Crumbling Orange Brick by Brick


Like watching a group of children playing Ring Around the Roses, fans of the Tennessee Volunteers are observing a team that seems to be singing “We All Fall Down”.  I am not an alarmist by nature, and this pales in comparison to other things in the news, but a series of incidental reports out of Knoxville lead to a reasonable wondering if Coach Butch Jones’ program might be crumbling around him, brick-by-brick.  As the Washington Post reported this morning: Tennessee Players Seem to be Revolting.

This morning, Jones confirmed rumors that star Running Back, Jalen Hurd – certain to be a high round pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, should he choose to make himself available – has announced his plans to transfer immediately from the University of Tennessee.  This coincides with a somewhat cryptic Tweet by highly touted, though under-performing, Defensive Lineman Jonathan Kongbo, that suggests he may be thinking of hanging up his cleats, barely a half-season with the Volunteers.  On top of that, another highly touted but under-performing  underclassman,  Receiver Preston Williams, had left the team a month ago, announcing plans to transfer; though he is reportedly still enrolled and taking classes at UT.

Defections happen from every school. A single defection like one these would be disappointing to any team, and to any fan base.  But these coming together – at mid season – they are startling.

Even focusing just on Hurd, things don’t add up. And Jones’ response sounds only like spin, from a coach who already far too often, and for far too long, has sounded like a used car salesman.   While I do not know the man, and therefore my opinion may be somewhat unfair, I don’t expect to hear the truth out of Butch Jones any more than I expect to hear it from Hillary Clinton.

Hurd is transferring, though a Junior, to play one season at some other school.  Again, he is a freakishly gifted athlete, one any NFL scout would drool over adding to a roster.  So why not just finish out the season, and go to the NFL – just as everyone expected he would do after this season anyway?  Now perhaps Hurd wants to graduate from college before beginning his NFL career.  If so, he ought to be applauded for such an exemplary illustration of priorities as a student-athlete – student first.  The problem  with such a scenario is that Hurd will be ineligible to play for another school next season, unless he transfers to a school in a lower NCAA classification.  It’s possible, but unlikely.  Of course, if Hurd has already graduated, or if he will graduate this Winter or Spring, then he would be eligible to play at another school. But if he has already graduated, and now wants to leave the school where he grew up dreaming of playing, why would he want to play at some other school rather than taking the next step into the NFL?

Hurd is reported to have said he wants to play a different position – Receiver, or Tight End, or H-Back; one where his body would not take the same kind of pounding it does as a Running Back.  While he is an All America talent as a Running Back, he would be an awe striking Tight End or Receiver.  So again, why not just make the transition in the NFL? Plenty of guys change positions when they get to the next level.  Someone with Hurd’s natural gifts would make such a transition more easily than most. Further, he is not likely to make himself more money by playing receiver at Chattanooga or Tennessee State for a single season.  NFL Teams will take him for his natural abilities, with or without the year of seasoning at the FCS level.

While players leave programs everywhere, for a variety of reasons, Hurd’s situation seems suspicious.  Like many of his teammates this season at Tennessee, Hurd has been hurt. However, unlike his teammates Hurd’s injuries have remained undisclosed, while those of all the others are chronicled.  Further, other injured players have traveled with the team for games on the road. Hurd, however, stayed home when the Volunteers played at Texas A&M a few weeks ago.  No reasons for the differences in treatment were offered.  This itself is not wrong, as we have no right to personal information about private individuals, but it is suspicious.  Yet, in that instance, not only was Butch Jones tight-lipped, he offered contradictory reports about Hurd’s injuries.  Again, suspicious. So when coupling the loss of Preston Williams and the potential loss of Jonathan Kongbo with the odd developments of Jalen Hurd’s departure, it causes many to wonder – and some to fear – that the house Butch Jones has been building may be showing serious signs of crumbling.

I will finish with this: I am not against Butch Jones; nor would I suggest that at this point his job ought to be in jeopardy.  But there is enough suspicious activity, combined with a coach who to date has mostly shown himself to be a salesman, to wonder if there is something going on behind the curtain that will eventually show these recent events to be just the tip of a devastatingly large Orange iceberg destined to sink the hopes and hearts of Tennessee alumni and fans – not to mention the Volunteer Navy.

