Wiedmer: A Scenic City day to ponder more than college football wins and losses

Wiedmer: A Scenic City day to ponder more than college football wins and losses

July 16th, 2017 by Mark Wiedmer in Sports - Columns

The Vols make their way down the Vol Walk. The Tennessee Tech Golden Eagles visited the Tennessee Volunteers in NCAA football action at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville on November 5, 2016.

Photo by Robin Rudd /Times Free Press.

For those of us who view Chattanooga as our home, there are more important things to think about today than college football. This is the second anniversary of arguably the most disturbing event in our city's history.

It was on this day two years ago that a homegrown madman inexplicably snuffed out the lives of five of our best, brightest and most patriotic Americans — the Fallen Five, as we forever will remember and honor them. Or as their friends, family and fellow servicemen knew them: Sgt. Carson Holmquist, Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Randall Smith, Gunnery Sgt. Thomas Sullivan, Lance Cpl. Squire "Skip" Wells and Staff Sgt. David Wyatt.

Call it terrorism (my personal choice), mental illness or pure evil (my second choice), but also never fail to call it tragic and sickening and wrong, a thousand times wrong.

And it is heartwarming to see our town continue to recognize the Fallen Five's service to our country, both in this weekend's events — Friday's placement of a Gold Star Plaque, Saturday's Chattanooga Heroes Run and this evening's planned Chattanooga Strong community concert at the Tennessee RiverPark's Hubert Fry Center — as well as the permanent memorial that soon will be built at the park.

The ultimate sacrifices of those five men and so many, many others every year are why we get to stage college football games in front of thousands upon thousands of folks every Saturday from late summer through autumn, especially here in the South, where we've long done more than wear patriotism on our collective sleeve.

According to the Department of Defense, in 2013 about 44 percent of all military recruits came from the South region of the U.S. despite it having only 36 percent of the country's 18-24-year-old civilian population. So we tend to believe in God, country, family and college football more than any other region of this great and diverse land.

But do we believe in more than college football victories here in the Volunteer State, having earned that nickname for all those volunteer soldiers from Tennessee who so valiantly served under Gen. Andrew Jackson in the War of 1812?

For instance, do we want those representing the University of Tennessee football team to be model citizens and students as much as we want them to succeed on Saturday afternoons against the rest of the Southeastern Conference?

I ask this after attending this past week's SEC football media event, which now lasts four days, welcomes more than 1,000 media types and puts three student-athletes from each of its 14 member schools before much of that media for question-and-answer sessions. Being President Trump's press secretary might be a less daunting assignment than an athlete representing his school at media days.

Not that UT's chosen senior trio of Emmanuel Moseley, Jashon Robertson and Kendal Vickers didn't come across as the kind of good students and good citizens that coach Butch Jones always claims he's looking for on signing day, especially when Vickers said with a proud smile: "I've already got my piece of paper. That's what I came to Tennessee to do. I came to get a degree and play football. Now all I have to do is play football."

Given his ease with the media, that communications degree may have Vickers interviewing coaches and players one day instead of being interviewed. But to see that pride in that degree is to know that Jones is doing something right at UT, that his players are putting up positive academic numbers as they have never put them up before, that they're largely staying out of trouble, that they are, in numbers greater than under any previous Vols head coach over the past 25 years, getting pieces of paper in what Jones loves to term "meaningful degrees."

This doesn't mean that Coach Crewcut ever is going to win over a large segment of the UT fan base until his team wins at least 10 games in a season and returns the Volunteers to the SEC title game as the Beast of the (SEC) East for the first time since 2007.

And he took another step backward in the PR department at the SEC media event by babbling on about how he didn't view last year's 4-4 league mark after being picked the East favorite in the 2016 preseason as a "disappointment," adding, "The way I view it is that we didn't accomplish everything we set out to do."

Talk about coach-speak.

Or as one Big Orange fan who claims he likes Jones wrote on our website as a response to a Jay Greeson column: "Sure we want good guys, and we want them to be successful in life, but on Saturdays we just want them to win."

Today is indeed a day to honor five of the best among us on the anniversary of one of our worst memories. The best people and the best ideals.

But the SEC media days now in our rearview mirror, the season opener against Georgia Tech inside the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium still 50 days away, perhaps it's also a good time to recognize that Jones is doing far more right than wrong as the Tennessee head football coach if he'll just quit sticking his Nikes in his mouth, especially since his won-lost numbers — three straight dominating bowl wins and two straight nine-win seasons — aren't exactly the signs of a program in decline.

If nothing else, Big Orange Nation, ask yourselves this: Would we rather have Jones or the scandal-ridden Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze running our team?

Even on a day to ponder far more important things, no diploma-stamped piece of paper should be needed to answer that one.

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com

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