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Here is a BIG part of the problem on the hill: For years, our athletic department had true Tennessee pride. It was not a soundbite or a marketing ploy - it was a culture that was sincere in its belief that "The Hill" was a special place, and that it transcended the ups and downs of any sport, any crisis any scandal.
In an increasingly free agent-minded, me-me-me, distraction prone, short attention span world, we had something that can be called a "unifying principle." Pride in being Tennessee was REAL, not a manufactured sentiment cooked up in a marketing department to drive sales/recruiting/whatever.
When Hammie decided to throw out Phil and brought in Kiffie, who denigrated the UT brand and put USC pics up everywhere, we in many ways lost our soul.
Football is the head and the heart of the athletic, and perhaps the institutional culture. I remember as Phillip was fired, and even more, as I saw what we replaced him with, I was sad. Not because of the football coaching aspects of it, but because I knew that having the Fulmer/Majors regime going all the way back to 1976, that "the platform" of our athletics was old-school. I mourned the passing of that culture, because I knew that we'd never get it back.
This is not a "pro-Fulmer" declaration. It is a pro-UT old school culture declaration. The Bean Counter Hammie thought he was clever and tried to bring brash, aggressive, TV friendly faces in, but failed to properly valuate our culture as UT's most important asset. Football had some bad trend lines, no doubt. Even then, Hammie should have exhausted all options to do a refurb as opposed to a rebuild. Because once that culture is gone, it's gone.
We had this old-school familial atmosphere with people who really FEEL the place, which buys you these sort of things:
- that pride and belief is felt by recruits - they're not just seeing a facility and hearing a pitch - they are feeling the love of the institution that oozes from the people. It is tough to fake that, or sell it with words -- but when people feel it, they know it. They are also seeing a place that rehires and takes care of its own, maintains its own on a coaching staff or as a GA, etc.
- it creates a situation where, even if there are tensions and territorial issues between coaches, sports, etc., it is generally true that they are united under the same flag - and I don't mean the same organization, I mean the same spirit.
- it buys you a situation where, if a coach is a yeller, or this or that, it is in the context of a community and sense of place - which may make it more bearable.
We are now trying to run, or manage, or be clever about marketing all of these sports, but we pulled out the collective heartbeat and stomped it to death. The sports are stand-alones now, and our athletic department is just another corporation.
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