The Day the Fans Took Back Tennessee

Photo Credit: Sports Illustrated

I’ve seen a lot of crazy stuff during my fifty years on this planet. I’ve seen the craziest stuff in Knoxville, Tennessee. I even remember some of it, although many nights are a little blurry once I turned eighteen.

But I’ve never seen what happened today.

I’ve never seen a fan base come together on the basis of a leak to protest the hiring of a head football coach.

And I’ve never been prouder of Vol Nation than I am right now.

Yeah, sure. Some national media types are railing against the UT fans right now, but they shouldn’t be. They should stop and really listen to what those fans are saying. Because this protest isn’t about Greg Schiano. Not really.

This protest is about taking back a state university’s football program from the hands of big-money donors who are ruining their school. This protest is about focusing on what the fan base wants, expects, and deserves. This protest is about an athletic director who actually somehow thought this was a good idea, and the other UT officials who signed off on it.

This protest is about the University’s continued disdain for the people who fund it with their taxes, who attend their games, who buy their merchandising, and who send their kids there to school.

This protest is about taking back a beloved Tennessee tradition for the fans, not the boosters.

This protest is, at its core, about John Currie. Currie had one job — to replace Butch Jones (in a timely manner) with a good coach. That’s it. Currie could have trotted all sorts of guys out that the fan base would have accepted. They might have grumbled about it, but they would have accepted.

And now? Now there are protesters on the Tennessee campus, shouting for Currie’s head…and they’re mild compared to what Vol Twitter is doing. State legislators, local businesses, former players, well-known alumni — heck, even the Facebook page of White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders piled onto the Vol Twitter bonfire. Everyone had the same message too.

Pretty embarrassing, huh? Getting dogged from the West Wing?

Greg Schiano is not the home run hire with integrity John Currie said he’d open the checkbooks for at the University of Tennessee. Court documents stating he knew about Sandusky’s actions at Penn State have forever tainted him with that Penn State brush, fairly or not. That’s not the look a school that just settled a massive Title IX lawsuit really wants, is it?

No.

Oh, and let’s not forget that one of Schiano’s players from his time at the helm of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers said playing for Schiano was “like being in Cuba.”

Hopefully someone in the athletic department or administration at UT is paying attention. Hopefully they realize what they stand to lose if they continue to ignore the fans. Hopefully they understand that even with a fan base desperate to regain its lost footing, some principles are far more important than wins.

We demand more from this university than to turn away from the issues of sexual abuse associated with collegiate athletics just to make an expedient hire. Something we shouldn’t even have to tell anyone in the business of big-time college football, and especially not at a university that’s just settled a case alleging a rape culture once already.

If nothing else, Currie certainly succeeded at unifying the fan base and probably wishes he hadn’t. There’s a chance that maybe this was all smoke and mirrors and maybe this was a way to get UT fans to accept a hire they otherwise wouldn’t have been happy about. Maybe. But if that’s the case then trolling UT fans is just as reprehensible, seeing as it landed a big fat protest across Vol Nation and resulted in a continuing chain of decommits.

Here’s the thing. When tensions run this high, extraordinary things happen. Look out the windows of that ivory tower at the athletic department and instead see something miraculous. Tennessee fans care so much about this program that they refused to allow UT to make this kind of monumental mistake. The fans literally bleed orange and white.

And they deserve people within the university who bleed orange and white, as well. That’s the only way to calm this down, to appease the people who’ve risen up against folly. You have to give them what they inherently are.

You have to give them Volunteers.

Remember, Mr. Currie. You had one job. Now you have one job and a fiasco. Time to buckle in. Bring in people who legitimately care about Tennessee and its fans.

Right now in California, a VFL legend is the offensive coordinator for USC. Bring in Tee Martin, a beloved UT figure, because the fans will give him the time to adjust to being a P5 head coach. He’s already an outstanding offensive coordinator and recruiter, and he bleeds orange and white. Bring in a man so committed to Tennessee that every fan would welcome him with open arms.

Some schools like to pour oil on churning waters, to smooth them out. Doing that in Knoxville right now is likely to ignite the Tennessee River just like the Cuyahoga River did in Cleveland back in the day. Let’s try to keep from emulating more Cleveland disasters at the University of Tennessee.

The only way to save yourselves now, ladies and gentlemen of the coaching search, is to give this passionate fan base something to pull them together. Turn all those fires from negative to positive. Fight fire with fire — Tennessee fires, who are accustomed to how passion burns within this fan base.

Give us Volunteers.

Today was a sad day for a university that has been humbled by a bewildering series of events in the past week, but a great, unifying day for the Tennessee fans.

Although, in the end, the problem as I see it is actually very simple.

You had one job, Tennessee, and you bungled it. Despite your efforts, Tennessee fans have risen against what you thought was an acceptable solution to the one job you had to do. Your jobs are now on the line, and you’d be silly to think otherwise. Your public relations team has been invisible. Your stock is plummeting on every level. You need to figure out a way to keep the whole darn thing from burning down.

The path to that…the phoenix to rise from the ashes of this season…may very well be watching this nightmare from California. Call him. Call Tee Martin.

Call him home.

The only way to regain the good will of the Volunteers? Is with Volunteers. At every position involved in this fiasco from chancellor to athletic director to head football coach to Smokey, only real Volunteers can save this situation.

Maybe it’s time to call a few of them up.