2014 MLB Opening Day

MLB 2014 Opening Day

This being Opening Day of the 2014 Baseball Season. Here are the teams whose box scores I will be regularly looking up these next several months:

Technically I am a Pirates/Phillies fan, having grown up in Philadelphia and then learned to enjoy the Pirates while living for several years in Pittsburgh’s Eastern Suburbs.  While not a fair weather fan, I fluctuate as to which team I cheer for most, with no rational explanation behind it.  This is not a problem, except for when they play each other.  But then, I don’t lose.

Living in Virginia, the O’s and the Nationals are the teams on our cable stations.  I became a fan of the O’s – or at least they became my favorite American League team – some time ago, when we spent a year living in Winchester, Virginia.  The Orioles were on almost every night – O-TV.  The Nationals have an exciting collection of young players, and older guys who used to play for the Phillies and/or the Piratres.  While not really a fan, I enjoy watching them play from time to time.  And if neither of the Pennsylvania squads can take a pennant, I guess I’d rather see the Nationals do it than anyone else.

Prevailing: An Honest Look at Philippians 4.13

Sometimes I want to scream! One thing that makes me want to scream is people, Christian people, who under the guise of faith, take scripture out of it’s God-given context and apply it to their own pretentious favor.  ARGH!!

I wonder, is there any passage where this more frequently occurs than it does with Philippians 4.13:

“I can do all things through him who gives me strength.”

All too often, it seems, this is claimed as the “life verse” by athletes, coaches, and others facing various forms of adversity.  Those involved in athletics so commonly claim this verse that I sometimes, tongue-in-cheek, refer to this mindset as FCA Christianity. (OK.  I know that this is not fair to FCA.  While this mindset may commonly be heard around FCA Huddles and events, there are also many faithful, deep, godly folks involved with FCA.  In truth, I don’t know that this mindset is more prevalent with FCA-ers than it would be in my denomination, PCA, or even the church that I pastor.)

Philippians 4.13 is often invoked whenever the odds of success seem stacked against someone. The person reminds himself/herself: “I can do this… Like Rocky Balboa, I can defy the odds… I can do ALL things through Christ who gives me strength… I can win!!”

What is wrong with this perspective is not the desire to prevail, whatever the endeavor. There is nothing wrong with that. The problem is that to use this verse, and suppose the Bible here champions winning, takes this verse out of it’s context and redirects the aim of the gospel, the purpose of the Christian faith, to serve our agenda and goals.  It assumes that our personal success is the goal of the Kingdom.  It turns the gospel upside-down.

Continue reading

Don’t Waste Your Sports

There are seemingly few resources that help the athlete and the fan channel an enthusiasm for sports to the glory of God.  Many misapply Philippians 4.13, taking it out of context, disconnecting it from it’s gospel purpose, and using it as if it is merely a self-help positive thinking slogan.  Others assume that sports are just “worldly” banality that, while enjoyable, have no redeeming spiritual value, except perhaps for the platform provided to accomplished Christian athletes in this sport idolatrous culture.

As a life-long sports enthusiast, and former coach and athlete, I have longed for a substantive bridge that connects athletic endeavors with spiritual formation, yet that avoids the shallowness usually exhibited.

Two relatively recent resources provide the connection and substance I have long looked for:

Both these resources help show us how we can redeem our involvement with sports to God’s Glory and our spiritual development, whether an athlete or a fan.

Two related audio resources:

Kiffin Takes Fast Lane West

I think it was Horace Greeley who said: “Go West, young man.” Apparently Lane Kiffin has taken that to heart.

At a news conference tonight Lane Kiffin announced he will end his 13 month tenure as the coach of the Tennessee Volunteers.  While Facebook is lighting up with posts from throughout Big Orange Country, interchangeably crying and cussing, I say simply: “Good Riddance!”

I will try to refrain from saying: “I told you so.”  But I will say Al Davis is looking like a wise old sage. He is the one who warned Tennesseans that Lane Kiffin was a “scoundrel”.  Davis also said Kiffin was a liar.  Both seem to be dead-on assessments tonight.

