Wiedmer: UT, UTC face very different spring practices

Wiedmer: UT, UTC face very different spring practices

March 19th, 2017 by Mark Wiedmer in Sports - Columns

Mark Wiedmer

Mark Wiedmer

Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press.

Brackets smackets. Who cares? Oh, sure, this little major college basketball tournament going on right now is big news to most of America. Especially all those folks who've filled out NCAA men's tourney brackets in hopes of winning office bragging rights, a free trip to Maui or both.

But down hee-uh in the South we're about to get excited about a far more important thing: spring football.

No, it's not autumn football, with falling leaves, the weekly College Football Playoff standings update, concussion protocol and thoughts about whether our favorite school's athletic director is smart enough to fire our Coach Bozo before we find a way to fire both of them.

Those joys must wait on those 122 glorious days the rest of the country knows as September-October-November-December.

But spring is where it all begins. If we're lucky, we get a glimpse of which quarterback will guide us artfully to victory come the fall. And how swiftly the newly hired coordinator(s) can clean up the messes left behind by the idiot former coordinator(s). And if that February signing class is as good, better or far worse than advertised.

(In other words, did Alabama sign everyone who was worth a darn, or did our school pick up at least a couple of folks who might have been good enough to letter for the Crimson Tide by their redshirt junior year?)

Beyond that, at least on the FBS level, will any of this make it worth our while to take out a third mortgage to keep our season tickets in the third level of the end zone and the parking pass two miles from campus for an uphill walk both ways?

As we wait to see how much permanent damage last week's freeze did to our shrubs and trees, these are the questions that will both unite and divide us as spring rolls into summer, which opens the door to preseason camp, which means real football is just around the corner.

Yet until then, or at least for the next few weeks, we have spring football, in all its vastly overblown glory, to tease us and tempt us to dream championship dreams. And at least in this neck of the woods we probably have far more questions than answers involving our University of Tennessee at Chattanooga Mocs and our Tennessee Volunteers.

Let's start with the Mocs and new coach Tom Arth. Not on anyone's radar screen when former coach Russ Huesman made known his intention to take the Richmond job, he appears to be yet another in the amazing run of UTC AD David Blackburn's brilliant hires before ever coaching a single game.

All the proof seemingly needed for that belief would come at what Arth did at his alma mater: Division III's John Carroll. The Blue Streaks having gone 19-21 in the four years before Arth became head coach, they went 40-8 in the four years thereafter.

But just in case that doesn't impress you, consider that even before spring practice could begin, the man Arth had chosen to run the UTC defense — Brandon Staley — got snatched up by the National Football League's Chicago Bears to coach outside linebackers.

When you're losing staff members to the NFL before they've even worked a game for you on the college level, you must have a pretty fair eye for coaching talent. It's equally worth noting that the man replacing Staley — Tom Kaufman, who's another John Carroll alum — was special teams coordinator and linebackers coach at Syracuse.

There's no question this staff knows football, and with Huesman having built an unshakable foundation, and quarterback Alejandro Bennifield back for a final season, a fourth straight trip to the national playoffs would seem a logical expectation.

Yet as possible as another playoff run would seem for the Mocs, assuming Kaufman can prop up a stingy defense battered by graduation losses, the short-term future for Tennessee would seem far less promising.

It's not just that Butch Jones and his somewhat revamped staff must find replacements for one of the strongest collection of leaders in the program's history — Josh Dobbs, Derek Barnett, Marques Reeves-Maybin, Cam Sutton, Alvin Kamara and Josh Malone, to name six — but they must do so within a decidedly negative fan base that no longer seems supportive of Coach Cliche.

Beyond that, is Jarrett Guarantano the quarterback to replace Dobbs? Will defensive coordinator Bob Shoop's second season belatedly support his reputation as one of the best in the game? Would the eight regular-season wins that did so much to place Jones on the hot seat a season ago be enough this time around to convince new UT AD John Currie to keep him around for the 2018 season and beyond? Those are five-star questions only a champion of life could answer truthfully.

The hunch from here is that Arth hugely impresses, Jones moderately does and that exactly one year from today both men are again preparing to launch spring practices for their current employers.

But what do I know? I had East Region No. 1 seed Villanova knocking off No. 8 seed Wisconsin in Saturday's basketball round of 32.

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com

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