Four years and 22 days ago, then Tennessee athletics director Mike Hamilton took a serious risk. Hamilton forced out the dean of Southeastern Conference coaches in Phillip Fulmer after his second losing season in a four-year span.
Then, just 27 days later, Hamilton brought in Lane Kiffin in what would prove to be one of the worst hires in Tennessee history. The Californian high tailed it just 402 days later for his “dream job” on the left coast.
At that time, with less than a month before National Signing Day and NCAA sanctions looming, Hamilton had very little to sell when hiring the next head coach, which reared its ugly head in the hiring process with multiple candidates turning away the Vol A.D.
Derek Dooley took over a program on Jan. 15, 2010, with a depleted roster, NCAA sanctions bearing down, an athletics director hanging on for dear life and a recruiting class that was ripped apart after the resignation of Kiffin. Not many coaches would have been interested in that house, credit Dooley for that if anything.
When Dooley took the wheel off the Big Orange Ship the vessel was leaky and tattered. Now, 1,046 days, three football seasons and 19 SEC losses later, Tennessee is arguably the best college football position available on the market.
Now, the finishing touches are being put on a 145,000-square foot football-training center. The roster is reinvigorated with talent to aid in the rebuilding process and the NCAA looks to be finished penalizing Tennessee for Kiffin's lawless tenure.
The roster is packed of names like A.J. Johnson, Curt Maggitt and Brian Randolph. Don’t forget a laundry list of contributors that include Marlin Lane Jr., Rajion Neal, Jacques Smith, Jordan Williams, Marlon Walls, James Stone, Marcus Jackson, Zach Fulton, Antonio Richardson, Alex Bullard, Corey Miller, Darrington Sentimore and more.
The next coach is walking into a smooth landscape on Rocky Top. In a lot of ways, Dooley did exactly what he was hired to do. He inflated the roster back to capacity, ran a clean program and shined things up for the next man to take it back to the top.
Tennessee was able to redshirt names like Nathan Peterman, Drae Bowles, Kenneth Bynum, Danny O’Brien, Justin Meredith, Alden Hill, LaTroy Lewis, Tino Thomas and George Bullock. The foundation has been set. Now, it is time to build back Rome, brick by brick.
|Names like Curt Maggitt provide an appealing depth chart to prospective coaches.|
Not only will the next head man walk into a revitalized roster, but he will also have at his disposal a replenished budget after Hart and chancellor Jimmy Cheek demonstrated their commitment to football by reinvesting an $18 million donation from athletics over the next three years from the academic side.
Sure, Tennessee is likely to see Tyler Bray, Justin Hunter, Cordarrelle Patterson and Ja’Wuan James all seek careers in the NFL ahead of schedule on top of losing seniors Dallas Thomas, Zach Rogers, Marsalis Teague, Prentiss Waggner, Ben Bartholomew, Herman Lathers, Willie Bohannon and Mychal Rivera, but how much is really expected of a first-year head coach in the SEC? Not much, especially with games at Florida, at Oregon, versus Georgia and Alabama on the schedule.
On top of aligned stars in Knoxville, there are always the constants. Sitting at 1600 Phillip Fulmer Way on the shores of the Tennessee River, in the shadow of the Smokey Mountains, like a beacon of light, is a 102,455-seat stadium that was bursting at the seams when the then No. 23 Vols fell to No. 18 Florida Sept. 15.
And by the way, do you have any idea how much further $5 million goes in Knoxville, Tenn., than elsewhere in this great country? No income tax. A cost of living 9.6-percent lower than the national average. You can’t lose.
Can someone please tell me what isn’t appealing about the head-coaching job at the University of Tennessee? If Dave Hart can’t land the big name that brings Tennessee football back to national prominence something has gone horribly wrong. Your move Mr. Hart.
Watch as Tennessee athletic director Dave Hart addressed the media Sunday, November 18: