2017 has been a year of transitions for the Tennessee Volunteers. 2017 is also a year that most of Vol Nation will be glad to see end. I know I am relieved I’ll never have to write another “What the hell are you doing, Currie?” column ever again.
Pretty sure you folks are glad you’ll never have to read one again either.
When we look back at 2017, there are a lot of events that will resonate in this fan base for decades. Seems only proper that we count down the biggest moments in Vol Nation as we head into the New Year and kick 2017 out the back door.
Honorable mentions: six Vols taken in the NFL draft, the most since 2010; Lady Vols undefeated so far in 2017–18; Usain Bolt’s retirement double-whammied by Vols Christian Coleman and Justin Gatlin; and the restoration of the Lady Vols logo.
10. The athletic director fiasco
UT’s amazing incompetence in making major athletic department hires was spotlighted in ridiculous fashion in 2017 but began when the university didn’t hire a new AD for months. Dave Hart announced he was leaving on August 18, 2016 and John Currie wasn’t hired until February 29, 2017. That’s one hundred and ninety-four days and a harbinger of what was going to come. Kind of like the iceberg was for the Titanic.
9. Jim McElwain, sharks, and bad PR
Not every moment in 2017 was horrible. Last May, a picture broke of an allegedly naked Jim McElwain on top of a shark. Despite a NYC police officer’s identification as the fins fan, the shrieks of laughter were loud and piercing in Vol Nation. If nothing else, that photo became viral warfare in the shark pool of Twitter and Florida fans had no defense against it. But that picture also spotlighted a major problem with UF’s crisis management when a university spokesman’s response to the unhappy shark pic was, “He (McElwain) told us that’s not him.” Hilarious.
8. Free Jauan!
Wide receiver Jauan Jennings had a rough year. The hero of 2016 landed himself in trouble last February when he was cited for possession of marijuana, and then again in November when his Instagram rant got him kicked off the team by an interim coach and an athletic director — who were rather quickly kicked out themselves days later. Jennings has since met with new AD Phillip Fulmer, and his ultimate fate will be decided once school is back in session. Hopefully, 2018 will bring about a reconciliation.
7. Alvin Kamara for the win
Vol Nation’s favorite grill-sporting, grinning while speed walking to class running back was inexcusably underutilized by Butch Jones while at UT, but the New Orleans Saints didn’t have any problems whatsoever tapping into his amazing talent. Heading into the postseason, Kamara’s 684 yards rushing, 6.2 yards per carry, and 75 receptions for 742 yards has electrified the Saints. Kamara is a front-runner for the NFL’s Rookie of the Year award, despite getting fined for his Christmas cleats. (The NFL has no sense of humor whatsoever) This favorite son was fun to watch at UT, and watching him now brings Vol Nation a lot of pride…and anger. All you have to do is start off a conversation with the words, “Can you imagine what Kamara would have done with a proper coach…?” and Vol Twitter loses its mind.
6. Butch’s trash can and other gaffes
Seriously. What would 2017 have been without the constant embarrassment of Butch Jones’s cliches? “Champions of life” and “five star hearts” were bad enough, but when the turnover trash can was spotlighted during the Georgia Tech game, Vols fans everywhere hid their heads in paper bags. The Miami Hurricanes have a (admittedly tacky) turnover chain. The Vols had a turnover…trash can, highlighting without a doubt where the real bling was.
And it wasn’t in Knoxville.
5. Vol Twitter versus national sports media
There’s a reason Vol Twitter is still undefeated, and in 2017 the online fan base victimized the national sports media with hilarious results. During the week of the revolution on Rocky Top, Vol Twitter annihilated ESPN personalities like Kirk Herbstreit and Desmond Howard, drop-kicked Tim Brando from Fox Sports, beat down Dan Wolken from USA Today, and tormented Pat Forde from Yahoo Sports. Despite being called “trailer park Bubbas” and a “lynch mob” and worse, Vol Nation refused to back down — and in the process proved that a savvy, educated fan base no longer has to just accept what the pundits say and meekly follow down the paths they’re expected to take.
Vol Twitter enters 2018 undefeated still.
4. Cleaning house
The exits of Dave Hart, Jimmy Cheek, Butch Jones, and John Currie were all focal points as UT rid itself of multiple millstones that contributed to the deterioration of Tennessee’s reputation and brand. Jones’s firing came probably a month too late, but when it finally happened Vol Nation was able to breathe a sigh of relief. But perhaps the most significant moment of taking out the trash occurred behind the scenes, when UT’s boosters, fans, alumni, and administrators allegedly forced a certain gas station-owning mega-booster out of the shadows, the football coach hiring search, and the AD’s office.
