Overheard at Neyland Stadium: “This is so sad. No bowl. Our streak has been broken.”
We now know Tennessee 2017 never was a bowl team. Not even close. The offensive line was a tragedy. Injuries were a factor. Quarterbacks did not play at a winning level. Receivers couldn’t break free from tight coverage. Defense gave up yards and points in record numbers.
The Butch Jones show was doomed from the start, but this mess certainly brought down the curtain.
What we now have is the end of an era. Better days are out there somewhere – we hope.
It is fitting that Vanderbilt is coming to help us celebrate. If there is a Southeastern Conference team that Tennessee might defeat, it is the Commodores.
Through the years, Vandy certainly has absorbed some hits. Robert R. Neyland accepted the Tennessee coaching job with direct orders to defeat Vanderbilt. Mission accomplished. Since the late 1920s, the Volunteers have dominated. They once won 22 in a row. They once won by 65-0.
Alas and alas, the proverbial worm turned during this recent Tennessee depression. Vanderbilt has prevailed in three of the past five meetings. With considerable ceremony, our neighbors even gave us the kneel-down play to avoid running up the score. There is no greater indignity.
In answer to a reader question, yes, these last nine years of Tennessee stumbles and falls have been the worst in my richly blessed lifetime. There have been other downs but no outs, nothing like this for extended disappointments.
There was a decline in the late years of Bowden Wyatt’s leadership. Bill Battle slipped when he ran short of players that Doug Dickey had recruited and developed.
It took John Majors longer than expected to get up to speed. One of his teams lost six in a row. The coach recovered to win 15 of the next 16.
On the Saturday after Phillip Fulmer was rudely dismissed, Tennessee players, confused and discouraged, fell to lowly Wyoming. If you are keeping score, Fulmer teams won a hundred more games than they lost.
Lane Kiffin signed some outlaws but might have succeeded had he chosen to stay. The guy can coach but I always suspected he was running just one step ahead of the NCAA sheriff.
Highlight of the Derek Dooley era was his soap-and-scrub session on how to take a shower. Runner-up was his choice of Dave Hart recommendation Sal Sunseri as defensive coordinator. That led to absolute carnage, 721 yards by Troy, most ever allowed by UT.
Ask Bob Shoop or Brady Hoke how Missouri broke that record.
The troublesome part of the Jones era was he didn’t realize when his team was deficient. Butch and Vol fans once celebrated an overtime victory over Appalachian State that was decided by a fumble recovered in the end zone. The football was four inches from total disaster.
If Butch had won more games and his teams had looked better doing it, some of his comments might have become sage sayings instead of snicker subjects. That plastic garbage can, properly bronzed, could have become a linebacker trophy instead of a national joke.
But, this was our Butch, the man who recruited well and negotiated significant raises and a contract extension and thought he deserved another. He became a multi-millionaire with a 14-23 record against SEC foes. Amazing.
As for the missing bowl game, pick one on TV to fill the void. There will be 40.
Marvin West invites reader reaction. His address is firstname.lastname@example.org