Tennessee head coach Butch Jones
Most of the talk surrounding the Tennessee vs. Alabama rivalry over the last few months has centered around its future in potential SEC scheduling formats.
But while its long-term future beyond 2015 looks a bit cloudy, it's still alive and well in the Volunteer State.
According to the Associated Press, Alabama head coach Nick Saban will make an appearance in front of an estimated 1,500 people at the Athens (Tenn.) Area Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday night. The presence of college football's most imposing figure in the state of Tennessee has some Vol fans upset. Chamber of Commerce president Rob Preston responded to the criticism in the report:
We've gotten emails. We've gotten phone calls. Most of the phone calls happen at 2 o'clock in the morning or when we're not here. They leave it on the machine.
We certainly did not do this to get people upset. Some people say this is a combined effort to help Alabama's recruiting. I know to you that sounds ridiculous - and it is very ridiculous - but (some) people think that's what this is about.
Coaches make appearances on the rubber chicken circuit all the time, so it's hardly a big deal. Conspiracy theories aside, Tennessee fans shouldn't worry about Saban crossing the border for an appearance. Tennessee needs to worry about being Tennessee, not beating Alabama.
After all, things are looking good for the program.
The Vols currently have the nation's second-ranked recruiting class in 2014 according to Rivals.com, and fourth-best according to the 247Sports.com composite. This coming off a five-year span that has seen the program go through three coaching searches, compile a less-than-stellar 28-34 overall record and a 12-28 conference record.
Not a bad turnaround without playing a single game under first-year head coach Butch Jones.
Granted, team rankings don't mean squat until the talent arrives on campus and begins to be developed by the staff, but so far, so good.
But this is Tennessee we're talking about. While Alabama has the hot hand recently winning three of the last four BCS National Championships, the Volunteers shouldn't worry about the rather large Crimson Tide shadow. Not so long ago, they were the ones casting the shadow, winning three of four over the Crimson Tide from 2003-06.
Despite the $200 million debt that the athletic department faces (according to the Sports Business Journal), the program has the resources to compete at a high level and is pouring more in.
Is Nick Saban's appearance an hour southwest of Knoxville a big deal?
The $50 million Brenda Lawson Athletic Center rivals any football facility in the country, pro or college. Tennessee's new staff will earn a combined $3 million according to the Knoxville (Tenn.) News-Sentinel, which is a 44 percent increase from the salaries Derek Dooley's final staff on Rocky Top last season.
Tennessee is in the process of turning it around, and worrying about what Saban is doing and using the Alabama program as a barometer is only going to hinder progress.
There are different ways to skin a cat, and worrying too much about one of your biggest rivals—which just so happens to be in the midst of a college football dynasty—is unnecessary and unrealistic. For Tennessee to truly be back, Saban's appearance an hour south of Knoxville wouldn't be a threat, it'd be an afterthought.
That seems a little crazy considering the present circumstances, but everything Jones and his staff have done so far has worked.
Let them continue to do so, and the Vols will be fine.