Tennessee Football 2011: 10 Things the Vols Must Do To Win Back Respect
It's been 13 long years since the Vols won the first ever BCS National Championship, and since that time the program has began a gradual decline that Vol fans matched in unison.
Three coaches in as many years, have also tainted the institution of Tennessee as a house of athletic stability which diminishes its image in the public eye yet further. The last trip to an SEC Championship resulted in a 21-14 loss to LSU and since then there have only been glimpses of faith and hope, as the storied program struggles to regain some reminder of what once was.
Derek Dooley has picked up the torch, or rather it has been thrust upon him to right the Volunteer ship and its legendary program, left in distress by former head coach Lane Kiffin. The program has some momentum, but before the Vols can regain their national prowess and quiet the naysayers there a few things they must do to win back respect.
Shut Down In-State Looting
Coach Derek Dooley is off to a good start shutting down the recruiting pipeline out of Tennessee. This season he landed the cream of the crop by signing Antonio Richardson, Cameron Clear, Brendan Downs and a handful of others.
It marks the beginning of a long journey by keeping what few stellar athletes that Tennessee produces in-state and donning the power T.
But as I said, it's a long journey, and a difficult one when you have so many SEC schools as well as other major programs sitting at your doorstep. Allowing even one standout WR like Jabriel Washington to slip through orange fingers could spell trouble down the road when they have successful careers at schools like Alabama, LSU or South Carolina.
As this season's recruiting winds up Tennessee is already behind as no less than two dozen graded athletes have already verbally committed elsewhere.
Make the Depth Chart Very, Very Deep
One thing that really makes a team stand out among their peers is the depth chart.
Being able to substitute second or third string, and not being able to tell the difference by the level of performance and ability scares the crap out of other teams and exhibits a strength that is unfathomable.
It was one of the ways that '90s FSU teams garnered so much respect, and a bad reputation. Granted Bobby Bowden never cared one way or another if he scored 70 points on a team and blanked them into humiliation, but what people never talked about was how deep his roster was. It was because of this that his teams were able to score 15-30 points a quarter and never look tired.
Whether it's by coaching, recruiting or thieving, players when the other school isn't looking Tennessee must rebuild a depth chart that outdistances like no other.
Winning at Home
To look at the numbers it really doesn't sound that bad, but if you're an SEC team it might as well be a dozen losses.
At home over the last two seasons the Vols have lost five of the last 15 games played at Neyland Stadium. Still doesn't sound bad right? Two of those were against PAC-12 teams: UCLA in 2009 and last year against Oregon. The others were courtesy of Auburn, Alabama and Florida. Still feel good about those numbers?
In 2008 the Vols lost at home to Florida, Bama and, worst of all, Wyoming. The last time Tennessee has an undefeated home season was in 2007.
The General is watching, no more, please.
Do Bodily Harm
Now hold on a second, I'm not...again I say NOT suggesting any player runs onto the field with the intention of vindictively doing harm to another player for the sake of the game.
What I am suggesting is that the players play with skillful abandon. You know? Bloody noses, snot-bubbles, getting the wind knocked out of you. The opponents wake up the next day feeling like they were in an orange car wreck. No cheap head shots or blindsiding knees...just football that makes you dread playing the other team again.
The Vols have been playing in slow motion. The last player that understood this mentality was Eric Berry.
Make John Chavis Proud
Yes, the Chief is no longer on the coaching staff, but the spirit of his defenses endures.
The fact of the matter is that the Vols were 69th in total defense for 2010. Do you know who was 68th? Western KY. The only SEC team Tennessee beat out was No. 81 Mississippi and No. 93 Vanderbilt.
It's a far cry from being ranked No. 3, No. 7, twice, No. 11 and No. 17 in the nation. Last season the Vols out-tackled their opponents 944-826, but that was where their superiority ends. What the stats don't tell you is the reason why.
They out-tackled because they had possession of the ball fewer times than opponents. Stings a little, huh?
You know what, forget Chief, make Al Wilson proud.
Showing grace in defeat or victory, it's still the same.
If you win, you shake hands or hand the the ball to the ref. Take the high road that might not have been offered to you. If you lose, shake hands or hand the ball to the ref and walk off the field with your head held high. Protesting or arguing will not change the outcome, when the clock strikes zero the game is over.
As it is winning warrants celebration, but not at the sake of the other team's dignity, take the high road.
Controlling the Game
This a myriad of things.
Controlling isn't just about clock management, controlling is winning at not allowing the other team to score or defend.
Yes, it seems all too simple. "Hey wait why didn't we do that before?" "Thanks genius sportswriter!"
This is respect. You score when the other team defends and you prevent the other team from scoring. This is how championships are won. Look at the clock, decide if there is enough time for another drive and if you don't have time you make sure they don't either.
Winning the East
Winning the division is but one step in regaining national prominence, because you still have the western rival to play. But at least you make it to the dance.
The last two trips for the Vols were met with defeat. 2004 the Vols lost to Auburn 38-28, then in 2007 they lost to LSU 21-14. The worst part about the games was that wins were within reach but the Vols just couldn't capitalize on turnovers and good field position.
Nevertheless, winning the East establishes a foothold in SEC dominance. Without the division it's just another Music City Bowl.
Represent the SEC
Never again can Tennessee suffer defeats at the hands of UNC or VA Tech.
What the SEC is known and respected for is beating non-conference teams regardless of who they might be.
Bragging rights is always being able to hold up your respective play against teams during the Bowl season. In the last 10 years the Vols are 3-7 in bowl play.
2000 Fiesta Bowl Nebraska: L 21 31
2001 Cotton Bowl Classic Kansas State: L 21 35
2002 Citrus Bowl Michigan: W 45 17
2003 Peach Bowl Maryland: L 3 30
2004 Peach Bowl Clemson: L 14 27
2005 Cotton Bowl Classic Texas A&M: W 38 7
2007 Outback Bowl Penn State: L 10 20
2008 Outback Bowl Wisconsin W 21 17
2009 Chick-fil-A Bowl Virginia Tech: L 14 37
2010 Music City Bowl North Carolina: L 27 30 (2OT)
Win It All
This is self explanatory.
You win all the marbles and everybody shuts up. There is no dispute, the critics and the naysayers have no platform and respect is restored. The recruits stay home and they come in droves from out of state. Teams over-prepare themselves to play and make stupid mistakes, and sometimes you win a game or two just because you intimidate the hell out of the other team.
Winning is respect, cut and dry. Losing just plants you on the punchline of a Lee Corso or Kurt Herbstreit joke. And that is where Tennessee has been for sometime. But Derek Dooley is playing with a plan, and it might happen this year or the next, but he is as I write re-establishing respect for the Vols. I daresay winning the East this year is not out of the question.