Crossville Chronicle, Crossville, TN

Sports Columns

December 1, 2011

ROCKY TOP BEAT: Kentucky loss sent Vols to bottom of SEC East

CROSSVILLE — I imagine about all the negative comments have been said by now following the lethargic performance by the Vols last weekend against Kentucky that sent Tennessee to the bottom of the SEC East.

Thanks to another program in disarray at Ole Miss, the Vols are not the worse team in the SEC; just the second worse. 

It would be real easy to write this column by piling on the team and the coaching staff like others have done this week. Yes, this team did not improve this season over last and the coaching staff made some questionable decisions along the way. There are plenty of questions surrounding the future of UT football but it will take another year with healthy players and a deeper depth chart to see if Derek Dooley and his staff are part of the solution or part of the problem. 

The situation the Big Orange Nation has suffered through was not entirely of Coach Dooley’s making. He is dealing with the fallout from the prior AD’s firings and hirings.

Coach Dooley is not without his faults, namely his negativity. If players continually hear that they are not a very good team, they are thin and young on the depth chart, before long they will perform to that level. Fans are paying a very high price for change! 

In the meantime, Vol fans hope that senior Malik Jackson’s assessment of the program being good next season is correct. I would expect there will be repercussions for the way this season played out. Certainly a few changes in the coaching staff would not surprise anyone.

If any of the reports of the underclassmen’s attitudes at Kentucky have validity, there could be some movement within the depth charts by spring. 

No matter how bad this year was, the Vols have a chance to turn it around and start the upward climb from the bottom of the SEC East with a solid group of returning players. One would also think that without significant improvement in the record and coaching decisions, things could get interesting by this time next year.

Coach Dooley, I am sure, knows he is now on the clock and the new AD is the time keeper. 

Back in September, who would have thought that an SEC team from Tennessee going to a bowl game would be named, Vanderbilt? At least the Vols didn’t add to the humiliation in November by losing that game, too. I hope Jim Butler gets to go to whatever destination Vandy ends up at. Unlike 2005, they might actually get to leave Nashville for their bowl appearance. 

If things weren’t already rocky on Rocky Top, the Lady Vols dropped two games last week.

First, an inspired Virginia team that took advantage of Vicki Baugh’s absence to upset the Lady Vols.

Then, #1 Baylor ruined a season’s best performance by Pat Summitt’s team last Sunday when they pulled away late, 76-67.  I have a feeling these two teams will see each other again – probably around April in Colorado. 

The men returned to action in the mainland after playing hard in Maui. They traveled to Oakland up in Michigan where they fell 89-81. The Vols had trouble containing Oakland’s senior guard, Reggie Hamilton, who lit them up for 35 points and led the Golden Grizzlies to their second victory over the Vols in two years. 

The Lady Vols got back in the win column Tuesday night when they easily handled MTSU in Knoxville. They return to action Sunday at 1 p.m. CST when Texas comes in for an early afternoon contest.

The Vols continue with their difficult schedule when they entertain No. 17 Pitt Saturday, which will be carried by ESPN at 4:15 p.m. CST. A home crowd and the same effort they had in Maui might just carry them to an upset win! 

It will be different around Tennessee as bowl season gears up this month. Not having a bowl game to build towards brings back visions of that 2008 season that started this whole mess.

Vol fans everywhere hope that Dooley was right when he said that this situation had hit rock bottom. I for one don’t even want to think about the heart aches ahead for the Big Orange Nation if we are in for more of the same.  Go Vols and Lady Vols!!!

(Frank Gale is a Chronicle correspondent and his column appears regularly.)

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