Good riddance to them all. Sayonara.
3. Worst football season in UT history
Still depressing, isn’t it? The Volunteers went winless in SEC play and logged its first eight-loss season in the history of the program. With the talent on this team, that record should be inexplicable — but isn’t, thanks to horrendous coaching and the loss of thirty players from the roster by November. The destruction of the football program was so thorough and absolute that it took only thirteen months to plummet from being ranked in the top ten to getting blown out by Vanderbilt and waking up the following day to discover that the AD’s idea of an elite football coaching hire was Greg Schiano. Pretty sure that an intentional effort to obliterate the football program wouldn’t have been anywhere as successful as sheer incompetence was.
2. Fulmer’s Revenge
Oh, my. As a novelist, the story arc of Phillip Fulmer’s year at UT is too juicy to resist. Fulmer, forced out in 2008 and discarded like garbage by then-athletic director and Haslam puppet Mike Hamilton with the assistance of then assistant AD John Currie, was considered for the vacant AD job but passed over when Currie was hired. He returned to UT early in 2017 as a special advisor to president Joe DePietro regarding athletics.
But who could have ever anticipated Currie’s suicide run at the end of November, or that when the smoke cleared Phillip Fulmer would be moving into his office? The announcement instantly calmed the waters in the fan base, especially when six days later (after a proper coaching search instead of the Currie clown car) Tennessee hired Bama DC Jeremy Pruitt as head football coach.
They say revenge is a sauce best served cold. It’s official: Coach Fulmer cooks up some crazy good sauce. When he sat next to Chancellor Beverly Davenport at the press conference announcing his move to AD, the light kept glinting from that national championship ring. That’s real bling right there — much better than a turnover trash can. And make no mistake, Fulmer’s revenge has made the rest of the SEC very nervous. Very nervous.
1. The reVOLution!
Of course this is the top moment of 2017. How could it not be? Between November 26 and December 1, the UT fan base took Rocky Top back. When the fans, local media, former players, alumni, students, and even state legislators rose up in protest against the hiring of Greg Schiano, they forced change upon an administration and athletic department that has been tone deaf to their wishes for years. This remarkable unity continued after the Schiano deal fell through, blocked a prospective hire of NC State coach Dave Doeren, grew louder when AD John Currie went rogue and disappeared on a reportedly unauthorized binge of interviews on the west coast, and finally compelled the ouster of Currie.
Six days. That’s all it took. Six days. Fans were calling the university non-stop. Protesters gathered on campus and garnered attention from the national press. Social media kept the heat turned up. Local radio shows and journalists worked tirelessly keeping information flowing to the fans. Even the rock got pissed off. All this combined to create an unprecedented event in sports history — fans, who had been dismissed and disregarded by the university for over a decade, compelled UT to reconnect to what they were demanding. Vol Nation refused categorically to accept mediocrity and the dictates of puppet-masters any longer, and the university had no choice but to capitulate. Just an amazing display of unity and power and intensity on the part of Vol Nation. Amazing.
I’m writing this on the last day of 2017, which has undoubtedly been the most tumultuous year in Tennessee sports history. I think it’s safe to say we’re all glad to be putting this year in our rear view mirror. But a measure of optimism is returning to Knoxville and Vol Nation, a sense that the ship has been righted along with a plethora of wrongs.
I’m sure that in other top sports stories of 2017 columns in the next couple of days, Tennessee’s fans, athletic department, and university administration will be bashed yet again. ESPN is unlikely to let a chance to renew hostilities pass them by although you’d think they’d know better after the last six weeks. We will continue to be generalized as the ignorant, uneducated, unruly mob that the intellectually lazy have categorized us as.
That has nothing to do with us, though, and everything to do with them. Every column, every TV segment, every snide comment, every bitter Tweet from journalists who are unaccustomed to being challenged by the fans is an affirmation of that victory. Sports media outlets rely upon sports fans to make their billions, but they have traditionally condescended to their own target markets and dismiss their opinions, wishes, and thoughts as irrelevant and unimportant.
That won’t fly in Knoxville anymore. So give your local sports media guys your support instead of the clickbait guys dogging the new regime because being the mouthpiece of the previous one has blocked their access to sources. Remember the national media that stood up against their peers, guys like Ryan McGee and Peter Burns from ESPN, Barrett Sallee from Bleacher Report, and Sean Salisbury. Ignore the rest; they’re no longer important.
As we welcome in 2018 it’s time to bid farewell to the turmoil and tumult of 2017. But believe me when I tell you that 2017 wasn’t a disaster. On the contrary, 2017 was our year.
2017 was the year of the Tennessee fan.
Happy New Year, Vol Nation.