One New Year's Eve wasn't long enough for Tennessee fans to celebrate the end of 2011. They needed at least a week — four days to rejoice and three more to torture 2011 on the way out.
Has any college fan base ever been happier to see the end of a year?
I won't belabor what went wrong. Colleague Mike Strange synopsizes that today in his year-end review.
My question: What's next?
Will 2012 see a foundering sports program reverse its field? Or will you get more of the same?
When you sort through what has gone wrong at UT — not just in 2011, but in recent years — the problems often can be traced to the top of a program, department or even the university.
The lack of good judgment from UT's leaders has been astounding at times. I'm not suggesting my dog could have made better decisions. But my cat? Definitely.
As you look ahead, you can't be certain UT will benefit from better leadership in 2012, although athletic director Dave Hart seemingly would have to commit criminal acts to sink below the Hamilton Line.
Most of the leaders are so new, how can you predict? Hart, basketball coach Cuonzo Martin and baseball coach Dave Serrano haven't been on the job a year. Football coach Derek Dooley just completed his second season.
There are even leadership questions about UT's most successful sport, women's basketball, in that you don't know how long legendary coach Pat
Summitt can continue while battling early-onset dementia.
But leadership starts above coaches.
My take on chancellor Jimmy Cheek is that he could stand on the five thickest agricultural books in the UT library and still be in over his head in the sports arena. The assessment is based mainly on how he mishandled the dismissal of basketball coach Bruce Pearl as well as his media-conference performances. Maybe you have to work with him on a daily basis to appreciate his subtle genius in reshaping the athletic department.
As for Hart, some fans might have a negative impression because he comes from Alabama and was hired by Cheek. Yet they shouldn't question his motivation to succeed.
He left a secure but lower-profile position at his alma mater at 62 to take on a new challenge. Sure, the pay is better. But the opportunity to help revive an athletic department had to be more of an attraction for Hart, whose run as Florida State's AD didn't end well.
No matter how determined he is to leave his mark, he's still just an administrator. The coaches he didn't hire will have more say so in UT's success or failure.
Martin has what Hart doesn't: a tough act to follow. Pearl could promote and coach. It's too early to judge Martin as a coach, but promoting apparently isn't a priority.
If you want to be optimistic about UT men's basketball, then listen to new recruit Jarnell Stokes, who is a promoter.
The Memphis signee chose the Vols over a national field. That's quite a coup for a program that often has had as much chance of coaxing a prize recruit out of Croatia as Memphis.
Landing one big-time recruit from anywhere doesn't guarantee Martin can recruit well enough to succeed at UT. But it's a great start.
Serrano's resume is reason for optimism. He knows the way to the College World Series. His predecessor, Todd Raleigh, couldn't find his way to Hoover, Ala.
UT football seemed headed in the right direction in Dooley's first season. A year later, the program seemed headed for a cliff after two jarring setbacks in November.
The team quit in a 49-7 loss to Arkansas. Then, two weeks later, it seemed disinterested from the outset in a loss to Kentucky.
A turnaround isn't out of the question. Dooley will improve his depth with another recruiting class, the large majority of the starters will return, and the SEC schedule will be easier.
More talent and less schedule won't mean much if the team lacks discipline and motivation. That's where leadership will come into play.
A concerned fan addressed that in an email regarding UT's misadventures of 2011. I assured him 2012 would be better.
He wrote back: "Could it be any worse?"