There was a time, not too long ago, when the familiar sight of the orange "Power T" was scattered all over the place.
Throughout the 1990s, Tennessee was featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated multiple times, constantly got coverage from ESPN, and nearly every other media outlet featured the Vols or a player at some point.
Between Heath Shuler, Peyton Manning, and the 1998 National Championship team, there was plenty of news to discuss about UT.
Tennessee and then Head Coach Phillip Fulmer was riding a tidal wave of momentum on the field, in the media and on the recruiting trail. Like many other programs before them, Tennessee soon learned that all waves level out.
In the last 10 seasons, Tennessee has won zero SEC titles, and appeared in the SEC Championship Game three times (2001, 2004, 2007).
The number of draft picks overall has dwindled, even though the Vols have had the most First Round picks in the SEC.
Most notably, Vol fans have suffered through a 5-6 and a 5-7 season. This descent to mediocrity triggered a coaching change to Lane Kiffin, who now has almost right at six months on the job, and without coaching a game there's already two sides. Let's explore why.
Kiffin didn't complete his coaching staff until January, leaving him less than a month until National Signing Day in February, the day most high school seniors sign their Letter of Intent. Hopes were high, but expectations were tempered.
No one who really followed recruiting expected too much out of Kiffin, even though one couldn't but be gitty with excitement knowing what all this new staff had accomplished in the past.
No one could anticipate what was to take form in the following two months. Kiffin was able to convince several very highly rated recruits that hadn't previously been considering UT to sign on and take part in what he was building.
Bryce Brown, Janzen Jackson, Nu'Keese Richardson, and Darren Myles, Jr. were all new additions to the Vols target list, and Kiffin reeled them all in.
Throughout January, Kiffin was also able to convince a who's who of the recruiting world to visit Tennessee, though most of them didn't choose the Vols.
Just getting a lot of those kids to visit was an accomplishment all it's own. Other schools were tense, shivering at the notion that their commitments and strong leans were visiting the Vols at the last minute, worried they'd get that dreaded call that they had changed their minds.
All tolled, Kiffin amassed the No. 10 class in the nation according to Rivals.com, and the No. 8 class according to Scout.com.
ESPN brought the Vols in at the lowest of the big three, at 15th, but even if you go by that, it's still an incredible accomplishment considering the circumstances.
With this class, Kiffin and his staff have started something great, sure to carry over to the next class and the next.
Along with the recruiting side, Tennessee has been back in the media nearly every day since Kiffin's arrival. Sometimes it's been good, sometimes it's been not so good, but money can't buy the type of publicity Tennessee has garnered.
Constant segments on ESPN, almost daily features in the Atlanta Journal Constitution, and most importantly, the first school out of many recruits mouths nationally is Tennessee, according to Scout.com.
One cannot overlook Kiffin's public relations efforts amongst his own fans as well. Kiffin has gone out of his way to be accessible to local and national media, as well as call in shows and interviews.
The coach staged a Q & A session outside a restaurant, inviting everyone to come, and has opened UT practices and scrimmages to the public where they never were in the past.
Kiffin has put Tennessee back in the mainstream, back on the front page. The young, brash head coach has brought expectations of greatness back to Tennessee, and it doesn't seem like he or any of his staff are even satisfied with the track they are on.
You know that publicity we talked about?
Well, while all publicity is good publicity to some, the way Kiffin has gotten it is not so good to some. Kiffin has made some comments I'm sure he wishes he could take back, and there has been a liquidation of players on the UT roster.
Well publicized are the comments Coach Kiffin made regarding Urban Meyer and recruit Nu'Keese Richardson.
In short, Kiffin falsely accused Meyer of a recruiting violation that not only did Meyer deny ever took place, but really wasn't a recruiting violation to begin with.
The got front page type publicity all over the media networks, which comes as no surprise since it involved Meyer, a two-time national champion.
At the same dinner, Kiffin made some inflammatory remarks regarding the Pahokee (Fla.) community and recruit Richardson.
Coach Kiffin maintains it was out of context and he wasn't aware there was a camera present, but nevertheless, the comments were in poor taste and Kiffin has apologized for making them.
The Principal at Pahokee High School, Ariel Alejo, still isn't satisfied and that situation continues to linger.
There have been several other nagging little situations. Comments about Marlon Brown's grandmother, secondary recruiting violations and subtly guaranteeing a victory over Florida next season, all by themselves wouldn't bother anyone, but all totaled together leave a bad taste in many fans, both Vol and not, mouths.
When you add up some of the little things that made "The Bad," you start to get to "The Ugly."
Kiffin has developed a reputation among SEC fans and others as arrogant, brash, and loose lipped. He's been the subject of many scathing articles and commentaries, bringing a very negative perception to Tennessee in the eyes of some.
Who cares? A lot of people.
While most fans at any school aren't overly concerned about their rivals' opinions of their program, all fans should be cognizant of how their program is viewed.
Miami had one of the worst reputations among college football fans while they were successful in the '80s and '90s, and even their leadership expressed a desire to change the view people had of their program.
Lastly, there have been many concerns over some of the players Kiffin has decided to offer scholarships to and their pasts.
Tennessee has offered or considered offering multiple players that either had offers rescinded because of off the field problems or had significant issues in the legal system.
Whether you are on the side of giving second chances or not taking chances, both sides can agree that bringing those players in can bring a very negative stigma to your program and in some circles, this is happening to UT.
Everything considered, Kiffin has done whatever he could to get UT's name out there.
With no momentum from the Fulmer era to help him, he basically had to create something out of nothing. At times, he used questionable methods to do it, but overall, he's accomplished that goal.
In the end, the positive of the Kiffin era has far outweighed the negative. Some of "The Bad" has actually served some good as well.
Fulmer was chided for years by rival coaches and UT's program got a reputation of being soft, and Kiffin has shown those are things that will not continue under him.
I think a lot of the reaction of rivals is triggered by the fear that Tennessee has a staff in place that won't sleep until they've taken over the SEC.
Can they do it?
Who knows. But rival fans can't deny the success this staff has had on the recruiting trail and their pedigree of coaching success.
Winning cures all.
If Kiffin and his staff can translate this early momentum into early wins, even the Vol fans that have been taken aback by some of Kiffin's gaffes will be on board.
Tennessee fans are in store for a treat, as the sense of urgency around the program hasn't been this high in a very long time.
Stay tuned, because whether you are a Tennessee fan or not, the results this staff come up with in the near future are going to determine the balance of power in the SEC for the next several years.
It should be an exciting ride for everyone.
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