Tennessee May Be Down, but They Aren't Out

Craig B.Contributor INovember 17, 2008

A lot of negative rhetoric has surrounded the University of Tennessee football program lately, and for good reason.  Tennessee has not lived-up to their billing.  The Vols have failed to win an SEC Championship since their National Championship season in 1998, in which the Volunteers were undefeated. 

They have had several legitimate chances to repeat that feat over the past decade, but have fallen short.  This does not sit well with Volunteer faithful.  They developed a taste for success, and the craving has not subsided.

The chef that has satisfied the hunger for almost two decades has been Phil Fulmer.  When he took the job as Tennessee's head man, he had already devoted his life to the UT program.  It did not take him long to take Rocky Top to the top of college football. 

In six years, he had earned a BCS National Title. This glory had raised coach Fulmer to a new level in Tennessee. As he kept winning, his immortality in Knoxville seemed more like a reality.

Then something happened: Losing, mediocrity.

Tennessee fans became weary of the lack of progress.  UT faithful watched the Nebraska program fade into the Midwest cornfields. They watched Miami fall from the highest of highs down into the clear, blue waters of the Atlantic. 

The Florida State team that they played in the '98 BCS title game started to sink into the swamps in the Mid-Florida humidity.  They started to think to themselves: "surely this could not happen to my beloved Vols." 

The confidence of old began to transform into denial as the wins became more and more scarce.  The denial began to manifest into anger.  The anger became worse with the 2005 season in which the Vols finished 5-6 and out of bowl eligibility for the first time in Fulmer's reign.  Someone had to pay for all of this anger.  It was Fulmer.

Now, there has been much speculation as to the reason for this turn of events.  Did Fulmer lose his touch?  Did the exit of offensive coordinator, Dave Cutcliffe, hurt Tennessee's potent offense?  Was it recruiting problems?  Was it the rise of the rest of the SEC?  Was it the improper use of the talent at UT? 

I will not speculate, but regardless, Coach Fulmer has been fired and UT seems to be on the verge of mediocrity just as those other powerhouses.

Now what will happen?  Who will the coach be?  Will the fans keep showing up to Neyland?  Will the good recruiting of the past continue?  Will Tennessee ever be on top again?  The answer is a definitive yes, and here is why:

The University of Tennessee is second to none when it comes to college football programs.  General Neyland Staduim has a capacity of around 106,000, and when packed to the brim with orange and white, it is a sight to behold. 

If you don't like to hear Rocky Top about 20 times in the matter of a couple hours, then don't show up in Knoxville on a fall Saturday and expect to have a good time.  This is one of the best atmospheres in which to play college football. 

The recruiting will always be there for this reason alone—not to mention the multi-million dollar renovations to update every aspect of the facilities. 

Tennessee has one of the largest fan bases in all of football.  There is virtually no other major football program to compete with UT in the state of Tennessee as Florida has (and no, Vandy doesn't count), and the Titans have not been around long enough to be very popular. 

The money that flows from this huge fanbase creates an undeniable advantage when shopping around for a head coach.  The money that Tennessee can offer is close to that of the professional ranks.  

Now they just have to find the right one.

Tradition is a huge part of a program's ability to pull in blue-chip recruits, keep the fans around, and to draw interest to players for the NFL draft—and the tradition is definitely there.  Six national championships (three outright and three shared), an average attendance of around 103,000, and NFL players such as Reggie White, Peyton Manning, Jamal Lewis, and Albert Haynesworth among many others, all prove that the tradition is there.

All programs go through ups and downs.  This is common, and history tells us that there are a select few NCAA giants that win the National Championship in cycles—Ohio State, Michigan, USC, Alabama, Texas, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Miami, FSU, Notre Dame, Tennessee, and a hand-full of others being among them.  These teams just...well, they just win. 

There is no reason to believe that any of these teams will not experience future success.  This is due to many reasons, much like the ones I have listed for Tennessee.  Like is said, history repeats itself. 

So for all of you Tennessee Vols fans; don't fret.  The National Championship will once again be "clad in orange."  As sure as the Vol Navy will sail-in on game day, the vols will be back. 

Just give it time.  All of the listed attributes of the program assures it.  

When you hear all of the naysayers such as 'Bama or Gator fans, don't forget to remind them that they are not very far removed from dark periods in their programs (especially Bama).  And let them know that they're part of the group that proves the logic behind the rotating door of powerhouses in college football.