I must admit, my first thoughts were: “What a jerk!” 

But then it dawned on me.  Tennessee fans got what they deserved.  We received the same loyalty from Kiffin as many Vol “faithful” (using that term very, very loosely)  extended to Philip Fulmer.  

Fulmer is a class individual. He loved his players and the University of Tennessee.  He had a clean recruiting record. And, in addition to having coached the Vols to a NCAA Championship, he was the third winningest active coach in the NCAA Division 1, before he was unceremoniously shoved out the door by AD Mike Hamilton.  It was those same Vol “faithful” who are reeling tonight that cheered Hamilton and jeered Fulmer. 

Fulmer stood for all that is best in college athletics. But that was not enough; not nearly enough. So fans across the state, marching to a tune played by the Pied Piper John Adams, and others of his ilk, turned ugly. They wanted a newer, sexier model.  So they got one.

There is a line from the film Wall Street that comes to mind.  Martin Sheen, playing the role of the wise, blue collar father, tells his young, arrogant, ambitious son (played by his real life son, Charlie):

“I don’t go to bed with no whore. And I don’t wake up with no whore.  That’s how I live with myself. I don’t know how you do it.” 

Well, Vol Nation, you now know what it is like to wake to a coaching ‘whore’.  What did you really expect? Love and long-term commitment?  You were only kidding yourselves. 

Truthfully, I feel pretty good tonight. If you check my past posts, I was never a Kiffin fan.  Some have mistaken my non-embrace of this guy as “hate”, but that is to misread my sentiment.  I wanted to like the guy. I wanted him to succeed. (Read: An Open Letter to Lane Kiffin and Kiffin’s Concerns)  But as I suspected, he never gave me the chance.

Now Tennessee goes back to the drawing board – hoping to find a coach who can salvage the recruiting class that will sign in just 3 weeks.  Hoping to find a coach who, as one person wrote me tonight: “…wants to win, loves the players and the University, and will teach the players to win and love UT too.”

My simple response was: “We had one.  And he was ridden out of town.” 

But now we begin again.  This time let’s shoot for character above charm. And check the references from his previous employer.  Maybe someone should have listened to Al Davis.

2009 Heisman Trophy


For the first time in years there is no clear cut candidate who will win the Heisman Trophy. For that reason alone the race is interesting. And for the first time in years I may be seeing glimmers of hope restored in my attitude. 

Like other sports fans, I have my opinions each year.  Sometimes my opinion matches that of the “experts”. But even then it is not enough to override the disappoitments of years when the results seem to be a sham; when it appears the fix is in; when networks like ESPN have more to do with choosing the winner than players’ performances on the field do. 

But I am hopeful this year will be different.

Below are my top 5 picks, with number 1 being who I would have voted for had I been given a vote.  I know that some of my choices can’t win – not all were even invited to the party in New York. But that doesn’t matter. These are my slections:

1. Ndamukong Suh – DT – Nebraska – Senior

A dominant player in the trenches; the best player in the country this year. PERIOD.  And in this year when there is no clear cut QB or RB, a defensive lineman can win.  (I know a defensive player was once given the trophy, but this time Suh should legitimately “win” it.)

Watch the video: Suh

2. Toby Gerhart – RB – Stanford – Senior

It was tough not voting for Gerhart. He is equally deserving for both his stats and his style.

3. Mark Ingram – RB – Alabama – Sophomore

It is hard to believe no Tide player has ever won the Heisman.  Ingram may go home with it. If he does, there is no injustice, he is a great back.  But I wouldn’t give it to him this year.

4. Tony Pike – QB – Cincinnati – Senior

While it is over used hyperbole, Pike is the driving force behind the Bearcats’ undefeated season.  His backup played well in periods Pike was injured, but without Pike Cincinnati would be good but not great. 

5. Colt McCoy – QB – Texas – Senior

The Maxwell Award winner should have won the Heisman last year.  His numbers were down a little, but McCoy’s performances still shined.  He has Texas playing again for the National Championship.

