November 27, 2011
Lexington, KY: The final hurdle for the Vols “Bowl or Bust” 2011 season rested in the state of Kentucky. The Vols coming off an emotional win against in-state rival Vanderbilt rolled into Lexington feeling, well, ambivalent.
Ambivalence: noun am-ˈbi-və-lən(t)s simultaneous and contradictory attitudes or feelings (as attraction and repulsion) toward an object, person, or action
The long hard season had finally come to an end. The 5-7 record could be improved to 6-7 and give the Vols a chance for another bowl appearance. Questions that began to rise during the season gained more traction throughout the media and uneasy Vol fans looked to the Kentucky game to exercise the 2011 demons or face the onslaught of negativity and numbness. Kentucky was considered the worst team in the SEC, just behind the Vols, and had recently lost their quarterback to injury. Rumors spread that offensive coordinator Randy Sanders began game planning to put one of their wide receivers, Matt Roark, in as Quarterback. Roark had not been QB or thrown a pass since his senior year in high school. Clearly Kentucky, without a seasoned QB and sporting a 4-7 record (1-6 in the SEC), this would be one of the few chances for the Vols to get things together and boost moral of the team and seniors, who finished their college career at Neyland with a win against the Commodores.
Quickly Vol fans watched as the same lackluster, inept, and unprepared Volunteers took the field against the Wildcats. Even as the Wildcats searched for positive offensive and defensive series, the Vols conducted the same search but appeared to be more lost than Vol fans imagined. By the 3rd quarter, that uneasy feeling sunk into a feeling Vol fans were praying they wouldn’t have to face. At the end of the game, Vol fans looked back and could only point to a couple plays that looked like the Vols of old. Both were pass plays from Tyler Bray to sophomore receiver Rajion Neal. One in particular put the Vols inside the 5 yard line giving them the best opportunity to score of the game. However, the opportunity quickly slipped away as a bad exchange in the “wildcat” formation left the Vols losing yards and coming up short for a touchdown.
Time suddenly slipping away in the 4th quarter it was obvious, Tennessee had lost this game. Not only letting the Kentucky Wildcats get their first win against the Vols in 26 years but also handing the Vol the first consecutive losing season since the 1910-1911 season. In case you were wondering, that’s 100 years! Vol fans searching for any adjective that could even closely represent what they were feeling. Disbelief, Exhaustion, Bewilderment lasted for a few hours before quickly souring into anger and bitterness. The local radio shows blew up with talk of Coach Dooley starting to feel the hot seat and reports of fractures in the locker room and star players being uninterested in their role on the team or team direction. Past discussions of team season miscues reignite revisiting Dooley and the team’s decision to not review the game film from Arkansas which was arguably the worst performance of the season by the Vols to the outrageous discussion of a large orange dog statue being carted around the practice field in order to motivate players by “feeding the orange dog”. All this culminates into the Vol fanbase knowing in their gut that something is seriously wrong with this entire program top to bottom.
Despite the horrible season just witnessed or considering the past 3 years of turmoil in the program, I still felt that the school did the right thing in letting Phillip Fulmer go. Clearly the decline had started on his watch and this year was the direction it was headed. Most of us can rationalize that crashes like this are unavoidable with any program and better to crash now and get it behind us rather than repeat the mediocre consistency with Fulmer. What I did not expect was to feel that we missed our chance of a quick recovery with Lane Kiffin. Dooley’s Vols just seem lost. A team who could find cohesion with a cement mixer truck of gorilla glue! An affliction not limited to the players but plaguing the coaching staff as well.
Questions about Dooley’s ability to rebuild the Vols have lost traction with a large portion of Vol fans. Dooley seems more equipped as a team manager for baseball than a Head Coach for a football team. What is certain is that Dooley has cashed in all his “this team is so young” rhetoric, Vol fans have had enough. We knew the team was young and inexperienced but we didn’t know the coaching staff was worse! Personally having seen any sort of progression during the year would of kept me calm despite a dismal record. Vol fans saw massive digression which can’t be explained to our satisfaction. They have now witnessed, what once was the pride of the SEC, sink into the depths of SEC hell.
Can 2012 fix it? I would say that if Dooley and the team doesn’t show major progression and maturity in season 3, then it will be time to newly hired AD Dave Hart to quit the bleeding, purge the program, and make sure the next hire isn’t #15 on the list of available coaches. Tennessee deserves better!