The Tennessee football program is currently mired in one of the worst ruts it has ever seen. Failure comes regularly, and disappointing losses are commonplace. Alabama knows this misery all too well.
When Gene Stallings stepped down as head football coach of the Alabama Crimson Tide after the 1996 season, after a seven year tenure that accounted for 70 wins and the Tide's 12th national championship, the Tide was high.
Alabama turned to Mike DuBose, a "family" man, to take the reins of the football program. Behind DuBose, the Tide went just 4-7 in 1997, the worst season Alabama had seen in 40 years.
After going 7-5 the next year, Alabama rolled on the back of Shaun Alexander to a 10-3 mark and an SEC title in 1999. But after the Tide entered the new century as a top-five team, the ceiling caved in on DuBose, and Alabama suffered through a miserable 3-8 season.
Dennis Franchione replaced DuBose, and things went pretty well. Coach Fran was 17-8 in two seasons, calling constantly for the Tide to "see through" the probation that the program had been handed by the NCAA. The players did see it through. But Franchione bolted for the Texas A&M job after his second season, leaving his players to work it out amongst themselves.
Mike Price, well, Mike Price had a little indiscretion with the company credit card and a lady friend of questionable reputation, and he was fired before he ever led the Tide onto the field at Bryant-Denny.
Fortunately, Mike Shula agreed to return to his alma mater and bring the Tide back from the depths of Hell. At least that was the plan.
Shula worked his way from a 4-9 record in his first season to a 10-2 mark in 2005. But in the midst of a 6-7 season the following year, the shine on Shula had been rubbed into a dull blemish, and the coach was dismissed.
During this 10-year sentence, Alabama posted an unacceptable 67-55 record, not including games forfeited due to NCAA sanctions.
The Tide thought the great redeemer was en route in then-West Virginia head coach Rich Rodriguez. But Rodriguez backed out of the 'Bama job at the last minute, a move that most 'Bama fans praise the Lord for to this day.
Enter Nick Saban: the one that was untouchable, the one that would never leave the NFL to take on the train wreck that was the Alabama program. And the rest of that history is being made each and every Saturday.
Tennessee is now what Alabama was then.
In 2008, Tennessee limped to a 5-7 record for the second time in four years and only its fourth losing season since the late 1970s. Head coach Phil Fulmer was fired after a 16-year career and Lane Kiffin, the golden child, was introduced as the new chief of Tennessee football.
Kiffin and his childish bravado managed to get the Vols back to winning football, so to speak, with a 7-6 record before bolting for the sun and fun of Los Angeles and the USC program.
The Vols turned next to current coach Derek Dooley, son of Georgia great Vince Dooley, to finish what Kiffin had started. In his first two years, Dooley suffered losing seasons and a cumulative 11-14 record.
Now, in the middle of the third year of the Dooley era, the Vols are 3-3 and have shown little evidence that they are truly on the right track back to the top of the conference where the university feels it rightfully belongs. The man in the orange britches is in a world of trouble.
The current tally, 26-30, of the five-years-and-counting funk that has sucked the life out of Tennessee football. And, realistically, it may get worse before it gets better. Only time will tell.
While Alabama is in yet another BCS title campaign and the end of coach Nick Saban's reign of terror on the national football scene has no end in sight, it is important for the Tide family to remember just how fortunate they are.
Sure, Tennessee's problems are no concern of the Tide, nor should they be. The Volunteers should, however, be serving as a reminder to us all of what Alabama was not so many years ago.
All things eventually come to an end, my friends. You know this to be true. So while you are thoroughly enjoying what is likely to be another Tennessee beatdown in Knoxville this weekend, just keep your eyes on the prize and your feet on the ground.
We were what they are, once.
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