Tennessee Football Preview – The Talent Is There, But Is The Coaching? (by Smitty)

Editor’s Note: Tennessee football preview comes to us by Smitty, Braves Journal’s faithful Tennessee fan. 

Tennessee is coming off the worst season in program history and maybe the craziest offseason in any program’s history.

Let’s start with a recap of what went down football wise.

The Vols came into 2017 ranked 25th in what appeared to be a rebuilding year. As I noted in last year’s preview, I thought the Vols had some holes, but would be improved in many areas.

Even my worst case scenario wasn’t even close.

The 2017 got off to an exciting start, when the Vols rallied to beat Georgia Tech in double overtime. A staple of Butch Jone’s Tennessee teams was playing totally different if they got too far a head or too far behind.

After thumping Indiana State in the second game, the beginning of the end started in Gainesville.

After poor offensive play calling selections (throwing four times from the two yard line), the Vols managed to tie the game and seemed to have all the momentum heading into overtime. With one second left in the game Feleipe Franks threw a 63-yard touchdown to Tyrie Cleveland. No one knows why the Vols weren’t in prevent D.

The drums of change began pounding very loudly and Butch never could right the ship. The Vols would only win two more games, and for the first time ever, failed to win an SEC game.

Why Did Butch Fail?

This is a very complicated, yet easy question to answer: He was in over his head.

Very early on Butch was able to land an impressive crop of instate and legacy talent. This group was able to inch the Vols closer to relativity. In fact, in 2016 the Vols looked primed to win the SEC East after beating Florida and Georgia. The Dobb-nail Boot was the high water mark of the Jones era.

Then Butch started recruiting based on Rivals’ ratings and not fit to his system. Many of the recruits he brought in were busts, or weren’t being developed well.

Butch struggled with media and fan criticism. He also started having issues with players on the team (Jalen Hurd). He was constantly lying to the media and always answering in clichés.

In late 2015 Butch fired the strength and conditioning coach. He waited over a year to officially replace him. This move set the program back 1-2 years.

When Butch came from Cincinnati, his first press conference he talked about bringing the best staff in the country. Well, the staff he brought with him only had two coaches with any SEC experience and they were the best group he had.

Okay. Let’s Talk Coaching Search

Coaching searches are fun. Rumors fly and planes are tracked. But what happened at Tennessee was beyond message board fodder. This was the perfect storm. To understand truly what happened, we have to go back and time and look at the big picture.

For decades, the University of Tennessee has been notoriously cheap when searching for coaches in any sport. Sometimes you find a diamond in the rough (Bruce Pearl) but many times you end up with Derek Dooley.

While Phillip Fulmer enjoyed success for much of the 90s and 2000s, the basketball program saw scrubs like Wade Houston, Kevin O’Neal, Jerry Green and Buzz Peterson. No one really cared how the basketball team did if the football team was winning.

In 2001, the wheels on the Fulmer Express started coming off. It appeared Fulmer couldn’t win without David Cutcliffe, recruiting stated to suffer and a change was made.

Athletic Director Mike Hamilton hired Lane Kiffin to right the ship. For the first 13-14 months, it appeared he was doing just that. However, Hamilton put a ridiculously low buyout in Kiffin’s deal and he was able to go to USC before signing day. Hamilton panicked and hired Derek Dooley on the cheap. A year and some change later Hamilton was gone and Dave Hart was hired.

Hart inherited a terrible mess from Hamilton. Bruce Pearl had just been fired. Tennessee was still paying Fulmer and a few basketball and baseball coaches. There was very little money in the reserves. Tennessee needed Dooley to right the ship. But he couldn’t.

Hart did two good things in his time at Tennessee. He hired Rick Barnes and he was able to refill the athletic department’s reserves. However, Hart whiffed on a baseball coach and a football coach. He then hired Butch Jones on the cheap and essentially showed Pat Summitt the door. He also was very stingy with allowing head coaches to hire assistants. Butch had to beg to get Bob Shoop, which turned into a disaster.

