Tennessee coach Jeremy Pruitt became a punchline last week when he likened his Volunteers to mice racing to the top of the Titanic.
While SEC fans outside of Knoxville smirked with schadenfreude, the comparison isn’t fair.
Hasn’t the poor boat suffered enough?
At least the Titanic sank because of one big blunder, which the captain couldn’t have scouted on film. The Vols have spent most of the last decade capsized; their 1-2 record entering Saturday’s game at No. 9 Florida is just the latest instance of a program fighting to stay afloat.
“It’s been such a dumpster fire for so long,” CBS announcer Brad Nessler said.
It’s been a dumpster fire largely because Tennessee hasn’t hired the right men to put it out.
Lane Kiffin went 7-6 in his only season and has failed to live up to his wunderkind hype at any of his other head coaching stops. But Kiffin, unlike Tennessee’s last three hires, was at least one of the school’s top choices.
“Every other choice was at least the fourth or fifth choice —maybe worse than that,” said WNML radio host Jimmy Hyams, who’s been covering the Vols since 1985.
Kiffin’s replacement, Derek Dooley, was down the list. He was coming off a 4-8 season at Louisiana Tech when Tennessee hired him in 2010; he never had a winning record in his three seasons in Knoxville.
Hyams said Dooley’s replacement, Butch Jones, was a fallback after the Vols unsuccessfully chased former Bucs coach Jon Gruden.
“They have tried to get expensive coaches,” Hyams said. “They just haven’t been able to get them.”
Including two years ago with the biggest debacle of them all.
Tennessee went after some respected names to replace Jones and his 34-27 record. Dan Mullen. Mike Gundy. Jeff Brohm. The Vols were set to hire former Bucs coach Greg Schiano before a social media firestorm caused that move to flame out and Tennessee to choose Pruitt, a first-time head coach.
“I don’t know how good of a job (Schiano) would have done,” Hyams said. “I don’t know how much different they would be.”
That’s because Tennessee has had more issues than just the head coach. It’s hard to fix a program when you fire your athletic director during a coaching search.
“You make wrong decisions at the top all the way from the athletic director down to the head coach, who you hire as assistant coaches…” CBS analyst Gary Danielson said.
Those wrong choices filter down to more wrong choices, about which players to recruit and how to develop them.
The Vols had at least one player drafted every year from 1964-2014 … but haven’t had one picked in three of the last five years. Tennessee’s last four recruiting classes have ranked 14th, 17th, 21st and 13th, yet the Vols aren’t even living up to those so-so rankings, as shown by their inexcusable Week 1 home loss to Georgia State.
That leads Hyams and Danielson to an obvious but sobering conclusion.
“It’s not tactics,” Danielson said. “The reason they’re losing, for the most part, is they’re just not good enough.”
A proud program with a pair of national titles just isn’t good enough to beat Georgia State and BYU.
Now that’s a titanic failure.