports editor at The Daily Times, who enjoys reading comments posted to this column at http://thedailytimes.com