At the same time these nickel and dime antics were going on, Tennessee was boasting having a top 10 grossing athletic department in the country. Volnation was supporting the program, but not getting much in return.

Hart retired (some say he was asked to) and it appeared UT-Chattanooga (Go Mocs!) AD Dave Blackburn was poised to get the job. However, at the last minute, Chancellor Beverly Davenport gave in to a few of the bigger boosters (Haslams) and hired John Currie from Kansas State. Davenport was just recently given the boot over this decision.

Prior to his tenure at K-State, Currie (like Blackburn) was an assistant to Hamilton. Currie was the driving force behind firing Fulmer, hiring Kiffin and Pearl. Currie also burned a lot of bridges during his time in Knoxville. His hire was a surprise to say the least.

As the 2017 season limped a long, it was obvious Currie was going to have to hire a football coach in his first year. It was a decision he put off for several weeks longer than he should have, but he eventually pulled the trigger.

Grumors and Such

As you all know, Super Bowl winning coach Jon Gruden was an assistant at Tennessee under Johnny Majors. Every Tennessee coaching search always starts with “We’re getting Gruden!” Usually after a few weeks, the athletic department will leak something to damp down those expectations. Not in 2017.

Now, there is no way the Vols were getting Gruden, but it was fun to talk about.

There were also rumors Tennessee would be checking in on Chip Kelly, Bob Stoops and several other big names. The week of the Vanderbilt game, it appeared the target had moved to Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen. Mullen appeared to be interested in the job, but was waiting to see what happened to Florida first.

While Mullen isn’t a sexy hire, Tennessee fans would not have revolted if he got the job. Mullen is a good coach and had a good run at MSU. When Kelly and Florida didn’t work, it was an obvious choice.

With Mullen on his way to Gainesville, Currie turned to Ohio State defensive coordinator Greg Schiano. Schiano had a successful tenure at Rutgers before being named the Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach, where he was a disaster. Schiano has been tied (very loosely) to the Penn State scandal. There were also rumors of poor treatment of players at both Rutgers and Tampa Bay. This pick reeked of another bargain basement pick, and the fan base had enough.

Very quickly Twitter and other forms of social media blew up. State representatives began to call the board of trustees and after a few hours, the deal was dead.

I believe Schiano would have been a disaster hire. He has a very similar demeanor as Butch and probably would have been shown the door after three years.

Currie moved on to Dave Doeren of NC State. Doeren seemed interested in the job, but after he met with Fulmer, it seemed Tennessee had moved on. Over the next few days names like Jeff Brohm and Chad Morris started popping up. Then Currie disappeared. Literally no one cold find him. His boss and her boss were worried.

Currie turns up on the west coast and has Mike Leach all but wrapped up, when he is summoned back to Knoxville. The next day he is fired and Fulmer is hired to finish out the search.

Fulmer quickly set his sights on a defensive minded coach with SEC experience. His final three choices were Georgia defensive coordinator Mel Tucker, Auburn defensive coordinator Kevin Steele and Alabama defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt. Fulmer tabbed Pruitt.

Pruitt is going into his first season as a head coach and your guess is a good as mine on his ability to run a program. There is no doubt he is an outstanding coordinator, but running a program is a different animal.

To wrap this preview up, I think Tennessee will be anywhere from 5-7 to 7-5. I’ll split the difference and go 6-6 with a trip to the Liberty Bowl.

173 thoughts on “Tennessee Football Preview – The Talent Is There, But Is The Coaching? (by Smitty)”

  1. At one time, and most likely still now, there was a lot of college football interest on the site, and I’d love for that to be the case this offseason. I’m hoping to get more southeastern United States (not necessarily SEC) football previews up between now and when the college football season starts. It doesn’t have to be as long as Smitty’s, it can be 4-5 paragraphs (or more, if you want), and I would like to prioritize SEC teams that you think may have a good season, Georgia Tech, Florida State, Miami, and other southeastern geographical teams.

