Forget it Jake, it’s Knoxville

 

jake 2

 

Roman Polanski’s Chinatown is my favorite movie of all time. It is simply Jack Nicholson at his very best. It’s a tale of intrigue and corruption, about one man’s slowly eroding faith in justice, particularly in the Chinatown neighborhood of Los Angeles. At the film’s climax, Jake (Jack Nicholson) watches helplessly as yet another miscarriage of justice is perpetrated against someone whom he loves in Chinatown. Jack, moon faced and bewildered, hopelessly moves in vain to try and save her when a friend stops him saying, “Forget it Jake. It’s Chinatown.”

In Chinatown, the rules and norms that govern the rest of the world seem not to apply. Nothing makes sense, and fairness is a foreign concept. A feeling of helplessness pervades the air. Last week as I watched former Tennessee megaflop Justin Coleman scoop and score on a Minnesota Viking fumble, sealing the Seattle Seahawk’s playoff hopes, I couldn’t help but compare the fictitious Chinatown with the real live Knoxville, Tennessee. How many players and coaches have come through Tennessee in the last decade that have been successful both before and after their times here, but only found failure on The Hill? Is there some sort of curse over our town, some black cloud of misfortune that diminishes the athletic talent of those to whom we entrust our football team?I decided to do some research on this matter, and came up with the following list of the top ten players/coaches to have success outside Knoxville, but fail miserably while here.

 

10. Tyson Helton

 

Before Tennessee:

Long before the latest maligned Vols playcaller dawned the orange visor, he was the offensive coordinator for Jeff Brohm’s Western Kentucky Hilltoppers. In two seasons at WKU, Helton’s units both ranked in the top 5 in total offense. Some will say that is due to the coaching prowess of Jeff Brohm, but that remains to be seen, as both struggled this year. Ranking in the top 5 is hard anywhere, much less at WKU.

At Tennessee:

In case you missed it, Tennessee’s offense flat out sucked this year under Helton’s tutelage. How much of that was on him, and how much was due to an inhereted junior college quality offensive line? We may never know. What we do know is that Helton has had three seasons as the head man of an offensive unit. In the two before he was at Tennessee, he ranked in the top 5. At Tennessee he ranked 124th. Helton would rank higher on this list, but there is so much uncertainty surrounding the reasons for his failure. Is he a true bust, and was his early success all due to Brohm, or was he hamstrung by Pruitt and insurmountable talent deficiencies? Time will tell.

 

9. Jason Croom

 

 

At Tennessee:

In his 5 years on Rocky Top, Croom played for 2 head coaches, tried out 2 different positions, recorded less than 1,000 total yards, and scored just 6 touchdowns. He was clearly a physical freak, a rare combination of size, speed, and vertical ability. He could do everything but get open and catch the dang ball. Injuries often kept him off the field, and when he was out there, one got the sense his potential was not quite being realized.

After Tennessee: 

Croom just completed his first season in the NFL. He recorded more catches for the Buffalo Bills (THE BUFFALO BILLS) than he did in any season at Tennessee. He established himself as a legit red zone threat as the year waned on, scoring a couple of touchdowns as well. Croom probably won’t ever make a Pro-Bowl, but the shear fact that a guy who backed up a true freshman Ethan Wolf, and never was a factor for Tennessee is seeing significant minutes in the NFL is astounding.

 

8. Nathan Peterman

 

 

At Tennessee: 

Ouchie. Nathan Peterman will never be forgotten by Tennessee fans, and not for good reason. His sequences against the Gators in 2013 were absolutely excruciating. His inability to hold on to the football cost the Vols their first win over Florida in a decade. At Tennessee, Peterman made nine appearances with fewer than 100 career yards from scrimmage. He had 4 turnovers and not a single touchdown. He was the worst starting quarterback in our history (you’re welcome, Nick Stephens).

