Mike Strange: Winning weekend gives Vols some hope

Mike Strange
Mike Hamilton, former University of Tennessee athletic director.

Mike Hamilton, former University of Tennessee athletic director.

Saturday afternoon, Mike Hamilton leaned against a wall inside the bowels of Neyland Stadium and took in the scene.

His football coach was conducting a post-victory news conference. Laughs all around. Not a shred of tension in the room.

Less than 24 hours earlier Hamilton had been in Madison Square Garden watching his basketball team pull off a significant and unexpected victory.

It was, in short, a good weekend to be a Vol.

Football and basketball are the flagship sports of the University of Tennessee men's athletic department. For the past few months words like "embattled" and "turmoil'' have been frequently mentioned in the same sentence with both.

The Reader's Digest version is that football is on its third coach in three seasons and basketball's shining star of a coach has been seriously tarnished by bad judgement dealing with the NCAA.

As October ended, the football Vols were 2-6 and facing the possibility of producing the worst record in the history of the program.

And while the basketball Vols were in solid shape on the court, coach Bruce Pearl had summoned a dark cloud over the program by lying to NCAA investigators.

We interrupt this doom and gloom to bring you a Thanksgiving weekend update.

Friday night, Pearl's Vols upset No. 7 Villanova 78-68 in New York to win the NIT Season Tip-Off. Saturday at Neyland Stadium the football Vols got by Kentucky 24-14 to complete a four-game winning streak and get eligible to play in a bowl.

"A good weekend for sure,'' said Hamilton, the men's athletic director.

Now, bringing home hardware from the NIT won't cut Pearl or the program any slack when the NCAA dishes out penalties sometime next spring.

Nor does administering the annual spanking of Kentucky indicate Derek Dooley has the football program back on the threshold of the Sugar Bowl.

Still, a little celebrating is welcome on both fronts, even if it's temporary.

"I think people see hope,'' said Hamilton, "and hope is what a lot of this is about in college athletics.''

Hope and perception.

When the basketball Vols arrived in New York earlier in the week, the media was waiting for embattled Pearl to talk about the NCAA turmoil.

"Pearl, Vols search for redemption" read a headline on the New York Daily News web site.

After wins over VCU and Villanova, the general theme was the "resilient" Vols "returning the focus to basketball" and perhaps "the rest of the Top 25 may also want to take note.''

"It was,'' said Hamilton, "a really solid win on a great stage when a lot of people were watching.''

The football team has been on an upbeat run through November. But losing to Kentucky would have been a double bummer: no more Streak, no more bowl.

"When we were 2 and 6, a lot of folks were wondering where we were headed,'' said Hamilton.

After taking care of business Saturday afternoon, to a bowl is where the Vols are headed.

"It's very important for our recruits,'' said Dooley, "to see that Tennessee does not stay down long.''

Both programs are still looking at some tough days ahead. But for one weekend at least, they seemed more distant.

Mike Strange may be reached at strangem@knoxnews.com or 865-342-6276. Follow him at http://twitter.com/strangemike44 and http://blogs.knoxnews.com/strange.

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Comments » 11

LEXKYVOLS writes:

AS a VOLS fan, did you ever think going to the Music City Bowl would feel so good?

dmbig#624857 writes:

Plus Alabama and Florida both lost making it even better!

murrayvol writes:

in response to LEXKYVOLS:

AS a VOLS fan, did you ever think going to the Music City Bowl would feel so good?

Nope.....but it does.

orangecrush51 writes:

in response to dmbig#624857:

Plus Alabama and Florida both lost making it even better!

Add USC to that.

pauln500#205995 writes:

I think we should adopt a second theme song along with "Rocky Top"......COUNTRY STRONG:

Big Orange country strong, hard to beat
Like the ground we grew up on
You may fool us and we'll fall
But we won't stay down long
Big Orange Country Strong !!!

volbob writes:

in response to jmr68ut:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

It looked like he kept it out most of the 2nd half. Coaches will have something to say after watching film. Its not just to protect teeth - after having his jaw broken one time he will remember to put it in. Remember the UCLA QB who got his jaw broken last year? Bad stuff.

johnlg00 writes:

in response to jmr68ut:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Seems to be a lot of that going around. I have noticed lots of football players who apparently forget to put theirs back in after a play on a regular basis. Basketball players don't have such a convenient place to hang theirs, but you surely see a lot of them hanging out of their mouths during lulls in play. My teeth might be in better shape today if we had mouth-guards when I was playing basketball!

BigVolFaninSC writes:

in response to jmr68ut:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

I noticed it hanging on the facemask as well and I thought it was a penalty to not have it in!

robvols#366273 writes:

I was at Madison Sq. Garden Friday watching our Vols play to victory, and it was great! And watching us beat Kentucky was the icing in the weekend's cake. You could say we slayed the Wildcats (both Villa. and Kentucky) this weekend!

CoverOrange writes:

in response to BigVolFaninSC:

I noticed it hanging on the facemask as well and I thought it was a penalty to not have it in!

Not a penalty but it is a charged time out.

LaneBrains writes:

Which is better? A win over KY or a close loss to ND? Hammy, you crack me up! I'm surprised you've survived all this. : )) Although we all have you pretty high on the "Whose Next to Bite it" pool board. Personally, you've already lasted longer than I thought : )) You're a crack-up " )) " )))) :))))

Still Havin' fun in LA. CLK, Monte and Ed

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