One of my favorite television shows was “The West Wing.” Late in the first season, President Jed Bartlet’s administration was floundering. It had been timid. It had been focusing on things that didn’t matter. Polling numbers were slumping.
So, they decided to be true to themselves.
I have thought of that episode often over the past decade while watching Tennessee lose its identity.
In 2008, the Vols hired a head football coach who ignored the century of excellence the progrm had produced. Lane Kiffin famously put up Southern Cal football pictures and videos in the UT football complex.
In 2011, they hired an athletic director who didn’t care at all about Tennessee’s place in the history of women’s athletics. Dave Hart and his allies in the UT administration stripped the “Lady Vols” nickname for all women’s sports except basketball. The absurdity of saying this was to make “One Tennessee” while having one sport remain separate is startling.
Hart fired sports information directors Bud Ford and Debby Jennings, two people who gave the University more than 85 years of service in promoting UT athletics to the nation.
They’ve had to fire men’s basketball coaches for NCAA violations (Bruce Pearl) while replacing them with coaches with NCAA violations (Donnie Tyndall). The baseball team has been a disaster.
In fact, across the board, Tennessee teams haven’t won much of anything for a decade.
Tennessee fans wanted long time athletic department staple David Blackburn to become their athletics director. Instead, someone else with Tennessee ties got the job this past spring.
John Currie spent a decade in a variety of positions in UT athletics. He was supposed to be someone who understood what Tennessee meant to its passionate fan base. Instead, he and his backers attempted to ram Greg Schiano down their throats as the new football coach.
With Phillip Fulmer now in place as the new athletics director, this is an opportunity for Tennessee to turn back the clock, to an era when Knoxville was a place where success was the norm.
It’s time to “Let Tennessee be Tennessee.”
Fulmer has spent pretty much his entire adult life in Knoxville. He was a player, an assistant coach, and a head coach at Tennessee.
During his introductory press conference, he tried to assure Tennessee fans that things were going to change.
“All of our sports at the university are front doors to the university and to our entire state, and we are proud of them all,” Fulmer said when introduced Friday. “Our athletic program’s history is a bond that connects students and alumni, fans and the Tennesseans who support our great university. The success of our student-athletes in all sports is a source of inspiration, pride and unity that we must have as an athletic department and that fosters energy, an example of success at the highest level. Our football program has the history, the facilities, the tradition and the resources to play with anyone, any time, and that is what we’re going to do again.”
The way this entire situation has played out is certainly not ideal.
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