These sure are exciting times at Tennessee

Marvin Westwestwords

As old Vol Arian Foster once said, in plain, conversational Pterodactyl, “Veeeeek! Veeeeek! Veeeeek!”

Translation: These sure are exciting times.

Tennessee basketball is spending a king’s riches for consistent inconsistency, sometimes yes, sometimes no, delightful triumphs, shocking regression.

The game in the grass has a different formula: Pay even more for much less.

University management has embarked along an unexplored path on a far-out trip in the general direction of the football moon. Four layers of leadership are inexperienced in such travel. Circumstances are precarious. Even a trace of mud on anybody’s Nikes could add years to the forthcoming sentence.

Cost of getting from here to there, wherever there actually is, must not matter. The program that just a few weeks ago, under a previous administrator, was asking employees to endure pay cuts to combat the virus deficit, is now pouring many millions it does not have into a project with no end in sight.

“Veeeeek! Veeeeek! Veeeeek!”

If, by the grace of God, football succeeds, there won’t be enough streets to rename in honor of all the heroes. More and better bronze statues will be commissioned.

If the idea fails, just absorb the hit. We won’t be all that much worse off, just a few years older and deeper in debt. I don’t think the stadium name will change.

Interesting that nobody in an official capacity has explained the overall concept but here are some clues. It cost $2.5 million for permission to pay Dr. Danny White $1.8 million to guide this walk in the dark.

Efficiency did improve. Tennessee spent only $120,000 to locate a coach who had been working for White the past three years.

The only real difference in the exciting search for a defensive coordinator and the John Currie 2017 search for a head coach has been less noise. Tennessee’s current representatives have been sworn to secrecy during a quiet but very extensive shopping trip. Finding a coach they could buy has taken a while.

Three years guaranteed at a million and a half just wasn’t enough. That is understandable. This is a tough job.

Tennessee’s defense wasn’t very good last year. What should have been 2021 returnees are scattered. The best pass rusher was dismissed. In the wake of the internal investigation or the termination of Jeremy Pruitt, the two best linebackers ran for the transfer portal. The best defensive back decided it was time to go pro. The best defensive recruit seeks a release from his contract.

There is another complication. New coach Josh Heupel plays an up-tempo offense. The defense needs to match his scheme. Even if it gambles to get him the football, it will undoubtedly be on the field more than half the time. That guarantees the new coordinator extra opportunities to look bad.

“Veeeeek! Veeeeek! Veeeeek!”

Through it all, there is reason for limited optimism. This staff will likely help some players improve. The previous staff wasn’t much for development. The Vols are almost certain to be better on offense. It would be hard to be worse. Three defensive coaches will soon be certified. Old pro Rodney Garner was a good start.

Recruiting will be pivotal. It always is. The SEC is a war zone. Whether the Heupel approach can compete at the necessary level remains to be seen. The support group has some experience and a different outlook.

Even without a formal introduction from Dr. White, Chanelle Smith-Walker announced that, as the new director of content for Tennessee football, she will shape social media campaigns.

“I bring a different perspective … I’ll really be able to show how hard they work on and off the field … I am really excited to show the Black culture in college football at Tennessee and also really be able to humanize the players and give them a platform to use their voice.

“I’m a young Black female, so I’m able to connect with different audiences, especially players, recruits and their families … I’ll be able to stay up-to-date on what’s current and trendy from a recruiting standpoint.”

That may provide vital openings for Tennessee’s new door-to-door salesmen. It probably won’t help a lot this Friday – when the No.1 prospect in the state, quarterback Ty Simpson, class of 2022, announces his college plan.

It might take a miracle for Heupel to secure a commitment under the circumstances. The new coach has had so little time to catch up.

How much does Simpson matter? He is the highest-rated quarterback prospect ever in a Tennessee high school. All 14 SEC teams and assorted others, from Notre Dame to Ohio State to Texas to Southern Cal, have offered scholarships. Ty knows the game. His father is the football coach at UT-Martin.

If you want to place a bet, Alabama and Clemson are co-favorites.

“Veeeeek! Veeeeek! Veeeeek!” didn’t make a lot of sense 13 years ago. Pterodactyl is somewhat more logical today. These really are exciting times at Tennessee, a bit different but not dull.

I predict things will eventually calm down and may possibly get better.

Marvin West welcomes comments or questions from readers. His address is

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