After Tennessee:

Everyone remembers Peterman’s historic meltdowns with the Bills this year. He might be a worse Bill’s quarterback than he was a Tennessee quarterback, but that’s the very point. He IS a Bills quarterback. The same guy who couldn’t catch a snap against Florida actually started games in the NFL this season. He did this because his two years at Pittsburg were good enough to get him drafted. At Pitt, he lead the ACC in passing efficiency and scored over 50 touchdowns in his 2 years. One might say this was do to a higher level of coaching at Pitt, but again that’s the point. He had the ability to be a serviceable SEC quarterback, but for some reason that ability was wasted in Knoxville.

 

7. Justin Coleman

 

 

At Tennessee:

Justin Coleman is one of the most frustrating players I can remember watching in all my time as a Vol fan. In his four years here, it seemed that any time the opposing quarterback threw it deep against Coleman it was a guaranteed touchdown. He was awful, and still apparently the best guy we had at the corner position. It always looked as if he was running with cinderblock shoes, and he cost us some big games late by getting burned deep. He was the most frustrating in a long line of frustrating Vols corners.

After Tennessee:

Imagine my surprise when Justin Coleman, Mr. Cinderblock Shoes, posted a 4.5 40-yard dash at the NFL combine. That’s not blazing fast by NFL standards, but it’s a whole lot faster than he ever looked in orange. My surprise doubled when he contributed to a Super Bowl with the New England Patriots. For 4 seasons, Coleman has been a starter or major contributor with the Patriots and Seahawks, two teams renowned for their defensive prowesses. I’d have bet my house in 2014 that Coleman would never make an NFL roster.

6. Preston Williams

 

At Tennessee:

Preston Williams was one of Butch Jones’ now resented high profile 5 star signees. He was surrounded by an enormous amount of hype and expectation. That fell flat. In two seasons for the Vols Williams scored only 2 touchdowns, and recorded fewer than 300 total receiving yards. On top of that, he actually got minutes while recording those awful numbers. He was on the field just taking up space. Williams transferred to Colorado State following his sophomore season.

After Tennessee:

Williams absolutely tore it up in 2018, his lone season at Colorado State. He now ranks second all-time for Colorado state in: single season receiving yards, single season receiving touchdowns, and single game receiving yards. In December, he announced his intentions to declare early for the NFL Draft. He is regarded by many as one of the top receiver prospects in the draft.

 

5. Jim Chaney/Justin Wilcox

 

 

At Tennessee:

From 2010-2011 Jim Chaney and Justin Wilcox served as the offensive and defensive coordinators under head coach Derek Dooley. Chaney and Wilcox are great coaches. In many instances, they were great coaches at Tennessee. Chaney’s 2012 offense is one of the most potent in Tennessee history. Wilcox’s defenses were good enough to win, and after he left, Sal Sunseri showed Vol fans just how difficult his job was. But they didn’t win. Together they presided over what was at that time our worst two year stretch in program history. We had some talent. We were well coached. We just couldn’t win.

After Tennessee:

Chaney has had two gigs since leaving Tennessee, at Arkansas and Georgia. He did well enough at Arkansas, and is dominating at uber talented and now perennial title contender Georgia. Last year he coached a true freshman quarterback to the national title game. Wilcox has been successful in stints at Washington, USC, and Wisconsin. Last year he left Wisconsin to become the head coach of the Cal Golden Bears. With these two men at the helm, it’s nearly unfathomable that Tennessee posted back to back losing records. Unfathomable, that is, until you remember Derek Dooley was the head coach.

 

4. Dave Clawson

 

 

Before Tennessee:

Before he was the man who partially cost legend Phillip Fulmer his job, Dave Clawson was the head coach of the Richmond Spiders. He was a phenom at the FCS level, implementing the now widely used run-pass option before nearly anyone else in football. He was 2 time FCS national coach of the year at Richmond.

