published Sunday, December 23rd, 2012

Wiedmer: Vols facing another year of uncertainty

My friend lives and dies with the Tennessee football program. He religiously reads all the web sites, follows recruiting the way a stock broker studies the market, considers shock therapy after every stinging defeat, of which there have been 34 over the past five years, the worst such run in UT history.

So as he summed up the first two weeks of the Butch Jones regime a few days ago, he said, "I didn't realize that Cincinnati had the best coaching staff in America last season."

His point was pointed at Jones, who said upon his hiring Dec. 7 that he intended to "assemble the best staff in America."

Then Jones brought six of his Cincinnati assistants with him to UT while failing to lure former Vols quarterback great Tee Martin away from Southern Cal after a very public courtship.

While Jones's 19-6 record with the Bearcats over the past two seasons is impressive, competing against a weakened Big East isn't in the same galaxy with the NFL's unofficial developmental league.

Maybe you can't spell Butch without a UT, but at least some in the Big Orange Nation appear to have understandable concerns about whether or not this new staff will spell victory for the Vols.

And given that, isn't this just about where UT was this time last year, with Derek Dooley soon to deal with a whole new staff coming off a 5-7 season?

Isn't everything old new again? With this newspaper rolling out a special section today reflecting on the past 12 months, could we be right back where we started with the Vols a year ago, their 2013 season as uncertain as the 2012 campaign seemed this time last year?

This is in no way meant to criticize Jones or his staff decisions. The man has a system that's been proven to work. He's won or shared four conference titles during his six seasons as a head coach at Central Michigan and Cincinnati.

As he said when he was hired, "The plan is infallible if the players buy into it."

And that plan almost certainly works best with assistants who know it well. Furthermore, for fans insistent on returning to the Bearcats' 45-23 loss inside Neyland Stadium a year ago, Jones wasn't exactly working with SEC caliber talent.

Let this staff bring in high-end SEC recruits -- the kind that roamed Neyland Stadium during the first half of Philip Fulmer's 16-year run with the Vols -- and similar results could return.

But that doesn't mean the Big Orange Nation is wrong to worry. In a league exceedingly long on future pros, the Vols look no better than the seventh best option for a top-notch recruit, clearly behind Alabama, Florida, Georgia and LSU, at least marginally less attractive than South Carolina and Texas A&M.

That's not a blueprint for a quick turnaround from four losing seasons in the last five years. That's a recipe that begs, if not demands, patience, something the UT fan base seems in no mood to endure at the moment.

The best news for Volniacs is that Jones and his staff appear to appreciate their angst.

"There is no such thing as a down game," new assistant Tommy Thigpen, a former Auburn aide, told the media last week. "There are no letdowns in this conference. That's what Butch understands. Everywhere he's gone, he's kept the intensity high. He understands that every week you've got to play like it's a national championship."

Understanding is not the same as winning. No system is infallible. Well, maybe Nick Saban's, but even Saban's lost at least once four of the last five years.

But given recent UT history, understanding is a refreshing change. If it brings refreshing results, Jones and his staff just might become known as the best hire of 2012 this time next year.

about Mark Wiedmer...

Mark Wiedmer started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press on Valentine’s Day of 1983. At the time, he had to get an advance from his boss to buy a Valentine gift for his wife. Mark was hired as a graphic artist but quickly moved to sports, where he oversaw prep football for a time, won the “Pick’ em” box in 1985 and took over the UTC basketball beat the following year. By 1990, he was ...

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jomo11 said...

That is a good point. Butch says he will hire " the best staff in the country" , and he hires all coaches from Cincinnati ? ? ?

December 23, 2012 at 8:01 p.m.
jeffy01 said...

Why doesn't Gruden speak up ? Doesn't he "owe" it to us?

December 24, 2012 at 12:03 a.m.
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