Tim Tebow’s Tears

“There’s no crying in football.”  That paraphrase of a Tom Hanks movie line is the apparent sentiment of many in the world of sports media today.

Are you kidding me?  It makes me wonder how many of these guys ever played the game – or played any game.

Tim Tebow is taking a pounding from pundits because he shed some tears as the 2009 SEC Championship Game came to a close with his Florida Gators on the short end of the scoreboard.  These sportwriters, and sports radio hosts, seem to think Tebow’s reaction was somehow sub-manly.  Granted,this is not a universal attitude among those in sports journalism – and maybe not even the majority opinion, but I’ve heard enough to realize this perspective does not belong just to a few isolated idiots.

Much has already been written about Tebow’s exploits and exceptional character. There is nothing I can add to that. There is no need to re-make those cases.  But I do want to chime-in on this conversation with a couple simple points.

1. Absolutely there are tears shed on football fields.  It is almost as much part of the game as is sweat. It is physically demanding game. It is also mentally and emotionally exhausting – perhaps especially for a quarterback.  Players prepare for hours upon hours for 60 minutes of competition.  At the end of the competition a player who has give all he has to give, physically, mentally, and emotonally, is drained. He is reduced to raw emotion. Tears are often shed on both sides, especially in a championship game – tears of joy for the victors; tears of frustration for the one whose all was not quite enough.

Frankly, as an ex-player and former coach, it is the guys who are not on the verge of tears at the end of a hard fought game who always bothered me most. 

2. Tebow demonstrated the epitome of character and sportsmanship.  Having been reduced to raw emotion; having watched year-long – if not life-long – dreams coming to an end, Tebow was nothing but gracious and effusive in his compliments and congratulations to his opponents. No excuses. No finger pointing. No sour grapes.  Tebow just said: “Alabama was better than us today”.  

Impressive. Which is more than I can say for Tebow’s naysayers.

Diamond in the Rough

The NFL Draft commences in a little more than an hour from the time I write this post.  Not surprising, the pre-draft headlines are focused on Matt Stafford, out of the University of Georgia, and Marc Sanchez, out of Southern Cal, two high profile quarterbacks.  But the real story of this draft, no matter where he ends up, is Ole Miss Offensive Lineman Michael Oher.

The video above gives an overview.  The best video I’ve seen, giving much more of the whole story, was on ESPN earlier this afternoon, which you can watch by clicking: Adopted Family Helps Oher

Oher grew up on the streets of Memphis. His mother was a crack addict. His father had been murdered.  Oher was homeless and left fending for himself by age 6.  He didn’t know his correct birthday or his own real name.  Because of his size and athleticism someone sent him to Briarcrest Christian School to see if he might help out the athletic program.  Briarcrest officials recognized that Oher was completely unprepared for the academic rigors of the school, but also knew that he had no place to turn. So they allowed him in school, on academic probation and inelligible for any athletic competition until he was caught up in school. 

As amazing as that part of the story is, there is more.  While enrolled at Briarcrest Oher was still largely on his own. That is until one cold Thanksgiving night, a school classmate driving with her family spotted Michael on the street wearing shorts and a thin T-shirt.  The Tuohy family turned their car around picked Oher up and took him to their home.  Over time the Tuohy family bought Michael clothes and food, and allowed him to stay with them – until they finally adopted him into their family. Loved for the first time in his life Oher progressed in the classroom and on the football field. He enrolled at Ole Miss and became an All American. Today he will become a first round draft choice – and a millionaire.  But I suspect Michael Oher will be the one man drafted who understands that love far outvalues cash.

The story has already been made a book, The Blind Side, which has been on the New York Times Bestseller list.  It has been featured on NPR’s All Things Considered. And a motion picture is in the works.  But it is the story that may not be told that also fascinates me. It is the story of those whose faith was expressed through tangible love. It is the story of the Tuohy family and the folks at Briarcrest Christian School.the-blind-side

Think about it. The Tuohy’s were a well-to-do Memphis family.  They had children, including an attractive teenage daughter, who I’m sure they were concerned to protect.  And here is this big, huge, black guy, from the streets, that they invited into their home.  I know race should not matter, but it is Memphis. But even apart from race, this is a huge, undisciplined, teenager off the streets.  Most people would have just kept driving. Some kind folks may have bought food and clothes. Others may have gone so far as to make sure he found a home.  But risk the unknown, and with children in the home? I imagine few would have done that.  But the Tuohy’s did. They were compelled by love. And their love transformed a life.

