BY JIM STEELE
Last week, we learned that former Central Florida head coach Josh Heupel was picked by former Central Florida athletics director Danny White, current AD (Athletic Director) at Tennessee, to replace Jeremy Pruitt as the Vols’ new football coach.
Pause for the collective sigh from Big Orange Nation.
Some people cursed the hire. Others admonished Tennessee fans to stay positive and support this new coach, who has a colossal rebuilding task ahead of him, perhaps too cumbersome.
The reality is that this is who you have. It was never going to get any better than this. Those who pined for Lane Kiffin, curiously, and craved Hugh Freeze, were sorely disappointed. Some silly folks thought UT should have reeled in Gus Malzahn. Former Texas coach Tom Herman seemed to be a palatable option, but he, like Malzahn, is too busy counting his millions. Why put up with the headaches?
The reality is that the Tennessee football job isn’t what it once was. From the mid-1980s to the late 1990s, the Vols were a formidable contender almost every year and always listed in the Top 25 at season’s end. Often, Tennessee landed in the Top 10. Those times have since past, relegated to a pinpoint in the rear-view mirror.
Why is this? Malfeasance at the top. There has been vapid leadership from the administration, all the way down to the coaching position. Just count up the number of presidents, chancellors and athletic directors Tennessee has had over the last decade-and-a-half.
Then, count up how many coaches Tennessee has had, not just in football, but baseball and basketball in that time.
With that lack of stability and stewardship, who in their right mind would want to come to Knoxville?
Do Tennessee fans stick a fork in it? Not at all. Most all programs go through a nadir, but Tennessee’s is cataclysmic. Alabama suffered through a similar plight with numerous coaches, losing records and even NCAA probation … twice! Look at Nebraska and Florida State. Once perennial national champion contenders, their days of relevancy have long since been dormant. Alabama turned it around. So too will Nebraska, Florida State … and Tennessee.
Regarding Heupel, this is who you have and this is as good as it was going to get. Tennessee fans had best hope and pray that this new coach has a modicum of success.
If not, we’ll be back here in another two or three years to replace a football coach and possibly an AD. Tennessee really needed a home-run hire.
Because of the state of disrepair the athletic department is in, this was a head-first slide double that barely beat the tag.
Editor’s note: Jim Steele is a correspondent for Magic Valley Publishing and the host of The Pressbox, which airs 4-6 p.m., Monday-Thursday on WRJB, 95.9 FM Camden.