    Stu, I know I had asked privately for Vandy, but you don’t have to if you don’t want to. I’m looking at dates, and with the lack of off-days, I don’t think we’d miss it, to be honest.

    I’ve got Florida. At the very least, I would like to get a Georgia preview. 4-5 total previews would be the sweet spot.

    As for Tennessee, I think Pruitt could pull a Kirby Smart and come out of the gate quick and win 10 games, or they could win 6 games. They’re a real wild card in the East.

  2. Do the Braves have even one pitcher who can consistently throw a strike every start, or is this the pattern all over baseball that I should expect to see from these guys?

    I know it’s only the 1st inning, but sheesh man throw a strike. You’re missing the plate by like 4″ consistently.

  3. Urena might need a battery of armed guards to get out of the stadium.

    On second thought, he might need it to get off the mound…

  4. You put a 97 MPH fastball on Ronald Acuna after all this, and if he didn’t get ejected, this would get ugly.

  5. I blame this on Don Mattingly. Either he can’t control his clubhouse or he’s behind it. He’s a mediocre manager who’s never made any team better, and he’s managing a basement club that pulls bush league crap like that.

  6. If another fastball gets, uhh, mislocated, then we could see the first benches-clearing brawl by the Braves in my lifetime.

  7. For those of us just following along on the blog, can someone describe what happened? Is Acuna ok?

  8. Todd Hollandsworth, the color analyst for Fox Sports Florida, is putting his spin on it. “Ureña’s arm-side run . . . .”


  9. What has Ronald Acuna ever done to anybody? You’re gonna park a fastball in his back because, what, he’s better than you? Because he does a little bat flip?

    I blame Mattingly as well. If this is Urena’s chicken sh*t personality, then Mattingly already knows that. And if he knows that, then it’s his job to walk over to Urena and tell him to throw 4 curveballs in the dirt instead of a hitter in his back.

    Woo, I’m fired up.

  10. Alex and Rob are right–Mattingly is responsible. And Chip of all people has been asking the right question: whose idea is this?This is disgusting in any event, but if Ronald is injured and has to miss any time it is an outrage for the game.

  11. @18, Ronald got plunked in the elbow, and he sat on the ground for a really long time while Jeff Porter tended to him. Eventually he got up and went over to first while the umpires dithered and realized that they’d absolutely lose control over the game if they didn’t throw out the starting pitcher. Not clear yet what kind of damage was done.

  12. @18 Acuña got drilled in the elbow by a first pitch fastball. Benches cleared, Urena was tossed but it took the umps long enough to do it.

  13. 1. First pitch by Urena, fastball running inside on Ronald. RAJ flinches backward and it hits him on the forearm/elbow area.
    2. Acuna falls to the ground and nurses his arm.
    3. Teams emerge from dugout, stare down begins.
    4. Snitker is furious, is first at the vanguard to put some heat on Urena.
    5. Umps toss Snit.
    6. RAJ finally gets up on his feet, takes a circuitous route to first by walking by the mound. Takes his shin guards off and tosses them on the mound.
    7. Urena shakes his head in disgust. Eric Young gets in his face.
    8. Umps finally toss Urena.
    9. No fight breaks out but it was pretty tense.

    I think Snit and Urena are the only ones ejected. I may be missing a few nuances.

  14. If there was a story going around both camps all day WHY WEREN’T WE TOLD ABOUT IT IN THE PRE GAME BS??

  15. The first pitch of the game Urena drilled Acuña in the elbow with a 97 MPH fastball. They just said that’s the fastest pitch he has ever thrown to start a game.

