ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT

KNOXVILLE -- It didn't take the messages long to pile up Monday night on various Web sites throughout the Volunteer State. As soon as Tennessee coach Lane Kiffin said he was sticking with Jonathan Crompton as his starting quarterback for Saturday's game at No. 1 Florida, the unrest began.

My favorite appeared on GoVolsXtra. It read in full: "I can understand why Kiffin would stand by Crompton. If not for Crompton he wouldn't have this job."

Pretty clever, huh?

It's never that easy, of course. Phillip Fulmer wasn't let go in favor of Kiffin only because Crompton failed to become the quarterback that Fulmer steadfastly believed he could be. Running back Arian Foster also let his coach down with some of the most untimely fumbles in the history of the sport. A couple of wideouts didn't help much, either.

Yet as Kiffin travels down the same treacherous path that Fulmer chose a year ago before tumbling off Rocky Top, one can't help but wonder if the Big Orange have any chance to improve on last year's 5-7 record if they fail to change quarterbacks.

After all, if Crompton hadn't completed less than 50 percent of his passes in lame losses to UCLA, Auburn and Wyoming, the 2008 Vols would have finished 8-4 instead of 5-7. And had they finished 8-4, almost no one seriously believes UT athletic director Mike Hamilton would have fired Fulmer.

Applying that same logic to last Saturday's 19-15 home loss to UCLA, there is almost no question that the Vols would have won if not for the fifth-year senior Crompton's three interceptions and fumble.

Yet what was Kiffin's take on this during Tuesday's weekly media event? Did he bluntly say Crompton needed to be better quickly against the Gators or be banished to the bench? Did he say backup Nick Stephens would get the same number of reps with the starters as Crompton?

Did he threaten to throw the entire offense over to veteran Gerald Jones or freshman Nu'Keese Richardson, running the G-Gun, Nuke, or whatever else you wish to call it on every single snap?

No. No. No. Said Kiffin: "It blows me away how much hatred there is toward (Crompton). We need to do better around him."

To be fair, the anger aimed at Crompton this week blows away most non-Volniacs.

"I've been covering Tennessee football for 25 years," WNOX talk show host Jimmy Hyams said. "There were pockets of people who didn't like Erik Ainge or Casey Clausen. But nothing like this. One message board said they should just shoot him. One caller to our show said he should quit. The venom directed at Jonathan Crompton is absurd."

Hyams even remembers a time when Crompton was a Volniac favorite.

"When Jonathan was Ainge's backup, there were a lot of people who thought he was the better quarterback," he said. "Not now."

Yet with Florida an outrageous 28-point favorite, you couldn't blame Kiffin for choosing to start Crompton one last time, lest Stephens become shell-shocked and shattered by the ghastly Gators.

Better to save Stephens for Ohio U., hopeful he'll gain confidence and experience before the stunning stretch of Auburn, Georgia, Alabama and South Carolina over the following five weeks.

Yet at least one of Crompton's teammates also seems to remain in his corner.

"People haven't really talked about it around me," senior linebacker Rico McCoy said. "They know I'm a team guy. I don't want to hear something that isn't good. You can't tell me something bad about my teammate. You're not out there with us; you don't practice with us. I don't want to hear from anyone who's not playing."

However, even McCoy later admitted, "I've heard a couple of people blame it on the quarterback."

He also said, "We played a pretty good game on the defensive side."

Sometimes you can assess blame by what you don't say.

A win Saturday would change everything, of course. As McCoy said, "If we're 2-0 right now, everybody thinks we're super heroes. Because we're 1-1, everyone wants to focus on our weaknesses."

Especially if one of those weaknesses is the same one that strongly contributed to a coaching change a year ago.

ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT