Since the days when General Neyland patrolled the sidelines, Tennessee football has been a family business. Some were born into the family, rooting for Tennessee since the day they were born: Wyatt, Majors and Fulmer. Others were adopted into the family, or converted late in life: Peyton, Doug Dickey, or Neyland himself.
These people established roots here, and became linked to Tennessee by something’s stronger than football. They established the Tennessee family, and a winning culture that defined the program for decades upon decades.
In 2009 the family split up. Mom and dad’s marriage lost that special spark. Tennessee legend Phillip Fulmer posted his second losing season in four years and was fired the year after an appearance in the SEC championship game. Enter the step dad, Lane Kiffin. For the first time in over 30 years Tennessee football was being entrusted to an outsider, a mercenary.
Kiffin brought in a top notch staff. Monte Kiffin, his defensive coordinator is an NFL Hall of Famer. Eddie Gran, his running backs coach currently serves as Florida State’s offensive coordinator. Jim Chaney, Kiffin’s offensive coordinator, now holds the same position at title contender Georgia. And who could forget d-line coach Ed Ogeron, now the head man at LSU.
The mercenaries descended on UT, and took to rebuilding the hobbled program. But they didn’t rebuild it in the image of Neyland. USC highlights often played in the film room where tapes of Manning and Majors once repeated. Game Maxims were often forsaken or halfheartedly recited pregame.
These, and the mercenaries that followed them had the potential to be successful here. For one reason or another, none of them achieved that potential. However, success here never guaranteed them a spot “in the family”. Lane Kiffin could have won a lot of football games here and never truly been one of us. Butch Jones understood the inportance of our tradition, but was uncomfortable with the standard it carried with it. Derek Dooley…. well God bless Derek Dooley.
Tennessee has become a national punch line and a laughing stock. This week we found out no one else thinks we are as pretty as we think we are. We are a “tire fire” in the aftermath of the Schiano debacle. Now, more than ever, we need a favorite son at the helm.
David Cutcliffe was the man behind the curtain for most of Fulmer’s tenure. Fulmer is a legend in his own right, but there is a marked difference in his performance with (86-19) and without (66-33) Cutcliffe. Cutcliffe is currently experiencing modest success at Duke as head coach, a place where it’s nearly impossible to succeed in football. He recently lead Duke to its first 10 win season in history.
Tennessee native and alumn Jim Bob Cooter currently serves as offensive coordinator for the Detroit Lions. He is on track to become an NFL head coach by the time he turns 40.
Tee Martin, national champion and legendary volunteer quarterback, is the offensive coordinator for the highly ranked USC Trojans. He is considered one of the nation’s elite recruiters.
Kevin Steele is the defensive coordinator for the iron bowl champion Auburn Tigers. Previously he served as a coordinator in stints at LSU and Clemson. He played for and graduated from the University of Tennessee.
It was a mistake to ever let the leadership of Tennessee football get outside the family. David Cutcliffe should’ve been hired to replace both Kiffin and Dooley. It’s now a popular belief that firing coach Fulmer was a mistake altogether. The path forward is unclear, but what is clear is that it must be navigated by someone with orange blood in his veins.