In 2004 AD Mike Hamilton began an extremely ambitious $200-million dollar renovation plan on Neyland Stadium.
The renovations to the 80-year-old stadium are not scheduled to be fully completed until the year 2020. The face-lift began as a way to update and modernize one of the greatest sports venues in the nation.
Concourses have been widened, bathrooms improved, brickwork added, and some seating has been upgraded. Also added was a gigantic new HD scoreboard at the top of the stadium.
Over the next decade, work will focus on adding even more seats, luxury & hospitality areas, and the exterior of the stadium will be modernized and beautified.
When Hamilton approved the renovation just five short years ago he probably had no idea that by the time the first half of phase three of that project was completed he would be introducing a new head coach while ushering in a new era of Tennessee football.
Little did Hamilton know that the program had also become outdated. That it had become somewhat tarnished with age. It was still a great, historic program, but there was no doubt that it needed a facelift.
The program reconstruction or rebuilding plans have already begun in earnest.
When Lane Kiffin took over the program in December he brought with him a new mindset—a new mentality. Gone were the days of looseness and mediocrity.
As soon as Kiffin introduced himself he introduced new procedures, new rules, and a new thought process.
As with many long-tenured coaches, such as Phillip Fulmer, the program had grown lackluster in its preparation and discipline. Not to mention, the previous regime’s lack of ability to keep up on the field. Many SEC programs began running new offenses; new techniques, and Fulmer & Co. were seemingly stuck in a 90’s mindset.
One of the first batches of new rules that Lane Kiffin enacted included; No iPods, ballcaps, or earrings in classrooms. For today's athlete all three of those things are a part of everyday life. Immediately after those rules went into effect Kiffin started a workout regimen for his players that included getting up at 5AM everyday.
When spring practice started Kiffin shed the green non-contact jerseys, sped up the time in between drills, and demanded that players jog or run to their next destination rather than walking.
Fall practice began last week with ultra physical practices without pads. Once the pads were added the physicality actually went up a notch.
One thing I have constantly thought about during this eternity of an offseason is the fact that this team and program will not be what Vols fans have gotten used to over the last 20-plus years.
If you have watched the Vols for any length of time you probably knew what was coming before it happened in terms of play calling and certain game situations.
On offense we knew at some point there would be three straight runs up the middle or three straight incomplete passes. We knew how Fulmer would handle fourth & inches, fourth & one, third & short, and third & long.
On defense we knew that if the Vols had a lead late in the third or fourth quarter, John Chavis was going to utilize the prevent defense.
Now all we know is that Kiffin has the same basic offensive mindset that Fulmer had, but we also know he will use different, more modern methods to accomplish his goals.
We know that defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin brings a tremendous, NFL-style defensive mindset to the Vols.
Most of all we know that things will be done differently. Up to this point everything has been uprooted, rearranged, and rebuilt to Lane Kiffin's specifications. Those specifications are different than Fulmer's were.
There is one certainty, this will not be your daddy's UT Vols team. Tennessee fans, you need to break the image of UT football that you have had for the last two decades. It's going to be different.
Fans of other SEC schools need to realize that point as well. Opponents, pundits, and the media has spent the past nine months trying to dissect and discern what Kiffin will bring to this team. No one knows what is going to happen.
As a matter of fact, the only thing we do know is that this storied program has been redesigned, rebuilt, and renovated from the ground up. Whether that increases the beauty and modernizes a once-proud program; only time will tell.