  16. Major respect to Snitker there. Gotta admit, he seems like one of those 60+ year olds at the bar that you probably wouldn’t want to square up on…

  17. PURE EVIL: The Marlins. Never count the Marlins out. They always seem to be about to fall out of it then they win eight of nine. In 2003, I counted them out three times, plus again in the NLCS, then gave them no chance against the Yankee behemoth (talk about evil) and look what happened. PURE EVIL. Also, Cubs fans should be allowed to hunt Marlins fans for sport but have to get the endangered species tag lifted first. (Added June 14, 2011)

    Braves Journal Glossary

  18. Bush league all the way. I guess this is the type organization Jeter wants to be associated with. Donnie Bushball

  19. “And the word that I got from a lot of Orioles guys was ‘untapped potential.’”

    oof, Jeffy

  20. Man, that kicked up a notch. There were horses, a man on fire, and Peter Moylan killed a guy with a trident.

  21. Buster Olney:

    “The fact that Urena dropped his glove as the Braves’ bench emptied and seemed to beckon them forward tells you all you need to know about his intent.”

    Ureña also stared Acuña down.

  22. By the way, Don Mattingly is the record holder for consecutive games with a home run.

    Gausman isn’t sharp.

  23. not sure why Snit should get points for being angry. Pretty sure that was the unanimous emotion for everyone in the moment.

    He is still the guy who slotted Ender into the lead off spot over Acuna for most of the season.

  24. Chicken organization does chicken things.

    Tell you all you need to know about Jeter and Mattingly…and the Yankees.

  25. J.C. Bradbury is not having a good night on Twitter. You never leave the KGB, and you should never leave Braves Journal.

  26. Snit’s egg-shaped head was red like a tomato, and I don’t think you can fake that. His level of unmitigated anger was refreshing.

  27. EY gets props, too. He was the only guy that threw a shove. But I agree that Snit deserves props, not for being angry, but for pressing his case until both he and Urine were thrown out of the game. I am absolutely stunned that they’d do that on the first pitch and with a 97MPH pitch too. That’s assault with intent. I’d be interested in filing charges with the DA. I mean, at least throw a couple of balls before trying to hit him. That should draw a big suspension.

    Not to mention it’s totally bad form to use a HBP to prevent a guy from challenging a record. What if Gene Garber had just decided to plunk Pete Rose instead of striking him out? They could have tried to hit him on his third AB after actually trying to play the game first. Mattingly should be fined too.

  28. Ender was the incumbent; Acuna, the green rookie who was slumping at AAA. Wonder why Snit didn’t hit Ronald first from the get-go?

  29. Our guys are gonna have to get something going. For the bats to go to sleep after all this would be very bad. The Braves have beaten Urine a couple of times. I wonder if the plan was to get him thrown out so they could throw out a surprise pitcher.

  30. Bats dormant. Phillies coming back. Acuña hurt. Felt good to be angry, but this is turning into a crap night all around.

  31. I could never be a manager. I’m so mad I’d be hitting a Marlin with every pitch. Each guy brought in would throw one pitch and get ejected. After the pen was empty I’d have position players throwing at people, until there was no one left to play and we’d forfeit. And each time Mattingly came on the field I’d be throwing at him too.

  32. They say Acuna left the game after trying to warm up. Apparently, throwing didn’t feel to good. Hopefully, it’s just soreness in the muscle and not anything more.

  33. 66 — He said that the Braves would have done the same thing as Urena if the shoe was on the other foot.

  34. That’s how you do it. Charlie Clutch is at it again. Love the SB for emphasis.

    I was thinking this team was acting like Samson with his hair cut off. Fortunately one of our best hair guys is out there grinding.

  35. One run crosses the plate thanks to Fake Dansby. Hopefully Real Dansby can do something with T-Flo on first.

  36. @67 Now that I think about, of course, you’re right. So I wonder why warming up was such a problem? Maybe extending his arm to catch the ball?

