By Frank Gale
When you cover UT sports, you never know what is going to happen next. The past two weeks were no exception as they were filled with "the good, the bad and the ugly."
Some of the good were the Orange/White game with a different format and terrific attendance by the Big Orange Nation.
The bad was when we learned that Neyland Stadium public address announcer Bobby Denton passed away after a short illness.
The ugly — well we all know that involved basketball coach Cuonzo Martin parting ways with the University of Tennessee and the players he recruited.
The annual Orange/White Game was played in front of an announced crowd of more than 68,000 Vol fans last Saturday on a picture perfect afternoon. Coach Butch Jones' decision to use a different format throughout the afternoon proved to be one of the more entertaining scrimmages in years. The skills competition before such a large crowd gave the position coaches plenty to contemplate between now and the start of fall camp in August.
The quarterback situation is in limbo with the coaches taking the entire spring practices into consideration and not just one scrimmage. It appeared that the time spent as starters last fall clearly helped Justin Worley and Joshua Dobbs on this particular afternoon. As for Riley Ferguson, a great spring did not translate into a great performance in this scrimmage.
Coach Jones stated that the competition for starting quarterback will not be settled until sometime after they start the fall practices. Keeping Utah State guessing is not a bad thing!
There were others who made an impression, like freshman tailback Jalen Hurd, who showed why he was highly recruited before he chose to come to Rocky Top. He will be a difference maker for this team going forward into the fall. Add receiver Josh Malone to the list of offensive playmakers for next season with big play ability that should make this offense exciting to watch.
One positive for fans is that the overall talent and speed has improved for next season. While there is still a ton of work yet to done, the foundation is being put into place. As Butch likes to say, "Brick by brick!"
The bad from the scrimmage belonged to a defense which had many of the same problems we saw last season. Poor tackling, linebackers a step too slow when they had to pursue laterally, and a secondary that did little to raise optimism. That side of the ball will need a lot of help from those not in the spring game or on campus yet. The good news —most of the remaining new players coming in for the fall semester are on the defensive side of the ball. The bad news — only a few are mature enough to play right away.
This fall, the absence of Bobby Denton's voice will certainly be missed at Neyland Stadium. Many fans were not around for the transition of the public address from John Ward to Bobby in the late 60s. Bobby was not just a fixture at Neyland Stadium, but he also made yearly treks to Lake Tansi for the Johnny Major's Invitational. His ties to the local community spans many decades, and he will be missed by those of us who knew him.
Then there was the ugly this past week when Cuonzo Martin left for a job at the University of California taking with him the much needed seven-foot center recruit that would have made next year's Vols better. That might have been one of the fastest commitments and de-commitments seen in some time. His hasty exit also brought to the forefront again all the negativity that surfaced during the season. Hopefully, that can all be put to rest soon.
Now, Dave Hart will be looking for a new basketball coach that can continue to rebuild the program and unite the fan base. This will be the fourth basketball head coach in the past decade. Add to that four head coaches for the football program during the same time, and it is not hard to see why UT's two major sports are becoming the talk of the country.
The week started on a good note with the second largest crowd for an Orange/White game which left fans with cautious optimism for the future. The imminent change in leadership for the basketball program should not dampen those spirits. It is simply an opportunity for Athletic Director Dave Hart to put a coach in place who will build on the recent post season run to the Sweet Sixteen and take the program to new heights.
The new coach will be here soon and things should start to get back to normal. Just like Coach Jones has started to stabilize the football program, that too will happen for the basketball Vols going forward. The good news — it is faster to rebuild a basketball program with the right leadership. I have no doubt that Dave Hart will find that right coach. Go Vols and Lady Vols!!
(Frank Gale is a Chronicle correspondent and his column appears regularly)