Struggling Volunteers can still pose problem for Gators

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Tennessee head coach Jeremy Pruitt. (AP Photo/Wade Payne)

Lamical Perine was correct back in July at SEC Media Days.

Florida-Tennessee a rivalry game?

Doesn’t feel like it.

Doesn’t feel like Tennessee has any rivalry games.

Alabama? Don’t make me laugh. Vandy has owned the Vols the last three years. And Florida?

“I wouldn’t say it’s a rivalry,” the Florida running back said in Hoover, Ala. “It’s just another game.”

That may fire up Big Orange fans. Probably not. They seem resigned to their fate.

Once proud Tennessee, the team that won a national title in 1998 and competed at an elite level in the 1990s and into the next decade has averaged 2.5 SEC wins a season over the last 11 years.

The Vols have seven losing seasons in the last 11 and a 1-2 start with a lone win over Chattanooga doesn’t make anyone think it’s going to be better this year.

Tennessee has become Vanderbilt with bigger crowds and angrier fans.

I used to call Tennessee the Kardashians when coach Butch Jones and his turnover trash can were on the sidelines. You know, they looked good, but never did anything.

Now, it’s more like they are Cousin Eddie from “Christmas Vacation” and Smokey has changed his name to Snot. The Vols don’t look good at all and are pumping the contents of an overflowing septic tank into the Tennessee River.

On Monday, Dan Mullen said the Vols “have good players” and they do have some. Not enough, but some. And any team is dangerous when it is going up against a quarterback making his first start since he was a high school freshman.

And don’t forget, Tennessee won at Auburn last year and handled a Kentucky team that beat Florida as well. So there’s that.

I am not dumb enough (despite some of your emails) to think this Florida team can roll the ball out there and win the game.

This is more about what happened and how it happened to a program that used to be relevant.

Matt Hayes of Bleacher Report wrote a column at Media Days about how he felt Tennessee would never be elite again. Heck, at this point, Tennessee fans would love to just go back to being the butt of Steve Spurrier’s jokes.

It all started going downhill in 2001 after the Vols came to Gainesville and stunned Florida. All they had to do was beat LSU, which lost its quarterback in the SEC title game, and Tennessee would be playing for a second national title in four years.

But the Vols couldn’t stop the quarterback draw, lost that game and ended up in the Citrus Bowl. How UT fans pine for the days of that bowl game.

Nothing was ever the same after that loss. The slow decline did include a pair of appearances in Atlanta that did not end well. But coach Phil Fulmer’s second losing season in 2008 sealed his fate.

Recruiting had fallen off. The fans had seen the mountaintop and wanted a return trip.

“Fulmer was driving the program into the ground,” said John Adams, the longtime columnist for the Knoxville News Sentinel.

What happened after Fulmer was let go was a series of mistakes when it came to hiring coaches.

Lane Kiffin seemed to get the negative momentum halted for a season — in part because of risky recruiting that eventually backfired — but bolted for Southern Cal after a year. (Kiffin is the only coach since Fulmer who was actually Tennessee’s first choice, which says a lot)

Then came the Derek Dooley Era, a hire that made no sense, except that nobody else wanted the job. Tennessee was damaged goods and Dooley left it in even more disrepair (five SEC wins in three seasons).

Of course, he was followed by the Amway salesman Butch Jones and his Champions of Life. Jones actually won nine games twice, but was fired after going winless in the conference in 2017.

Now, it’s Jeremy Pruitt. He was Fulmer’s choice in part because the coaching search had been botched from the start.

Think about this. If Chip Kelly takes the Florida job, Mullen could well be coaching at Tennessee. And think about how different things would likely be at both schools.

On second thought, don’t think about that. You’ll wake up in a cold sweat screaming.

OK, think about this. Mike Leach could be Tennessee’s coach. I’m not sure he could have won big there, but he would have won.

Instead of fantasy, we have reality. The reality is that since the SEC went to 14 teams in 2012, Tennessee ranks tied for 11th with Kentucky in conference victories with 17 (tied for 12th if you count Mississippi’s vacated wins).

Of course, Tennessee, as Florida linebacker David Reese said, is “looking to ruin our season.”

The Vols have already ruined enough of their own.

— Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at pat.dooley@gvillesun.com. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.

5 COMMENTS

  1. Tennessee crawls into the Swamp like a wounded animal. Even if that animal is only a dog, it’s still dangerous and the Gators shouldn’t fool with it. A slow start, as we’ve seen in every game so far this season is NOT advisable. Better to come out loaded for bear and put this “dog” out of its misery early, like they did last year in Knoxville.

    It’ll be interesting to see if CDM has Trask come out slinging the rock downfield to loosen up the Vols’ LBs and safeties and open up some running lanes between and around their weak DL. Here’s to hoping he does.

    GO GATORS!!!

  2. “Tennessee has become Vanderbilt with bigger crowds and angrier fans.” LOL

    The curse of Fulmer. I am intrigued by the assertion that ““Fulmer was driving the program into the ground.” Can anyone provide a link to that article. It was more fun when UT was relevant. The Peyton Manning years were some of the best.

  3. Just a side note. I lived in Las Vegas for 10 years. My friends who still live there said the sportsbooks took a bath on the Florida/Kentucky game. Line opened Fla. -7 and closed at Fla. – 9.5. Those who bet Florida early covered and those who bet Kentucky later also covered. That 76 yd. TD run just burned all the bookies and sent all the Gator and Kentucky backers to the cashier’s window. The bookies were not happy with that final TD. But that’s football.