  37. We have some good hair going on. Our two Samsons. Way to go Dansby!!

    They showed Dansby during the fracas and he looked like he was ready for bear. That whole thing was handled so well by our guys – let the coaches and DL’ers do the fighting. LOL His fellow Venezuelan – Ender – was primed and ready to rumble, too.

  38. @68 I did think about that. Would we?

    That just seems to be such a cheap thing to do. I would probably order my SP to throw ball on the first pitch to avoid the drama or don’t throw him fastball on the first pitch…but definitely not throwing as hard as you can at the elbow of somebody. That’s just wrong.

  39. Coop, you deserve a lot of credit. You aren’t bashful about criticizing Dansby, but you’re usually one of the first to give him credit when he does something good.

  40. Flowers looked irate, barking at Rojas as he settled into the box. Wonder if I’m just seeing things.

  41. @78 Yes. I have some small experience with pinched nerves and I’m here to tell you they can be way more painful than any other pain you might be able to imagine.

  42. @81, To be fair to the cretin, he wasn’t throwing “at” Acuna’s elbow. RAJ reflexively backed off the plate and moved into position for the pitch to hit him there. That being said, Urine meant to hit him and hit him very hard.

  43. @68 @81 I happen to think the whole concept of a beanball is illogical. It really accomplishes nothing not even a “message”. And the best way to respond to a beanball is to beat the snot out of them on the field. Do what Dansby did – HR and mock them….. LOL

  44. I can’t think of a time where the Braves have done something so violent and petty. We’ve been petty, and we’ve been violent, but I can’t think of anything that rivals that, so I think I have to disagree with Bradbury on that particular point. Otherwise, he’s usually spot on.

  45. Two outs, bases empty, Freddie at the plate. Of course you hit him. Geez.

    Okay, maybe it was a coincidence.

  46. Goddamnit. You can’t hit Freddie, too. That better be another ejection.

    What the heck? Nothing happened?

  47. He used hitting Jose Bautista last year as a reference. That was a pretty terrible example seeing as how the Blue Jays hit like 100 Braves that series including breaking Freddie’s hand.

  48. There is more to a 162 game season than pure logic. You put a heater in JP Realmuto’s ear hole to let Acuña know his team has his back. They declared war. They send one of yours to the hospital, you send one of theirs to the morgue. Simple. Not logic. Human bonding and in group loyalty.

  49. @92 Not until next year. He’s not close to needing Rule 5 protection and you have too many other people right now who need 40-man spots. You will not see Wright this year either.

    Next spring is going to be a lot of fun, though. So many good young pitchers fighting for maybe one or two spots even if we trade Teheran.

  50. @98 I wouldn’t choose Realmuto; he might be your teammate next year. Go after a pitcher if you really want to play that game.

  51. Wilson could definitely use more time in the minor leagues. He doesn’t have that many starts in the high minors.

  52. I think this time next year Wilson could be looking at a spot. Or he could be a centerpiece this offseason. He’s been fantastic.

  53. @90 Wilson is one prospect which I wish we don’t rush him so hard. I mean…why is the rush?

  54. Braves farm keeps producing. We may soon challenge the adage about never having too much pitching.

  55. The bottom of our order is inspired tonight – Charlie, Ender, Dansby. I think they’re really playing for Ronald.

  56. I am pleased with Kevin Gausman, and I am pleased with — big surprise — Dansby Swanson.

    And I agree with Remy that the collective team reaction to the trash organization’s treatment of Acuña to be genuinely moving.

  57. Costco Culberson has played great tonight. I particularly liked the homage to Acuna as he crossed home after he went yard. That was one of the best things I’ve seen this season.

  58. I saved this a few years ago. Good description for a man who represented the Marlins.

  59. Keith Hernandez bloviating BS during the Mets game about how it was warranted…would worry about his own team; plenty there to keep him occupied.

