McNeil comes around to Kiffin's concept

Nick Stephens - It's football time in Tennessee, baby!

Tennessee center Josh McNeil has something on his side as he battles for his old starting job: his coaches’ respect.

“With out a doubt he’s grinding,” offensive line coach James Cregg said. “He’s doing things in the weight room he never used to do before. He’s been pushed.”

A bigger, more muscular McNeil (by about 20 pounds to 290) is locked in a battle with former walk-on Cody Sullins. It looked like Sullins had grabbed a firm lead in the race during spring practice until McNeil changed his approach.

McNeil’s new attitude was most evident when he went to first-year coach Lane Kiffin last week and thanked him for pushing him so hard in the off-season.

“He wasn’t playing at the highest level he could play at because he had become comfortable that he was the guy and he could just show up on game day,” Kiffin said. “It was neat to see him come in the office to thank us for doing what we did to put him in a competition.”

The weight and strength gain was mandatory.

“If he doesn’t gain and he doesn’t hit the weight room, you know, he’s going to be sitting on the bench,” Kiffin said.

Yet that isn’t the transformation that McNeil is most proud of. His attitude required the most fixing.

After 35 consecutive starts, McNeil wasn’t expecting much of a challenge for his position. Then he got to know Kiffin and his competition-first approach.

“At first I really resented the competition between me and Sullins,” McNeil said. “I didn’t view it the right way. At first I viewed it as, ‘I’m a guy with 35 starts. These guys are coming in here and they’re just wiping it all away, and now they’re saying that I’m fighting for my starting job’ and at first I resented that.

“But now looking back on everything and seeing the bigger picture, I really see what Coach Kiffin was trying to do and it was just trying to make me a better football player.”

Said Cregg, “I think he saw the crossroad coming.”

McNeil, who said his lower body is twice as strong as it was before, said the transition from resentment to appreciation was gradual.

If there was one seminal moment, it came when Sullins ran onto Shields-Watkins Field with the first team for the Orange and White Game.

“I was just like ‘Wow, I’m not going out with the first series right now.’ ” McNeil said. “It had been years since I had experienced that, and it really woke me up.

“I was just like, instead of looking at it as why are they doing this to me, I need look at what do I need to be doing better, to get to where they want me to be and where I want to be which is obviously starting, where every player wants to be and where I’ve been for a long time.”

Part of the problem wasn’t McNeil’s fault. The former top center prospect in the nation has been beset by injuries, especially to his shoulders.

“Whenever you have surgery after surgery year after year it really takes a toll,” said McNeil, who also had knee surgery in 2008. “They really try to work you out less in the weight room and try to save your knee for the season. So, you know, I really think it was more of the surgeries.”

That explains the weight room. His frustration on the practice field, which was evident in spring practice, was a different matter.

The competition continues between Sullins and McNeil, who has been slowed by a concussion this week in practice. Yet McNeil rarely leaves the practice field as most other injured players do.

He’s always in the middle of UT’s offensive practice, where he feels most comfortable. To stay there on game days, he knows he’ll have to continue battling.

“The competition never stops, that’s one thing (coach Kiffin) told me, he’s like ‘We’re proud of the way you’re doing things; you’re doing things 100 percent better.’ ” McNeil said. “But he also told me, ‘You’ve got to keep it going, everyday you got to keep improving and keep working.’ ”

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Comments » 75

stayingorange writes:

I like that attitude. It seems that's what they've lacked.

springtx_vol writes:

In my opinion, this report indicates the biggest difference between playing for CPF for the last three or four years and playing for CLK. I am still of the opinion that UT football has completely underperformed for the past several (8?) years. How many games can you think of that we just didn't compete at a top level?

Vol_FAN_atic writes:

My take on things?

Zeal! I haven't seen that in a LONG time!

Hope is no longer a dream ..... its reality!

jsm67vol writes:

Way to swallow your pride and man up McNeil. Go and take what is no longer rightfully yours.

cloudodust writes:

Attitude is a vital component to agile, mobile and hostile. Knock 'em on the arses, Josh...

TurboVol writes:

in response to springtx_vol:

In my opinion, this report indicates the biggest difference between playing for CPF for the last three or four years and playing for CLK. I am still of the opinion that UT football has completely underperformed for the past several (8?) years. How many games can you think of that we just didn't compete at a top level?

I couldn't agree more !! Go Vols

cloudodust writes:

'Their arses', not 'the arses'...

nicksjuzunk#646117 writes:

Good article. I like the attitude we're bringing to the table this year, gulp!

BillsBrother writes:

in response to springtx_vol:

In my opinion, this report indicates the biggest difference between playing for CPF for the last three or four years and playing for CLK. I am still of the opinion that UT football has completely underperformed for the past several (8?) years. How many games can you think of that we just didn't compete at a top level?

