Our nation has reached its 245th birthday, which is certainly cause for celebration due to the abundance of freedoms and opportunities provided to its residents.
Included in those freedoms is the ability for Tennessee football fans to flush away as many recent seasons as they wish.
The Volunteers have a proud history that contains 13 Southeastern Conference championships and Associated Press national titles in 1951 and 1998, and can any program surpass Peyton Manning and Reggie White when it comes to the combination of an offensive and defensive all-timer? Yet the Vols have been mostly mundane since Phillip Fulmer's final season as coach in 2008, posting a 78-82 record with eight losing seasons in those 13 years.
Lane Kiffin, Derek Dooley, Butch Jones and Jeremy Pruitt followed Fulmer with turbulent results, and now it's Josh Heupel's turn to provide optimism for a program that has experienced nearly 30 defections through the NCAA transfer portal since last October and is likely facing NCAA sanctions from Pruitt's unstable three-year era.
How many times can a 6-6 record signal improvement? Nobody knows, but Tennessee has again arrived at square one.
Using a timeline that begins with Kiffin's decision in January 2010 to bolt for the Southern California opening — leaving behind a 2009 signing class in which only five of 22 players stayed the course in Knoxville — here is a countdown of the 11 most flushable moments of Tennessee's past 11 seasons:
11. The Keystone Vols
When was the last time you hopped on YouTube to watch the 60-yard punt return for a touchdown by Joe Adams of Arkansas in the 49-7 thrashing of Tennessee on Nov. 12, 2011? Members of the Vols coverage team were taking out one another, and there were eight missed tackles. This loss transpired deep into Dooley's second season, and it was the biggest blowout of Tennessee's eventual 15-game losing streak against SEC West foes that was finally snuffed in 2018.
10. Oh no, not Kentucky!
No matter how troubling the times for Tennessee football, there was always the baseline of beating Kentucky inside Neyland Stadium. The Wildcats traveling to Knoxville in even-numbered years and limping away losers was among the SEC's most timeworn traditions, but that streak ended abruptly last year with a 34-7 rout that served as Kentucky's first series road win since 1984. Vols starting quarterback Jarrett Guarantano threw two interceptions that were returned for touchdowns, and a season of promise that had begun with a 2-0 start and a No. 14 national ranking was forever derailed.
9. The unlucky 13
It was the win that wasn't. On Oct. 2, 2010, Tennessee led No. 12 LSU 14-10 with the clock ticking down under five seconds and with the Tigers at the 1-yard line of the Vols. When the snap got away from quarterback Jordan Jefferson, the Vols raced out on the field and a jubilant Dooley was lifted into the air amid a silenced Tiger Stadium. The officials, however, discovered two defensive players had raced off the field before the bad snap and that four defenders replaced them for the illegal total of 13. With LSU given an additional play from the 1, Stevan Ridley slammed into the end zone for the 16-14 triumph.
8. Decimation at Neyland
In 2016, Tennessee went to Georgia and defeated the Bulldogs 34-31 on a 43-yard Hail Mary from Josh Dobbs to Jauan Jennings as time expired. The following season, Georgia traveled to Knoxville and demolished the Vols 41-0 in Tennessee's worst home loss ever as an SEC member. The Vols were intercepted on the first play from scrimmage and finished with seven first downs and 142 total yards. "At halftime, I didn't need to go over and see the defensive players," Bulldogs second-year coach Kirby Smart said. "They had it under control. There were no adjustments."
7. The eight-loss season
The bright and affable Dobbs was appreciated as Tennessee's starting quarterback and was sorely missed after guiding the Vols to consecutive 9-4 seasons in 2015-16. A step back was expected in 2017, but nobody projected an implosion that resulted in a 4-8 record and an 0-8 mark in SEC play. Tennessee had never endured an eight-loss season or a winless record within the conference, but the fifth and final year under Jones set those dubious distinctions.
6. Swamp heartaches
Pick the year. In 2015, Tennessee traveled to Florida and built a 27-14 lead — might have been 28-14 if Jones had a different conversion chart — but wound up losing 28-27 on a 63-yard touchdown connection from Will Grier to Antonio Callaway with 1:26 remaining. Two years later, in a 20-20 game bound for overtime with nine seconds left in regulation, Feleipe Franks hurled a 63-yard strike that Tyrie Cleveland snagged as time expired, sending Tennessee back home from Gainesville dejectedly once again.
5. No match for Saban
When Tennessee's most memorable moment against Alabama over the last several years is Rashaan Gaulden's double bird to the Crimson Tide student section during a 45-7 loss in 2017, that's problematic. Tennessee is 0-14 against Nick Saban since his Alabama arrival in 2007, with 12 of those contests decided by at least two touchdowns. Given the Tide's 13-0 run to last season's national championship and given Tennessee's 3-7 collapse, these two programs have never seemed further apart.
4. Pruitt's termination
This one from this past January may require a couple of flushes due to the lingering effects of NCAA rules violations committed by Pruitt and former linebacker coaches Shelton Felton and Brian Niedermeyer. "It is clear that Coach Pruitt did not adequately promote an atmosphere of compliance and/or monitor the activities of the coaches and the staff who reported to him," Tennessee Chancellor Donde Plowman said when announcing the termination. With Pruitt having gone 16-19 and having cheated to do so, doesn't he have to be the worst coach in program history?
3. Plowed by Panthers
There was North Texas in 1975, Rutgers in 1979, Memphis in 1996 and Wyoming in 2008, but Tennessee's 38-30 loss to Georgia State was the most embarrassing in program history. Ten years before this stunning 2019 opener, the Vols whipped Mark Richt's Georgia Bulldogs and Steve Spurrier's South Carolina Gamecocks on their way to the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl, while the Panthers had yet to play their first game as a program. What many people forget is that an 18-yard touchdown pass from Guarantano to Jennings with two seconds remaining prevented the final from being 38-23.
2. Currie's chaotic search
In retrospect, how amazing is it that Tennessee's calamity of a coaching search in 2017 lasted 25 days? Didn't it feel like 250? The first 19 of those days were with John Currie as athletic director, but Currie was canned after striking out with Dan Mullen, Chris Peterson, Jeff Brohm, Dave Doeren and David Cutcliffe, and with swirling rumors about Jon Gruden and Lane Kiffin accompanying the search as well. Currie briefly reached a memorandum of understanding with Greg Schiano, but that led to an unprecedented social media revolt not only from Vols fans but former Tennessee players and state politicians.
Mike Leach was the last candidate to be targeted by Currie, who was brought back to Knoxville and fired. Fulmer became AD on Dec. 1 and hired Pruitt six days later.
1. Football's closest rivalry
No statistic reflects Tennessee's football fortunes in recent seasons more than the Vanderbilt series. It wasn't long ago — specifically 1983 to 2004 — when the Vols whipped the Commodores on 22 consecutive occasions. Now it is college football's closest rivalry of the past decade, with the two programs having gone 5-5 against one another and having scored 273 points apiece.
A generation ago, Tennessee's rivalry with Florida was second to none nationally in terms of importance.
Again, use the freedoms this country provides and establish a clean slate for Tennessee football. If the 2021 season brings more of the same, then that can be flushed as well.