As Tennessee football studies how to climb out of the valley, it can't help but look at the team on the peak.
Conveniently, that team is on the visitors sideline at Neyland Stadium on Saturday.
Where Tennessee unhappily resides at the moment on college football's topographical map, Alabama has been there, done that.
In the 10-year span between Gene Stallings' retirement (1996) and Nick Saban's arrival (2007), Alabama stumbled through four coaches and various indignities.
The Tide had four losing seasons and a major NCAA probation. A seven-year losing streak to UT was followed by a six-year run of losses to Auburn.
"It was miserable,'' said Gene Chunn, president of Alabama's East Tennessee alumni chapter, "especially living in Knoxville and having family that went to Auburn.''
Executive sports editor Tommy Deas this summer chronicled Alabama's journey from Bear Bryant to Saban in The Tuscaloosa News. The stretch between Stallings and Saban was particularly painful.
"Alabama fans have always expected success,'' Deas said. "It was like the 40-year march through the desert for them.''
Alabama's desert looked not so different from Tennessee's.
Both were hurt by a rash of coaching changes - Tennessee had three coaches in 14 months, Alabama three in seven months.
Both were angered when they were dumped by a coach - Tennessee by Lane Kiffin, Alabama by Dennis Franchione.
Both had to make a quick hire - Derek Dooley by Tennessee in 2010, Mike Shula by Alabama in 2003 - and were swayed in part by the family tree of the candidate.
Both have played short-handed - Tennessee because of attrition, Alabama because of NCAA sanctions.
Alabama eventually righted the ship and has added another national title to the trophy case. Tennessee is still too early in the process to project championships, especially with its own NCAA investigation unresolved.
Observers of the Alabama ordeal generally agree the darkest hour came in the summer of 2003.
Franchione had bailed for Texas A&M after going 10-3 in 2002. The fan base was incredulous anyone would leave Alabama. The Tide hired Mike Price from Washington State.
"He was another outsider,'' said The Birmingham News columnist Kevin Scarbinsky, "but he won the press conference when he said his ambition was to be the second-greatest coach in Alabama history.''
That's all Price won. He never coached a game. He was fired in May after a spree in a Pensacola topless bar.
"At that point,'' Chunn recalled, "you wondered how could the state of Alabama football be this low?
"How did we allow it to get that bad?''
Enter Shula, with good bloodlines but no head-coaching experience.
"He looked like a deer in the headlights,'' Scarbinsky said.
Shula lasted four seasons. Deas believes that at 26-23, he did a fair job with the hand he was dealt. So does Chunn:
"He filled an important gap. We probably needed a face-lift more than wins.''
Saban's arrival in 2007 meant both credibility and wins.
"Hiring Saban,'' said Deas, "changed things not only on the field but it also changed the fan base's mentality.''
Saban's first year was only a modest success and included a loss to Louisiana-Monroe. Since then, however, the Tide is 32-3.
The Vols couldn't hire Saban. Interestingly, they chose Dooley, one of his proteges.
Perhaps, they're hoping, that's one more common link in this story - the way out of the desert.
Mike Strange may be reached at email@example.com or 865-342-6276.