I first saw the lack of discipline at the 2002 season opener in Nashville. We whupped Wyoming that day and yet we probably false started a dozen times. It was downhill from then on.

I look forward to seeing this 2009 team. I think that the new effort and attitude may actually produce results greater than the talent.

Mansonlamps writes:

Player after player has come forward in the last few weeks with what have amounted to stinging indictments of CPF. Freshmen Teague and Gordon said they weren't even considering the Vols before Kiffin took over, and now vets like McNeil illustrate the coddling, lackadaisical approach that infested the program for who knows how long. Mike Hamilton, you're my hero. For this weeks edition of Real Men of Genius, here's to you Mr. B@d@ss Athletic Director!

volcycle writes:

in response to springtx_vol:

In my opinion, this report indicates the biggest difference between playing for CPF for the last three or four years and playing for CLK. I am still of the opinion that UT football has completely underperformed for the past several (8?) years. How many games can you think of that we just didn't compete at a top level?

And this is the reason I think we will have a great year this year. The talent is there. It is now being maximized!! I realize I could be surprised, but to go from 10-4 to 5-7 wasn't because of a huge drop in talent. It was the coaching, or more specifically I believe, a combination of that and the offensive scheme.

NTNSTY writes:

If several linemen have had increases in strength and zeal, as McNeil has; we may see some monsterous holes this season.

pdb73216#339474 writes:

Has anyone heard anything on G. Jones?

Gator_Hater (Inactive) writes:

in response to Mansonlamps:

Player after player has come forward in the last few weeks with what have amounted to stinging indictments of CPF. Freshmen Teague and Gordon said they weren't even considering the Vols before Kiffin took over, and now vets like McNeil illustrate the coddling, lackadaisical approach that infested the program for who knows how long. Mike Hamilton, you're my hero. For this weeks edition of Real Men of Genius, here's to you Mr. B@d@ss Athletic Director!

I don't care who you are, THAT was funny!

elainesguyisanidiot writes:

in response to NTNSTY:

If several linemen have had increases in strength and zeal, as McNeil has; we may see some monsterous holes this season.

It's my understanding that the rest of the linemen have actually lost weight while gaining strength and agility.

tennezz writes:

Anyone who want give the effort this year will be walking the sidelines! And they all understand this! THIS IS GONNA GET INTERESTING!

Cldvols1 writes:

Competition will bring out the best in em! Go Vols!!!

tennezz writes:

in response to cloudodust:

'Their arses', not 'the arses'...

I`m glad you straitened that out!

elainesguyisanidiot writes:

It certainly is good to see this new attitude,
Somehow, I just don't think we will see much yuckin' it up on the sidelines while we are behind this year.

xvolx writes:

seems like I remember Mcneil having this problem as a frosh. when Frogg won the starting job. Finally; good coaching.

OldSmokey writes:

in response to grvol:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

lmao post of the year!!!

junder13 writes:

I still remember the picture of him on the ground in the middle of a play against Florida last year untying a Gator lineman's shoe. How embarrassing. I have not liked this guy since. Hopefully his attitude really has changed but the thing I liked least about that incident was him basically shrugging it off after the photo went public. What a disgrace. Maybe he'll redeem himself this season with his play. He's been coasting for awhile, imo.

elainesguyisanidiot writes:

in response to junder13:

I still remember the picture of him on the ground in the middle of a play against Florida last year untying a Gator lineman's shoe. How embarrassing. I have not liked this guy since. Hopefully his attitude really has changed but the thing I liked least about that incident was him basically shrugging it off after the photo went public. What a disgrace. Maybe he'll redeem himself this season with his play. He's been coasting for awhile, imo.

Another fine example of 'Stunts they won't pull' under young Coach Kiffin.

elainesguyisanidiot writes:

Explain to me again how any of this concerns a Florida fan,

colt writes:

In the beginning Fulmer had fire in his belly.Somewhere along the way (like at LSU) he lost it.Thank GOD for a new coach who has the fire in the belly.Tennesse will win 8 games this year and scare the hell out those teams we lose to.

volsgrad89#624727 writes:

The Phantom, you must be a looking through Vicki's glasses. Yes, almost all UT fans respect Fulmer. But, Fulmer hadn't instilled discipline, toughness, and team unity into the team for several years!