  60. Hernandez has been doing a whole lot of bloviating this year. He needs a time out. Plus, Elaine dumped him.

  61. Not really liking that we used Minter in a 4-run lead yesterday and may need to use him again today.

  62. I’m nominating Sobotka to come in and pitch to Urethra if by some miracle he makes his start against us in Miami.

  63. Love the Sobotka idea. Start him in LF in whatever inning Urena is due up. Have everyone know what is coming.

  64. @128

    Bobby brought Rocker in once in the third inning to hit a guy. He sent Maddux to right field

  65. I just don’t get what Urethra gains for parking one in Acuna’s back because he hits home runs and has some style. He’s not even bad about it. What an idiot. He just made his career harder by doing that.

  66. It is hard to calculate how many wins our trade deadline acquisitions have given us over Freeman, Moylan and another starter, but it’s safe to say we would not be in first place without them. I think without Venters and Brach we would be trying to chase down the Phillies right now.

  67. A 97 mph fastball is meant to hurt someone. Any broadcaster who tries to defend that should not have a job.

  68. Good start. Good relief. Good comeback. Great win.

    Go Braves.

    P.S. Just beat the Marlins. Grind them into utter submission. Never, ever let up.

  69. I think U did it because he’s a cowardly meathead who wanted to show our guy up because he couldn’t stand watching his team lose to someone who’s better than they are, and I think that if anyone in that clubhouse defends him they’re morally culpable.

  70. gNats getting embarrassed by STL but Phils looking like they’ll win. Phils are on their ninth pitcher to do it, though.

  71. I might be getting caught up in emotion, but I’m not sure I can think of a more fun Braves team in my lifetime.

  72. Jeff Nelson, post-game analysis for Marlins, isn’t making excuses for Urethra. Says it’s fishy.

  73. I think it dawned on Hollandsworth how soft he was earlier. His tone is a bit more judgmental about Urena

  74. I can’t believe they are considering activating S. Freeman “early next week”. Why would they want to break up our good bullpen? Who would go away Sobotka or Jackson (my vote would be to DFA Freeman).

  75. Snit said it’s swollen and sore and cramping, but it wasn’t on the elbow. They are still checking him out.

  76. Watching post-game interview. Snit, as paterfamilias, is damned impressive!

    Also, Mattingly is a terrible liar.

  77. Snitker said it was more forearm than elbow, creating a little cramping, so muscle and not bone. But they’ll know tomorrow.

  78. Anybody notice the little crotch grab Acuna gave Urena right after? Looked like he wanted to charge the mound but wasn’t sure he would be able to use his left arm.

  79. For Snit, imagine the guy has been waiting for this opportunity all his life…and he is doing a damn good job with it. He protects his player like Bobby and the players love him.

    Again, he has his shortcomings but so was Bobby…and he is definitely much better than Fredi. I am pulling for him.

  80. From now on I will call the Florida Marlins the Florida Chickens. If RAJ needs to miss time because of this, I will think of something worse.

  81. The Florida Chickenshits is what they should be. I just watched the video and it’s as clear as can be that Urine meant to hit Acuna. For absolutely no reason other than he is really good at baseball. Urine leads the league in hit batters. And after watching Donnie Bushball argue and protest and lie I despise him.

  82. @156, “Mattingly is a terrible liar.” That’s what I thought, too. I was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt but it sure seems like he was omitting a lot of stuff.

    He admitted to talking to Urena before the game specifically about getting Acuna out. “I said to him before the game we’ve got to kid this kid out however we can.” Seems like he didn’t want to leave Urena out to dry but he also didn’t want to admit that he said to own the inside of the plate to the point of hitting him to send a message.

  83. Mattingly sucks, Jeter sucks, Yankees suck. Nothing new. They simply bring their suckness to Florida, which already sucks even before they arrive. So it’s double suckness.

  84. Personally, I think the best name for the Miami team is “the Clownfish”. It’s certainly consistent with the franchise’s behavior as well as the ridiculous home run sculpture at their stadium.

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