I also have to commend the headmaster at Briarcrest.  Not many administrators would have done the same thing. Some may have admitted Oher because of his athletic prowess. But how many would admit him simply to help him?  Briarcrest had no reasonable reason to expect that Oher would ever succeed in the classroom. When he got to the school he carried a 0.4 gpa.  But these people cared. They lived out their faith, and helped this helpless young giant, even when they had little hope to benefit from it. They reflect what Christian Education ought to be about.

This story makes you feel-good, no matter how it is told. But I stand in awe as I see the Apostle Paul’s words come to life on ESPN:  “The only thing that matters is faith expressing itself through love.” (Galatians 5.6)



A day after Tea Parties were held across our land, I learn that our money is not the only thing our elected officials in Washington are concerned about afterall.  With wars looming, pirates pestering American freighters, and our economy still in the gallows, apparently Congress has its eyes on college football. They want to fix the BCS. 

While I cannot endorse all his positions, I have to support David Climer of the Tennessean, who in his April 12 column spoke to the issue: Congress Has Bigger Problems to Address Than BCS.

Dungy Finds New Field


The end of an era has sadly come. I am not a fan particularly of the Indianapolis Colts, but I am an admirer of their coach.  Or, I should say, I am an admirer of their now former coach. 

Tony Dungy announced his retirement from coaching yesterday.  (See ESPN article.)

It is a loss not only to the Colts organization, but to fans of NFL football, and for sport in general.  Dungy carried himself with class and character that exceeded even his tremendous Win-Loss record.   He was a develpor of young men and used football as his training ground. He was a coach for all the best reasons.

When asked if he thought he might come back into coaching, as so many others have done after brief retirements, Dungy said he didn’t anticipate it, but left that door open.  But I suspect he will not return.

Unlike other coaches, for whom football is life, Dungy’s life is rooted deeply in Jesus Christ. In that regard his life has not, and will not change.  His love is expressed through developing others.  To date those others have been professional football players.  But now, apparently, those others will be young men in Inner City Indianapolis.  His life has not changed, it is still rooted in Jesus.  Only the players and playground have shifted.  

Dungy will now “coach” on a stage that receives little applause. But Dungy is a man who has demonstrated he is not seeking applause, but to serve and give.  And for that reason I suspect he will find no reason to return to the NFL.  Because he is a man who expresses his faith through love, I believe Dungy will still receive applause – the applause of Heaven.

Good for JoePa!


Good for JoePa!  I heard last night that Joe Paterno – at age 82! – signed an new three year extension to coach at Penn State.  I remember him saying last year that he would probably not coach more than another 10 years, so at least he’s making a solid start in that direction. 

After all those people tried to push you out Joe, it’s great to see you keep plugging along.  I hope you do make the whole 10 years.

Heisman 2008


In just a little while the 73rd Heisman Trophy will be awarded by the Downtown Athletic Club of New York City to the player they deem to have been the most outstanding of 2008.  

It’s the year of the Quarterback, as evidenced by the fact that the DAC has invited only three QB’s to the presentation. But I thought I’d chime in. 

Here is what my ballot would look like, if I had a vote:

1. Graham Harrell – QB – Texas Tech – SR

Can anyone imagine where the Red Raiders would be without Harrell? Granted he has an All America WR to throw to, but it is Harrell’s throwing that make the other guy an All American. If the award went to the guy who was most outstanding and most valuable, Harrell would win hands down. But, alas, the geniuses who actually vote for the Heisman have ignored Harrell so, like others before him (i.e. Payton Manning) he cannot win the trophy he deserves.

2. Colt McCoy – QB – Texas – JR

Unbelievable completion percentage, and leads his team in both passing and rushing.  It is an injustice – albeit minor – that he is not in the National Championship game.  Even still, it is no fault of his.