Fulmer doesn't even deserve half the credit for the NC in 98! Cutcliffe, Chavis, and the PLAYERS deserve most of it!!! If, you will recollect your thoughts. You will remember, Tee scrambling to set up winning field goal against Syracuse, Big Al causing 2-3 fumbles versus the Gators, Billy Ratliff knocking the OL into Stoerner to cause fumble, Goodrich's interception and Peerless' 2 TDs and almost 200yds receivng in the NC game! The players were athletic. And, I give Fulmer the credit for helping recruit them. But, even that team had discipline problems at time and let some teams be in the game that should have never been, like Syracuse and Arkansas!

Now, do you grasp the concept that Fulmer was ONLY a great recruiter, good father figure, and good image for UT??? Yet, he was NEVER A GREAT COACH!!! He came in the back door in the first place and was lucky to even have been given the honor of being the head coach at UT. Yet, he thought he was bigger than the program itself after the NC!!!!

Shortly after Mike Barry left, our OL was one of the weakest positions on the team consistently. What does that say about your head coach that was a former OL, former OL coach, and former OC??? If, that doesn't prove it to you. Please check into a mental hospital and post again when you are released, if ever!

txvolsfan writes:

in response to springtx_vol:

In my opinion, this report indicates the biggest difference between playing for CPF for the last three or four years and playing for CLK. I am still of the opinion that UT football has completely underperformed for the past several (8?) years. How many games can you think of that we just didn't compete at a top level?

Not sure of the number of years but I do agree. UT has always won with great athletes all over the field, and outrunning everyone. In this day of everybody having great athletes it comes down to who works the hardest and who wants it the most. That attitude has got to come from the coaching staff.
I'm not slamming CPF, I Love the man and all he did for UT but I think time had passed him by to some degree!!!
TXVOLSFAN

txvolsfan writes:

in response to ThePhantom_96_06_08:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

I Love CPF also but the fans are echoing what the players and recruits are saying!!!
I'm afraid it is fact.
I do agree with you about all he did for UT though, he accomplished a lot and represented our school with class.
TXVOLSFAN

spencer1989#206886 writes:

in response to springtx_vol:

In my opinion, this report indicates the biggest difference between playing for CPF for the last three or four years and playing for CLK. I am still of the opinion that UT football has completely underperformed for the past several (8?) years. How many games can you think of that we just didn't compete at a top level?

From 1999 through last year's collapse.

NoMoreWooAfterGoodOleRockyTop writes:

“He wasn’t playing at the highest level he could play at because he had become comfortable that he was the guy and he could just show up on game day”. Who does that sound like? Hint...FOOLmore.

99gator writes:

thought all of you would enjoy this.....

http://spittingfire.wordpress.com/200...

yeavols#228407 writes:

in response to Mansonlamps:

Player after player has come forward in the last few weeks with what have amounted to stinging indictments of CPF. Freshmen Teague and Gordon said they weren't even considering the Vols before Kiffin took over, and now vets like McNeil illustrate the coddling, lackadaisical approach that infested the program for who knows how long. Mike Hamilton, you're my hero. For this weeks edition of Real Men of Genius, here's to you Mr. B@d@ss Athletic Director!

LOL...that's awesome...Great post Mansonlamps

elainesguyisanidiot writes:

in response to elaineismygirl:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Exactly

Merv writes:

Hats off to Cody Sullins!

GainesvilleVol1 writes:

in response to springtx_vol:

In my opinion, this report indicates the biggest difference between playing for CPF for the last three or four years and playing for CLK. I am still of the opinion that UT football has completely underperformed for the past several (8?) years. How many games can you think of that we just didn't compete at a top level?

I like what I'm hearing out of camp, hopefully it will carry over to the playing field. Let's get a few games under our belt and then judge CLK and his coaching style. Nice Name by the way.

GO VOLS

elainesguyisanidiot writes:

in response to 99gator:

thought all of you would enjoy this.....

http://spittingfire.wordpress.com/200...

Once again, you are correct, 99.
Thanks

orangeinbama writes:

"At first I viewed it as, ‘I’m a guy with 35 starts. These guys are coming in here and they’re just wiping it all away, and now they’re saying that I’m fighting for my starting job’"

That ladies and gentlemen, says it all....

elainesguyisanidiot writes:

in response to elaineismygirl:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Yes they are.

bjwhite writes:

I’m glad to see the attitude improvement.

Wow, so they let him be a slacker in the past, no wonder we sucked last season. Still he’s never had to beat out a sign scholarship player in his 4 year career, which makes me wonder how much better will he really be? I have serious doubts that he can block quality SEC D-linemen. UCLA will be a bell weather game for McNeil and Tennessee, if he struggles with them then every SEC tackle on our schedule will dominate him this season including Vandy and Kentucky.

SEC__Headgear writes:

NcNeil got his mind right. Coleman didn't. Sullins deserves some PT and I believe he will get it.

volaholic45 writes:

Agree with all those comments that point out the obvious fact that these kinds of reports testify to the weaknesses of the previous coaching staff.

