Tennessee Volunteers Football: 10 Most Important People in the Program

Daniel Hudson@daniel3417Correspondent IIIDecember 21, 2011

Tennessee Volunteers Football: 10 Most Important People in the Program

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    The Tennessee Volunteer football program has had many key individuals flow through its doors in the past. The 10 most important people in the program today, though, have a particularly difficult job.

    They have to get this huge ship back on the right course.

    Criteria used for determining this list were status within the fanbase and ability to make a difference in the program. Current and former coaches, athletic directors and players make up the most important people, each for his own reason.

    Let's have a look...

Mike Hamilton

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    I, for one, thought that former athletic director Mike Hamilton got way too much of the blame for the downturn in the program. I know that sounds ridiculous since he's the man in charge.

    In any event, the decisions he made—fire Phillip Fulmer, hire Lane Kiffin, hire Derek Dooley—were vital to the life of the program. It's yet to be seen how it'll all work out.

    Anyone who has the final word in hiring/firing two other important people in the program makes it on this list.

General Robert Neyland

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    General Neyland hasn't roamed the Tennessee Volunteers' sidelines since 1952, but he remains one of the most important people in the program.

    The legacy he established with his 173-31-12 record, seven conference championships and four national championships is the reason high school recruits at least start with Tennessee on their list.

    The sanctuary that is Neyland Stadium is, of course, named for him, and his iconic maxims are still read before each and every game. Neyland is gone, but will never be forgotten in Knoxville.

Jay Graham

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    The newest addition to the Tennessee Volunteers' coaching staff is former running back standout Jay Graham. He immediately becomes one of the most important people in the program.

    In 2011, the Vols ranked dead last in total yards, yards per attempt and yards per game. With an offensive line full of juniors next year, Graham will be relied upon to develop one or two running backs that can provide some semblance of a ground attack.

    An alumnus of Tennessee, his 2,609 rushing yards is still good for sixth all-time at the school. His most recent student, Marcus Lattimore, is one of the fiercest runners in the country.

    Welcome home, Jay.

Peter Sirmon

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    Linebackers coach Peter Sirmon has quickly become a key person on Rocky Top. His freshman-senior-freshman trio of linebackers in 2011—Curt Maggitt, Austin Johnson and A.J. Johnson—were extremely impressive.

    Now it's vital to the future of the Tennessee Volunteers that his current linebacker recruits—Greg Santos, Otha Peters and Khalid Henderson—stick with the Vols through signing day.

    Outside of his position, Sirmon roped in Michigan defensive tackle Danny O'Brien, one of the gems of the 2012 class. 

Eric Berry

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    Eric Berry is the best defensive back in the history of the Tennessee Volunteers. He's also a man of morals who is a tremendous ambassador to the program.

    Berry is one of those rare players that has both unparalleled skill and incredible character. When the Kansas City Chiefs took him with the fifth overall pick in the 2010 NFL draft, I knew they wouldn't be disappointed with the entire package.

    Whenever he makes a big play, wins an award or is praised by the on-air personalities, the conversation will often come back to Tennessee—a great asset. His NFL career (and Tennessee connection) will resemble that of Jason Witten.

Dave Hart

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    It's best when the athletic director isn't an important person in the program. That would imply that the program is doing well and is on cruise control.

    That isn't, however, the case. Dave Hart's job could soon be to find yet another head football coach. I don't want that to happen, but it's a real possibility.

    Hart's biography includes stops at Florida State and Alabama, both of which are on the right track with their football programs. Let's see what he does at Tennessee.

Phillip Fulmer

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    Yes indeed, Phillip Fulmer remains and probably will remain for sometime one of the most important people to the Tennessee Volunteers football program.

    His resume speaks for itself: 152-52 record, two conference championships and one national championship. The end of his tenure did experience a slide, and the debate is still up for whether or not he was let go too hastily.

    Regardless, he remains the ghost in the rear-view mirror that is seen each and every time the Vols suffer a bad loss, endure a tough season or miss out on a big recruit.

    He's the standard to which every succeeding coach will be compared until one outdoes him.

Peyton Manning

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    Peyton Manning! It always feels good to remember that he once manned the Tennessee Volunteers offense. Manning has become the greatest ambassador of all former players.

    He is arguably the greatest quarterback to ever play the game, especially when you consider the way he revolutionized the position. Let's face it: How much "studying" do you think hotshot quarterbacks did before Manning came in and made the game a science instead of an art?

    Manning is a big Tennessee guy still, leaving fans dreaming of a time when he'll come back and don the orange again but as a coach this time. We'll see.

    One thing we can be sure of is that he'll be the next Vol immortalized in the Hall of Fame in Canton.

Derek Dooley

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    Derek Dooley is the man with the keys. He's shown flashes of what he can do as a coach and definitely as a recruiter, but consistency is what lacks.

    The 2011 performance in Lexington against Kentucky was nothing short of unacceptable. No matter how bad, how injured or how demoralized the Vols were over the past 26 years, Tennessee had never lost to the Wildcats.

    That game caused me and many of you to doubt Dooley. It's his baby now, and he has the ability to take the Volunteers back to the promised land, but his time to reach some sort of success is shortening.

Tyler Bray

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    The 2012 Tennessee Volunteers have the talent to compete for the SEC East. The division is weak, and the Vols will be comprised of many talented junior who have a ton of experience.

    The man who it rests on more than any other is Tyler Bray. Bray had a stellar start to the season, but after his top receiver Justin Hunter went down and Bray himself got injured, he couldn't relocate that magic.

    The Vols will be at full strength next year, and I expect to see an excellent game, if not an outright win next year against Florida at home. The Gators are down and recently lost their offensive coordinator.

    Bray has the ability to be a top-five draft pick one day. If he steps up and really takes over next season, he'll get that opportunity.

    There's a lot resting on Bray, but such is the life of a college quarterback.