3. Tim Tebow – QB – Florida – JR

The returning winner, and deserving again. In many ways Tebow is a much better QB than last year when he won the Trophy, even though the stats are down some.  His character is impecable, so if there is another two-time winner it would be great for it to be someone like Tebow. Almost single handedly carrid the Gators to the BCS Championship Game.  Only reason he is not top of my list is the other guys were just a little better this year.

4. Eric Berry – SS – Tennessee – SO

OK, accuse me of being a homer. But Berry dominated on defense, and led the Volunteer D to be one of the best in the land while the O was one of the ugliest anyone has seen in recent memory.  That’s tough to do.  And he became a two-way player, as a WR & QB.

5. Armanti Edwards – QB – Appalachian State – JR

Yes, I know this is not going to happen, but there is precedent for 1AA players making the Top 5. And there is not a more dynamic player in the country. He will win the Walter Payton Award, which he should have also won last season.

6. Daryll Clark – QB – Penn State – JR

Took the reigns, and his athleticism led the Nittany Lions to a Big Ten Championship and Rose Bowl berth.  And like McCoy, the one loss was not Clark’s fault. He got them in postion to win, and the Kicker blew it. Otherwise Clrak would be playing for the NCAA Championship this year.

7. Sam Bradford – QB – Oklahoma – SO

Probably the favorite to actually win it. While deserving if he does, I see him as a system QB. At least that’s the explanation for his stats.  Others have been denied the trophy for that reason. And while the same could be said for Harrell, who I have first, Bradford QB’s a team that would be a powerhouse even with someone else at the helm.

An Open Letter to Coach Lane Kiffin

power-tDear Coach Kiffin,

First, let me welcome you to the Tennessee Volunteer family.  If you have not already, you will come to find that there really is a family aspect to this football program.  Players and coaches, past and present, have a strong bond that endures both years and miles.  Many of the fans, even those with no real ties to the school, also consider themselves to be part of this family. 

As you no doubt have already heard by now, you are the first coach hired in nearly half-a-century that has no ties to the school, or even the state in your case, and is coming from the outside.  For better and for worse, I suspect, you’ll find that those family conncetions will have some effect on the reception you receive during the early stages of your tenure.

But, then, you probably know all about family loyalty, and stuff.  If early reports are any indication, your staff will include your father, brother, and brother-in-law, if not others members of your actual family.  I’m sure they are all good coaches; clearly your father has been.  Imagine how you would feel if someone gave one of them the short-end of the stick; or how they must feel about Al Davis, and how he treated you in Oakland.  Likewise, I hope you understand if some of us take some time to warm up toward excitement about you being our new coach.  Don’t take it personally.  Just understand, one of our brothers was treated rather shoddily by the very people who are now trying to get us to embrace you. 

I’ve got to say that as good of a coach as I suspect you can be, I am a little put off by the classless way this whole thing has come about. It may not be your fault.  But I think it was highly inappropriate for the news of your hiring to have “leaked” out while we were trying to honor our Brother in Orange, who led our team with character and class the better part of the past two decades.  If it was your people who leaked it, I hope you will conduct yourself with more decorum in the days ahead. Maybe you can sit down with Coach Fulmer and learn how to put your players and school first, and keep your own advancement secondary.  Obviously that does not lead to any compromise in the Win-Loss column, since Coach Fulmer is third in all-time winning percentage among all those who were coaching this season. Since you say you plan to be at UT for good, that will be an important lesson to learn.  (And beware, at UT excellence is not enough.  You can be fired for “merely” being Hall of Fame calibur.)

But as I said, it may not have been you.  John Adams has been a classless act in Knoxville since the Reagan (and Majors) administration. And while I have always been inclined to give Mike Hamilton the benefit of the doubt, because we have several mutual friends (including my mother-in-law), I am finding that I trust his word and wisdom less and less.  It may very likely have been them who rained on Coach Fulmer’s Farewell Party.  Unfortunately it relects on you simply because you are the one next in line.

