Mike Strange: Top 10 local sports stories of 2011

Tennessee coach Pat Summitt watches her team play against Middle Tennessee State on Nov. 29 at Thompson-Boling Arena.

Photo by Saul Young, copyright © 2011

Tennessee coach Pat Summitt watches her team play against Middle Tennessee State on Nov. 29 at Thompson-Boling Arena.

As we ring out the old year, 2011, a moment of silence is in order. What a newsy year it was and much of it not good.

Cracking the top 10 local sports stories in any year is tough if you're not affiliated with the University of Tennessee. That was especially true in a drama-filled 2011.

A local kid managed to do so, pulling an upset for the ages in one of America's major sporting events.

Over on The Hill, meanwhile, it was mostly a succession of grim headlines. UT's athletics organizational chart looks considerably different than it did on New Year's Day 2011.

So on with the local top 10 sports stories of 2011:

1. Summitt's Shocker: As if Big Orange Country hadn't endured enough tough breaks by August, the university's enduring icon, Pat Summitt, revealed a diagnosis of early-onset dementia.

Summitt, true to form, greeted her dilemma with courageous defiance, coaching on under a public microscope to raise awareness of the terrible disease.

Although in a diminished role, she remains the face of UT's most successful brand.

2. Pearl's Demise: Bruce Pearl's career at UT ended in a tortuous ordeal that dragged on in the media over the first three months of the year.

The administration gradually distanced itself from its initial support of the popular coach who made men's basketball relevant during the previous five seasons then lied to NCAA investigators in 2010.

The final week was the worst — a surprising public lack of support from athletic director Mike Hamilton, then a 30-point first-round NCAA tournament loss and, finally, a pink slip.

3. Football Fizzle: Derek Dooley's second season failed to deliver on the promise of the way his first season ended. By November, the Vols were a mess. By bowl season, they were sitting home.

Defensive star Janzen

Jackson was gone by opening day and injuries to playmakers Justin Hunter and Tyler Bray reduced the Vols' offense to a crawl. At one point, UT went 10 quarters without a touchdown.

The running game was AWOL. The season skidded to an end with a blowout loss at Arkansas, an overtime escape against Vanderbilt and a demoralizing, streak-ending thud at Kentucky.

4. Trevor Bayne: Knoxville's own Trevor Bayne celebrated his 20th birthday then went out and won the Daytona 500, standing the NASCAR world on its ear.

The well-spoken, photogenic Bayne became the youngest driver to win NASCAR's marquee race and, thus, an immediate media sensation.

Battling illness (believed to be the result of an insect bite) Bayne wasn't able to capitalize on his fantastic start and finished 53rd in the Sprint Cup points race. He was 11th on the Nationwide circuit with a win at Texas.

5. Hamilton Goes, Too: UT athletic director Mike Hamilton outlasted Pearl by a couple of months but he too was a victim of the NCAA probe.

Hamilton, who took over in 2003, stepped aside days before UT faced the NCAA Committee on Infractions in June. He left with a nice buyout, though, which angered many UT fans.

6. Summons to Indy: The NCAA investigation drew a reunion of Pearl and Lane Kiffin to Indianapolis for the hearing before the Committee on Infractions in June. In late August came the ruling that ended the ordeal that cast a shadow over UT for more than two years.

The NCAA essentially accepted UT's self-imposed penalties, two years probation and various recruiting restrictions. Pearl got a three-year show-cause sanction.

7. Fresh Start in Hoops: Pearl's job didn't sit empty long. UT was quick to hire Cuonzo Martin from Missouri State, hoping to strike gold from the mid-major ranks like it did with Pearl.

Martin, UT's second black basketball coach, inherited a massive rebuilding project. The Vols are 6-6 headed into the new year.

8. Hart Takes Over: After at least one rejection, UT turned to Dave Hart to steer a combined men's and women's athletic program.

Hart, a veteran administrator in the major ranks, left his latest gig at Alabama, his alma mater. He has yet to make a coaching hire.

9. Another Streak Ends: Alcoa's seven-year reign as Class 3A high school football state champion ended in November. The team that beat them, CAK, went on to claim its first title. Blount County didn't come up empty, though, since Maryville won the 6A title, its 13th overall, to cap an undefeated season. Greeneville also got into the act with its second-straight title in Class 4A.

10. Dugout Changes: UT pulled the plug on baseball coach Todd Raleigh after four uninspired seasons. His replacement, Dave Serrano, has generated excitement based on his track record of leading both Cal State Fullerton and UC Irvine to the College World Series.

Follow Mike Strange at http://twitter.com/strangemike44 and http://blogs.knoxnews.com/strange.

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Comments » 1

GiveHim6TDTennessee writes:

This is going to be our year! Go VOLS!

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