The last two words any football fan wants to hear from the athletic department or coaching staff is, “We’re rebuilding”. The very thought of the first syllable of the word rebuilding hitting a diehard football fan’s ear drums is enough to make one’s skin crawl. However, this is the current state for the great fan base of Tennessee.
The first year under head coach Butch Jones was met with optimism after his predecessors, Derek Dooley and Lane Kiffin, tried their hardest to bring down the program which has more than 800 wins on its resume. All the optimism in the world still can’t make up for a lack of talent throughout the roster and ugly quarterback play.
After two painful losses to Oregon and Florida in the past two weeks to drop the Vols to 2-2 on the season, some in the fan base is starting to lose faith in the direction of the program. To them, I would say Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither will the Tennessee football program.
As a lifelong fan of the Chicago Cubs, I am well versed in the art of the rebuild, and the most important thing needed from the fan base is patience. Granted I know how difficult it can be to be patient, especially when the program hasn’t won a bowl game since 2008 or a division title since 2007.
To put in perspective, just think about how dreadful Dooley was in his three seasons in Knoxville and the bare cupboard Jones and his staff inherited. Sure, there is some talent on this team, especially on the offensive line and standout defenders A.J. Johnson and Daniel McCullers, but this is a challenging undertaking to get the football team back to prominence.
Tennessee will get back to the top of the SEC east, but first they have to get back to playing competitive football. Then they can focus on bowl-eligibility, and then they can put the big three of Georgia, Florida and South Carolina on upset alert.
Is that going to happen this year? Not likely — not with the state of quarterback play. But let’s remember before you can run, you need to walk and before you can walk, you need to crawl. Tennessee is learning to crawl right now, but they could be getting ready to stand on their own two feet and take their first steps in a month.
I’m reminded of a great quote by blues and jazz musician Tom (Thomas Henry) Delaney about the steps one must take to get to their ultimate destination:
“Everybody wants to go to Heaven, but no one wants to die.”
We often visualize the end result or our final destination and fast forward from “point a” to “point z” without recognizing or realizing the sacrifices and hard work between the start and the finish.
There will be more games like the past two weeks this season, but I promise you that there are a number of positives to watch while you’re among 102,000 of your best friends in Neyland Stadium or watching on TV.
Continue to watch the development of young Vols like freshman receiver Marquez North, who leads the team in receiving, and fellow receiver and hometown kid Josh Smith. Defensive backs Cameron Sutton and Brian Randolph possess all-SEC potential, and you can watch their development from good to great, to potentially outstanding.
You can monitor the maturation of Corey Vereen when he returns from injury and watch how he attacks opposing offensive lines.
What will bring this program back are the recruiting classes in 2014 and 2015, and Tennessee fans are already embracing the ins-and-outs on the recruiting trail. Take that to the next level by going to high school action in the state if you can, and watch the future Vols and welcome them to the Vols family.
Tennessee will be back — I guarantee it — but until then, embrace the rebuilding effort, remain optimistic, understand it takes patience and don’t ever abandon hope that the team won’t be back.