Like you, both Adams and Hamilton are outsiders; not from this Big Orange family.  And they are the ones who are tooting your horn the most, trying to force us to accept you.  From what I’ve read and seen of your interviews, you seem to be a pretty self-motivated, independant guy. I suspect you will then understand why, when someone tries to force a relationship, some of us are inclined to take a step back and wonder why such an intense sales job.  This is especially so when you don’t trust those doing the selling. 

Excitement is all the more difficult to generate when there are such diverse opinions about you by those who ostensibly know you.  On the positive side, in addition to Hamilton and Adams, you apparently get high marks from ESPN’s Chris Mortenson, a man of knowledge and integrity.  From Jeff Fisher of the Tennessee Titans, too. But you also have some significant detractors.  We won’t bother with Al Davis. He’s nuts, and his disapproval puts you in some pretty good company.  But there is Ron Higgins, of the Memphis Commercial Appeal, who calls you “Unqualified to Coach Vols“.  And there is Ray Ratto, of the San Francisco Chronicle. While impressed by your chutzpah, he seems unimpressed by your performance while you coached out in the Bay Area.  I guess time will only tell.

I will say that I am impressed by the way you hit the ground running – or should I say “hit the air”? – going to Memphis immediately after your Press Conference Introduction.  I think it a wise move to hit the recruiting trail hard and fast.  Our program has a lot of making up to do, as far as reputation goes.  And it’s ironic that it is not the loss column that has hurt us, but the loss of Coach Fulmer.  I suspect that the recruits were a little turned off by what was done to Coach.  And as the parent of a high school athlete, the prospect of sending my son to a place where excellence gets you shoved out he door when hardship comes, it would make me a little hesitant.  But still, as you have found, our facilites and the fame cultivated under Coach Fulmer, makes UT an intriguing opportunity – one I hope most of the prospects you want will not be willing to pass up. 

In short, while affection from some of us may come slowly, we do want you to succeed.  In fact, we hope you’ll hang around long enough to become part of the family.  Sadly, I have my doubts that it will happen. We’ll be doing this coach search again within five years. Either you will win BIG, and return to your NFL roots.  Or you will not WIN big enough.  Again, remember, excellence isn’t enough.  Being third best got one of our own family members fired.  What do you imagine would happen to an outsider?  Let me assure you, my hope is that you win BIG, and that when you leave it will be on your own terms and at your chosen time.  Still, either way, I suspect we’ll be saying “Sayonora”  someday too soon.

At any rate, again, let me welcome you to East Tennessee and the Big Orange family.

A Whole New Start in Tennessee

I’m not so naive that I didn’t see this coming. Still, I am deeply disappointed, and bordering on shame right now, being an alumnus of the University of Tennessee.  The decision to force the resignation of Phillip Fulmer, while I’m sure popular, is ridiculous – the school and fans should be ridiculed to the extent the media has incessantly done so to the Coach.

Sarcastically I say, the world must be a better place, a better shade of orange, than at this time last week.  Phil Fulmer is gone, so all the problems of football – and life – are now easily solvable.  The upside, again sarcastically, is that UT will never again lose a football game, or at least never again have a losing season. The problem has been removed, the situation resolved. 

All of that is hogwash. 

The facts are these: 1) all programs go through down periods, including those led by great coaches; 2) Phillip Fulmer was a great coach – and is even a better man.  Granted, UT is having a very disappointing season; and has performed lower than expected over periods of the past few years.  Name a program that does not.

Pundits say: “The game has passed him by. He has not kept up with the competition.”  But this is a statement made by men who may speak with their pens but have never worn the pads.  The game does not pass by great coaches. (In the early 1990’s they said the game of basketball had passed by Pat Summit, and suggested she move on.)  Some are proven, over time, to not be great coaches. But in over 16 years Fulmer has compiled a record that is bettered by only two coaches – Joe Paterno and Bobby Bowden. How interesting it is that, according to many in the media, the game had passed these guys too. 

Somehow, apparently Paterno and Bowden (not to mention Pat Summit) “re-learned” their game, because Florida State is ranked again, and Penn State is undefeated and a very strong contender for the National Championship this year.  (Not bad for coaches who don’t understand the modern game, huh?)  But that’s what great coaches do.  When they coach long enough they experience their share of losses and disappointing seasons, and even seasons of adversity. Then they re-evaluate and adapt and lead again to victories.  Such an example should be admired, because that overcoming is trait of real greatness.  That’s a trait, shared by all successful people, that can be translated into all walks and aspects of life. 