At Tennessee:

In 2008 Tennessee had a solid defense, anchored by legend Eric Berry and 1st round draft pick Robert Ayers. Also in 2008, Tennessee posted a 5-7 record, lost to Wyoming, and fired Phillip Fulmer. This was due to the horrendous offensive unit led by coordinator Dave Clawson. For whatever reason, Clawson’s innovative offense did not meld with what coach Fulmer wanted to do. What resulted was the worst offense in Vols history (prior to 2018). Clawson’s Vols started three different quarterbacks, and ranked 116th in total offense.

After Tennessee:

Since he left Tennessee, Clawson has served as head coach at perennial losers Bowling Green and Wake Forrest. Clawson turned both programs around in short order, qualifying for 5 bowl games, upsetting ranked opponents, and even winning a conference title with Bowling Green. He is still running his RPO based offense, only now the rest of the country is too. His 4 bowl games in 4 years at Wake is an unprecedented era of success for the traditional academic power.

 

3. Alvin Kamara*

 

 

At Tennessee: 

At Tennessee, Alvin Kamara’s enormous talent was evident to everyone. Everyone that is, except Butch Jones and Mike DeBord. Kamara was a man among boys, and maybe the best back in the SEC during his time on the Hill. The only issue was, he didn’t get the touches he deserved. He played behind the disgraced Jalen Hurd, until Hurd quit the team midseason in 2016. At Tennessee, Kamara never rushed for more than 700 yards in a season, or even had a season with 1,000 plus yards from scrimmage.

After Tennessee:

The rest is history. In almost 2 full NFL seasons, Kamara has 31 touchdowns and counting. He was 2017’s offensive Rookie of the Year. He’s already a pro-bowler, and a bonafide stud. He is one of the NFL’s brightest young stars, and the standard bearer for the Vol’s program in the NFL.

 

2. Bob Shoop

 

 

Before Tennessee:

Bob Shoop burst onto the scene as the nation’s hottest defensive coordinator with James Franklin’s Vanderbilt teams. Shoop’s units posted top 26 defenses in each of his three years at national doormat Vanderbilt. It’s doubtful that anyone else has ever done that at Vandy, and even more doubtful than anyone else ever will. Shoop followed Franklin to Penn State, where his defenses ranked 15th and 2nd nationally in 2 seasons. In 5 seasons at Vandy and Penn State, Shoop never coached a defense ranked worse than 26th.

At Tennessee:

Butch Jones paid the big bucks to get Shoop to Knoxville, and then wasted him. Shoop was horrible in 2 years for the Vols. How and why no one may ever know. It’s hard to accept that he had significantly less talent at Vanderbilt, yet his defenses were vastly superior to those he coached at Tennessee just 2 years later, in the same division mind you. Shoop’s defenses at Tennessee ranked 79th and 107th. Just what exactly Butch Jones did to mess this one up may never fully come to light.

After Tennessee:

In 2018 Bob Shoop went back to doing what Bob Shoop does best; beating your team with inferior talent. His defense at Mississippi State ranked 4th nationally. Bob Shoop is set for a long and successful career in coaching. Tennessee was just a pothole on his road to the top.

 

1. Arian Foster

 

 

At Tennessee:

Arian Foster and Vol nation have a love hate relationship. He scored and he fumbled. He won big and he lost big. He approached the all-time rush record, and he told ESPN that coach Fulmer illegally bought him tacos. Foster was a good to decent back at Tennessee. He ranks second on UT’s all-time rush list, but that’s largely due to the longevity of his career and the bulk of his carries. He had one good season, recording 1,100 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2007. After an abysmal senior season, he went undrafted in the 2009 NFL Draft.

After Tennessee:

What ensued after the Houston Texans signed foster as an undrafted free agent was beyond belief for Vol Nation. Foster quickly became one of the top backs in the league, and looked to be on his way to the Hall of Fame. In only three complete seasons in a 5 year career, Foster racked up 4 Pro Bowl appearances, and one 1st Team All-Pro honor. In 2010, two years removed from his abysmal senior season at Tennessee, Foster led the National Football League in rushing yards. Had he stayed healthy and been able to play for a few more years, he would be a lock for the Hall of Fame.

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