Wiedmer: Can UT's Rise Glorious mission statement succeed where Jerry Maguire's failed?

Tennessee Athletics photo by Andrew Ferguson / Tennessee athletic director Danny White speaks during his introductory news conference in 2021 in Knoxville.

Ever since the fictitious sports agent Jerry Maguire wrote his heart-felt, ill-fated "The Things We Think and Do Not Say" mission statement for the agency he worked for, the so-called mission statement - however lightly followed it may be - has become a must-have item for schools and businesses large and small.

So it would be irresponsible of me not to address the University of Tennessee athletic department's press release late last week detailing its five-year strategic plan for UT sports.

Deftly titled "Rise Glorious" - an inspiring nod to the first stanza of the school's alma mater song that proclaims "On a hallowed hill in Tennessee / Like a beacon shining bright / The stately walls of old UT / Rise glorious to the sight." - it intends to clearly define the Vols' goals for student-athlete success, culture, core values and such.

Or as athletic director Danny White said in a prepared statement: "Rise Glorious serves as a very clear road map for accomplishing Tennessee Athletics' mission of leading the way in college sports. This plan outlines why Tennessee Athletics exists and how we must approach each day in order to attain all of our specific goals for the next five years. It establishes standards we all must live by - staff, coaches, student-athletes, campus community and fans alike - as we restore Tennessee Athletics to the front of the pack."

It would be folly to look upon this lightly. White has worked wonders in the roughly 18 months he's been on the job since leaving a similar gig at Central Florida.

Not only did he almost instantly hire the offensive wizard Josh Heupel away from UCF to lead the football program after Jeremy Pruitt was let go for supposedly monstrous NCAA violations, but in the 2021-22 school year recently ended, the Vols claimed their first SEC Overall All-Sports Championship. Moreover, the school finished 13th nationally in the Learfield Director's Cup standings, its best ranking since 2007.

Helping boost those rankings were a UT baseball program that won both the SEC regular-season and tournament titles while spending most of the year as the nation's top-ranked team, and a men's basketball team that brought home the school's first SEC Tournament crown since 1979, a span of 43 years.

With a football program that could be favored to win 10 of its 12 games this fall, such overall athletic department success could be even more impressive a season from now.

Also, to White's goal for Tennessee to lead the way in college sports, his vision already seems to be charting a path of cohesiveness and camaraderie among the different sports that's too rarely witnessed.

"We are just scratching the surface of what we can accomplish here together," Heupel said in the release. "The passion, competitiveness and camaraderie across the board in all sports is unmatched. It truly is a family. Our staff and student-athletes love going to events across all sports. We not only want to fulfill our goals in the overall mission of Tennessee Athletics, but we want to be a part of the environment at other venues as well. We are all encouraging each other to be the best, department-wide."

In truth, some of it sounds like the kind of high-minded gobbledy-gook that seems important but really guarantees nothing.

For instance, under the subheading "Student-Athlete Success," it states:

"We will maximize the transformative power of the student-athlete experience by leveraging the impact of sport to holistically develop our student-athletes and empowering each of them to succeed in educational and competitive endeavors while preparing them for life beyond athletics."

Ah, Leveraging and Holistically. Very 21st century. Also, just so you know the buzz words don't stop there, "Rise Glorious" also has sections on Culture and Branding. If actor Tom Cruise ever gets around to reprising his role in a Jerry Maguire remake - and why wouldn't he after the overwhelming financial success of Top Gun: Maverick? - he might consider titling it "Rise Glorious," with him returning as a Power Five Conference AD intent on returning college athletics to its more pure, less commercial roots.

And if that's not enough New Age verbiage for you, who could forget Matrix, as in, according to the Rise Glorious release: the school will use the action-step matrix, which defines staff accountability, key measurements, resource requirements and the timeframe for completion. The action-step matrix will track progress and overall success.

It all sounds inspiring and culture changing and holistically perfect. And if it ultimately does nothing more than convince recruits and their parents that UT cares about the student-athlete for far more than what that young man or woman can produce on the athletic field or court, it will have been worth every man and woman hour of work that's gone into it over the past year.

Ultimately, of course, Rise Glorious's perceived success or failure among citizens of Big Orange Nation will come down to how much the Vols win on Southeastern Conference fields and courts. And should those coaches and athletes come up short, those fans will be only too happy to say what they think.

It's also worth noting that Maguire's Mission Statement led to his firing.

But one part of that statement bears repeating to both those within the UT athletic department and those who support the Big Orange throughout the country.

"Our work actually does have an effect on people," wrote Maguire. "In a cynical world, we make people happy. We let them know that one athlete can make a difference."

And, if White's "Rise Glorious" succeeds, one athletic department.

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com.