Is the Momentum Changing in Knoxville?
You know the feeling. Over the past handful of years (ok maybe decade), when something positive happens for the University of Tennessee's athletic program, you almost cringe. Not because you aren't excited for the big win/commitment... No, you cringe because you have been conditioned as a fan to expect a major catastrophe in the near future.
Have one of the hottest coaches in basketball bringing in one of the best recruiting classes in basketball (and likely Tennessee history)? Fired for an illegal barbecue.
Take a loaded offense down to Gainesville to finally beat the Gators? Justin Hunter blows a knee early.
Finish SEC play 9-2 to cap off a 2nd place finish in the SEC? Lose your opening game to Ole Freaking Miss.... and miss the big dance
Kiffin bails for USC. Have an opportunity to hire Kevin Sumlin? We hire arguably the worst coach in the history of SEC football. Thanks, Mike.
Hire Jay Graham. Jay Graham preaches VFL, how he loves the University, he is "finally home?" That slow son of a bitch leaves for Florida State to reunite with Randy Sanders. (thanks for all of the RB recruits, Jay).
You get the point.
That being said, for the first time in years, the vibe around Tennessee is a positive one. One step further, the national perception, media as well as recruits, seems to be one that is catching fire as well.
And get this... it is happening in BOTH football and basketball.
Cuonzo Martin has taken a team without its best player (Jeronne Maymon), won 8 of its last 9, and is in great position to make the NCAA Tournament (and perhaps make a little noise). Adding to that, Vols junior swingman Jordan McRae is picked my many national analysts to win SEC Player of the Year. This, in addition to Maymon's return as well as the arrival of highly touted Robert Hubbs, have most expecting a serious run in 2014.
As for football, where do you even start? Jones inherited a very shaky recruiting class and, in very short time, finished in the top 25... Something most analysts didn't think could be done. As for 2014, Jones picked up a couple of huge commitments this week (Todd Kelly Jr and Neiko Creamer), with rumors of more to come soon.
But it's not just the recruits, it is the entire culture. Look around this team, and none of it resembles the mediocre at best effort given by their previous leader. Jones preaches tradition, team unity, and taking pride in wearing the orange. Jones makes players learn about every great Vol who has worn their number. Jones and his staff are incredibly visible in the social media. These types of things pay off, and pay off quickly.
And the current players? Glance at their Twitter pages. If it isn't Tiny Richardson tweeting about how they love the coaching staff, it's Byron Moore tweeting potential recruits in an attempt to help get them to Knoxville. If it isn't Pig Howard talking about the increased intensity of practice, Jawuan James talking about the night and day difference in the weight room.
As for the biggest difference to me? It is Butch Jones' opening of the facility for former player to interact with the team.... Something Derek Dooley virtually refused to do.
And the payoff? How about 50 former players attending the first spring practice?
Yes, I believe the times are finally changing.