Tennessee's 2009 season may not be overflowing with promise ... but at least it's not 2008 anymore. After a discouraging performance that resulted in a 5-7 record and a coaching change, the Vols are getting a fresh start with a new head man, new assistants and a new scheme in '09.
Considering what a bad taste '08 left in their mouths, UT's players seem relieved that most remnants of that disaster are gone.
“It's nice to have a fresh start after a season like that,” junior quarterback Nick Stephens said. “I'm not blaming anybody for what happened but it's nice to have a fresh start with all of this new energy. It's picked us up a lot, and I think it's going to carry us through the spring and help us out a lot.”
Coming off a poor season, most teams remember the bad times and use them as motivation. With a new staff in place, the 2009 Vols have the luxury of forgetting about last fall.
“Obviously, we feel like we have to redeem ourselves from last year,” Stephens said. “But right now we're just concentrating on getting better. We know we have the talent here and we need to find our identity early, so we can start building on that. Once we find that and start getting into a rhythm, I think we'll be fine.”
To help sever ties with 2008, new head coach Lane Kiffin wanted to make an immediate statement. Toward that end, he ordered the Vols through a rigorous offseason conditioning program and announced that all starting jobs were wide open.
“We had an unbelievable offseason,” Stephens recalled, adding that new strength coach Mark Smith “worked us extremely hard, and we're ready to go this spring. We're ready to get back on the field and get this offense rolling.”
Rising junior tight end Luke Stocker also believes the arrival of a new staff and a new attitude has invigorated the team.
“I think the intensity was raised,” he said. “It may be because of the new coaching staff and the fact there is no depth chart. That puts the door wide open for everybody. Everybody has the opportunity there for them. That raised the bar and raised the intensity that much more.”
Rising junior linebacker Nick Reveiz believes the fact the new staffers are so animated and energetic has helped keep the Vols looking ahead to '09 instead of looking back on '08.
“From Day 1 a lot of us felt a lot of excitement from new things and change,” he said. “Everyone's been real excited to get on the field and work with these coaches. When we first got to talk to these coaches, it was exciting.
“Monte Kiffin was jumping around and screaming. It was fun to see that. It gets you hyped up and ready to play for the guy.”