Looking forward, this is why I'm expecting not so much a dramatically improved record this year, but a dramatically improved enthusiasm, concentration, discipline, and attitude. Playing competitively instead of lackadaisically would show me we're on the right track, and beating just one team we're not supposed to would put me over the top in confidence that we are well underway.

VolGraduate writes:

Has he quit untying shoes??? I heard it was a fetish...

bobbarbilly writes:

I respect CPF and his record at UT but he, like many of our "professional" legislators, eventually elevate themselves to an impregnable position and develop the mindset that any bucket of slop that they toss off the castle wall onto the fans and/or masses will be welcomed with " could I please have some more mum..."

shopsports#273141 writes:

I never understood how McNeil got his attitude of entitlted. The same way many Republicans do I guess. I hope he is benched unless he busts his butt for the first time ever!!
Perhaps that was the attitude of the whole regime past. It sure seemed so. I have been an avid fan of all Vol sports since I was old enough to know anything in 1965 and loved Phil as a man, but he and his staff just lost their competitive attitude and inspired nobody. He is done coaching. He could do so many other valuable things, so I hope he does.
I live amongst the worst, Gators cental, and let me tell you, they are worried that things have actually changed in Knoxville.

licknpromise777#651578 writes:

in response to grvol:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Hope your right..Meyers is so worried about complacency that he's brought in motivation speakers (ie Lou Holtz) to get their attention..In practice Tebow looks even bigger and stronger than last year..At this point Tebow carrys more weight than the coaches; The press doesn't bother questioning the coaches; they get their info straight from Tebow.. Kind of Scary!!!

voloffaith writes:

in response to volsgrad89#624727:

The Phantom, you must be a looking through Vicki's glasses. Yes, almost all UT fans respect Fulmer. But, Fulmer hadn't instilled discipline, toughness, and team unity into the team for several years!

Fulmer doesn't even deserve half the credit for the NC in 98! Cutcliffe, Chavis, and the PLAYERS deserve most of it!!! If, you will recollect your thoughts. You will remember, Tee scrambling to set up winning field goal against Syracuse, Big Al causing 2-3 fumbles versus the Gators, Billy Ratliff knocking the OL into Stoerner to cause fumble, Goodrich's interception and Peerless' 2 TDs and almost 200yds receivng in the NC game! The players were athletic. And, I give Fulmer the credit for helping recruit them. But, even that team had discipline problems at time and let some teams be in the game that should have never been, like Syracuse and Arkansas!

Now, do you grasp the concept that Fulmer was ONLY a great recruiter, good father figure, and good image for UT??? Yet, he was NEVER A GREAT COACH!!! He came in the back door in the first place and was lucky to even have been given the honor of being the head coach at UT. Yet, he thought he was bigger than the program itself after the NC!!!!

Shortly after Mike Barry left, our OL was one of the weakest positions on the team consistently. What does that say about your head coach that was a former OL, former OL coach, and former OC??? If, that doesn't prove it to you. Please check into a mental hospital and post again when you are released, if ever!

One of my favorite philosophies is give the ex-coach all the blame for the downturn ,but don't you dare allow him any credit for the good that did occur.

Sorry have to go the mental hospital is calling for my new patient appointment......

On topic,McNeil's 'gotta new attitude.'

davethevol writes:

in response to 99gator:

thought all of you would enjoy this.....

http://spittingfire.wordpress.com/200...

That's definitely interesting if true. It would be nice if they had links to back up their findings.

CT_VOL writes:

Doesn’t McNeil have a shot in the NFL? And shouldn't this be a trememendous motivator for a senior in itself?

Frank

rockytopatl writes:

I watched the 2001 Florida game on CBS College Sports the other day. That team had SO much talent. I had forgotten how loaded they were on both sides of the ball. They turned it over all over the field, but stayed in it mainly because of Travis Stephens, who was unworldly that day, and an incredible pressure on the quarterback. Fulmer made a stupid decision to go for two too early, but they still managed to pull it out, 34-32, by denying Florida a two-pointer at the end. And then they proceeded to totally blow it one week later in the SEC championship game, practically laying down in the second half and losing to LSU's backup quarterback. No discipline, no true desire. They beat Florida -- barely -- and then quit. So you can trace the problems back at least to 2001, and probably, as some have said, the post NC year of 1999.

I doubt we'll see underperforming Vol teams any more. We may lose from lack of talent, but I don't think we'll be losing from lack of drive, discipline and desire. I think this story, and many others before it, illustrate that very well.

orangetothebone writes:

Someone please tell me when the last time was that a team started and ended the season ranked #1?

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