If you think the media is overstating the challenge facing first-year Tennessee football coach Derek Dooley, then you should talk to Bill Higdon, who has firsthand experience in rebuilding this program.
"He has no chance right now," said Higdon, who was a longtime recruiting coordinator under legendary UT coach Johnny Majors. "I can't believe where our program is.
"I think it will take him at least three years. I hope the fans can be patient."
Higdon, who will be inducted into the Greater Knoxville Sports Hall of Fame on Aug. 5, doesn't remember fans being especially patient in the late 1970s. Neither was his boss.
Majors had just finished leading Pittsburgh to an unbeaten season. He accepted the UT job while he was preparing the Panthers for the 1977 Sugar Bowl, where they would cap a national championship season.
While Majors' staff remained in Pittsburgh, he and Higdon became a two-man recruiting team.
"We were going everywhere on the UT plane, trying to salvage what we could (from the recruiting class of outgoing coach Bill Battle)," Higdon said. "There were some long days.
"He made it tough on a lot of people, but he knew what he was doing.
"After a couple of years, he started to confide in me. We had a terrific relationship."
While the rebuilding took longer than expected, the Vols made it to the top of the SEC in 1985, their first conference championship since 1969. In Majors' last four seasons (1989-92), the Vols won 38 games and two SEC titles.
Higdon is optimistic Dooley can execute a similar turnaround.
"He's gonna get it done," Higdon said. "I think he's tough. I think he's got the pedigree (Dooley's father, Vince, was a longtime successful coach at Georgia). And he's smart.
"A coach better be smart in dealing with the press and kids today. You've just got so many things to deal with."
Higdon, who wore a number of different hats in his athletic career, will be inducted into the hall of fame as an administrator. He retired as UT's assistant athletic director for event management last year but still serves as a game manager for baseball. Before he joined UT's football program, Higdon was an assistant basketball coach on Western Kentucky's famous Final Four team, which beat Kentucky in the NCAA tournament.
"I've been lucky my whole life," he said. "I went to work for Bill Battle in 1975. Then Coach Majors came along, and I was fortunate enough to stick around - 15 years as a recruiting coordinator."
One of the things he learned as a recruiting coordinator: You can never get too many quarterbacks. The Vols already had seven quarterback commitments when Tony Robinson said he wanted to sign with them.
Majors called Robinson's high school coach to tell him UT already had too many quarterback commitments, Higdon said. But Robinson's coach convinced him that he would be making a huge mistake not to sign his quarterback.
"Coach Majors came back to us and said, 'We're gonna take him,' " Higdon said.
Robinson started for two seasons and was playing like an All-American when a knee injury ended his career in 1985. Four other quarterback signees ended up starting in the secondary.
Higdon regarded defensive back Roland James as the best player he ever signed. James started four years, made first-team All-SEC twice and was a consensus All-American in 1979.
But Higdon said Chuck Webb was "the best football player I've ever seen at UT."
"Chuck used to tell me, 'Nobody tackled me today (in practice),' " Higdon said. "He would go into practice trying not to get tackled."
Signing players like James and Webb is the quickest way for UT to become a championship contender again in the SEC. And selling UT now isn't much different than it was when he was the recruiting coordinator, according to Higdon.
"We like to think that our facilities are bigger and better than everybody else's," he said. "In reality, they're not. They're as good as everybody else's. Alabama, Florida, LSU, Georgia - they've all got nice facilities."
So what makes UT special?
"I'd like to think that Tennessee has got some class to it," Higdon said. "We're not a real red-neck group of people.
"I remember my first trip to Athens, Ga., as a football coach. We pulled up to where the stadium buses park. And this little, old lady - she must have been 80 - was giving me the bird.
"I'm thinking, 'What is this?' "
It was a reminder that southern hospitality didn't extend to SEC football Saturdays. But southern hostility sometimes had its advantages.
Higdon fondly recalls a pregame scuffle between UT and Vanderbilt players before the 1991 game at Neyland Stadium.
"There was a big fight in the end zone," Higdon said. "One of the Vanderbilt coaches - it must have been the defensive coordinator - dropped his game plan.
"Larry Lacewell (UT's defensive coordinator) picked it up and brought it to the dressing room. Coach Majors said, 'Get that up in the press box as fast as you can.'
"So our offensive coaches sat up there in the press box with (Vanderbilt's) defensive game plan. We won the game big."
John Adams may be reached at 865-342-6284.