There is no reason to presume Phillip Fulmer would not have been able to rise again to the top of the SEC and NCAA.  The track record proves he belongs among the Paterno’s and Bowden’s.  He won. A lot. More consistently than all but those two Hall of Famers.  He was no flash in the pan, like some will prove to be who are among the popular names being touted as the next candidates for the Volunteers.

“Well, he didn’t have a winning record against the Top 10”.  Tell me who, that has coached for any length of time, does?  There is a reason those teams get ranked in the Top 10. It means that in any given year few teams are good enough to beat them.  In seasons when you are in that Top 10, you may beat them.  But then there are seasons when, while you may well be the 11th best team, you still have to play four Top 10’s.  So, tell me, who that has coached for 15 or more years has a winning record vs. Top 10 teams.  I don’t know the answer to that question, but I am quite confident that you can count them on one hand – and probably have a finger or two left.  It is an artificial argument that sounds good to those for whom the closest they have ever come to the field of play is the press box and/or grandstands. 

Well, Tennessee’s tradition, facilites, and budget are such that there is no reason “we” should be outside the Top 10.  Perhaps that is true.  It is also true at Florida State & Penn State. And at Auburn and Alabama. And at LSU and Georgia. And at Florida and Miami. And Ohio State, Michiagan and Michigan State.  How about Oklahoma or Nebraska? Maybe Texas and Notre Dame.  USC and UCLA come to mind…  I can name probably 40 schools who, because of tradition, resources, etc. should never be out of the Top 10 or Top 15.  Do the math. Someone has to be left out.  Just never Tennessee, huh.

“Well, Fulmer got that big pay raise. We expect more for our money.” That pay raise made him the seventh highest paid coach in the conference.  If we go by that standard, sure this will still be a disappointing season, but we should only be assured of beating Vandy, Kentucky, and the Mississippi schools to get what we pay for! 

The arguments are senseless.  They come from ignorant minds with poisoned pens.

One thing I noticed Saturday night, during the beating from South Carolina: We just don’t have a QB this year.  I thought we would, but we don’t.  But I remembered it was these same sportswriters and fans who clamored to have Randy Sanders fired a few years ago. They were certain Randy could not coach. However, Randy seems to be developing QB’s just fine at Kentucky these days.  And interestingly, it was the media/fan genereated forced-departure of Randy Sanders that led to Notre Dame Soph phenom QB, Jimmy Clausen to matriculate in South Bend, and not follow his brothers to Knoxville.  Where would UT be this season, and the next couple, with a QB of that calibur?  Maybe it’s not always best to listen to the rantings of sportswriters who have never played the game; don’t you think?

I don’t knw the immediate future of UT football.  I will not predict the same demise as Michigan has experienced after forcing out their coach last season, though that is possible.  I assume that UT will arise again, probably with a pretty good coach. People will be happy, for a while, until the next time we experience our turn for the down years.  When that happens, sadly, men like John Adams will still be pounding on their typewriters, with little knowledge, less accountability, and even less character or class.  They will poison again. 

If I had my way I’d suggest it’s time for the sportswriters to move on, too. (Let’s start with Adams.)  None of them are considerd among the best 5 active writers in the country; none have even had a single year when they were among the elite in thier field.  Simply put, they are not as good at their job as Fulmer was at his.  Now that the mission to oust Fulmer has been accomplished, sportswriters who advocated this move should allow us all the opportunity to start fresh – new coach, new players, new writers, etc.  The Orange nation deserves that don’t you think?

Phillip Fulmer loved the Orange Nation enough to step aside with class, because he did not want to see it remain divided.  So, John Adams, why not be a leader among your peers, and fall on your pen for the sake of the Volunteers? Maybe others will follow suit.

It won’t happen. John Adams, and his chronies around the state, don’t really share Fulmer’s love for UT and the UT fans.  Nor, do I suspect, do they share the character and class of the man they successfully dethroned.