Mike Strange: Former Vols can’t wait for renewal

Mike Strange
Former Tennessee football defensive back Eric Berry, left, signs an autograph for Lindsey Valentine and her daughter Brooke, right, during the a3 Celebrity Golf Tournament at Willow Creek Golf Club in Farragut Friday, June 17, 2011.

Photo by Adam Brimer

Former Tennessee football defensive back Eric Berry, left, signs an autograph for Lindsey Valentine and her daughter Brooke, right, during the a3 Celebrity Golf Tournament at Willow Creek Golf Club in Farragut Friday, June 17, 2011.

Former UT All-American Al Wilson talks Vols

Former UT All-SEC defensive back Jason Allen talks about Derek Dooley

It’s a subject Al Wilson said he doesn’t like to discuss. But he did.

“With me being from the state of Tennessee, being a homegrown guy, it’s tough to watch some times,’’ Wilson said Friday.

He was talking — reluctantly — about the condition of University of Tennessee football.

Three coaches in three years, during which the Vols went 18-20 overall and 10-14 in SEC play.

It’s difficult for most of the former players who were at Willow Creek Golf Course for the a3 Celebrity Golf Tournament to relate to those numbers.

Consider Wilson’s career from 1995 to 1998:

During his four years on Rocky Top, the Vols were 32-5, won two SEC titles and the 1998 national championship.

In SEC play, Wilson won 21 of 24 games. He never lost to any league team other than Florida.

“It’s amazing the amount of talent we produced back then,’’ said Joey Kent, Peyton Manning’s favorite receiver in the mid-’90s. “We kind of took it for granted.

“I don’t know if it’ll ever get back to that point because of all the parity in the SEC. You have so many good teams, and the coaches.’’

Nothing is taken for granted anymore. (Well, maybe the winning streak over Kentucky.)

But every former Vol I spoke to Friday at least believes the program has turned in the right direction under the leadership of Derek Dooley.

That goes for Leonard Little from the glorious ’90s to Jason Allen of a less-glorious 2002-05 which doesn’t look too shabby at the moment.

Dooley will be back in 2011, shutting a revolving door that saw the Vols play for Phillip Fulmer in 2008, Lane Kiffin in 2009 and then Dooley last fall.

“I have to take my hat off to Coach Dooley and his staff,’’ Wilson said. “They’re doing a great job trying to get that back on track.

“The most important thing is not what the fans or the school thinks. The players have to buy into what he’s selling.’’

No less authority than Eric Berry says that they are.

Berry, perhaps the best defensive player ever to wear a “T” on his helmet, is of more recent vintage. He played in an SEC championship game as a freshman, but experienced the turmoil firsthand in 2008 and 2009.

A Pro Bowler as a rookie with the Kansas City Chiefs, Berry is still plugged in to his former teammates. He said he speaks to one or more of them nearly every day.

“Every time I talk to them they have nothing but good things to say,’’ Berry reported.

So the old Vols are biding their time, awaiting the rebirth. They’ve seen Alabama come back. Auburn, too.

They look forward to the day they can resume the trash talk. It’s a case of when, they say, not if.

“You never want to see your alma mater go through this,’’ Kent said. “But at the end of the day, it’s still Tennessee.

“That’s what we can hang our hat on. We have so much history and tradition. You know history says programs like Tennessee are going to bounce back.’’

Eric Westmoreland is another Vol with a national championship ring. A coach at Baylor School in Chattanooga, he’s anxious to see the current Vols become accountable for victory.

“There’s no direction to go but up,’’ Westmoreland said with resignation. “But I feel like Tennessee is always going to be Tennessee.

“You’re always going to have that Power T. When people see that, they still have the feeling in the back of their minds what Tennessee is about.’’

Still, a fresh reminder what Tennessee has been all about can’t come too soon.

“I bleed orange,’’ Berry said, cutting to the bottom line, “and I want to see them do good.’’

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

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Comments » 19

bspurlingcac#225603 writes:

These guys all know what it takes to put a winning effort on the field. I hope the 2012 team is busting their tails getting ready play this fall. If you want to shock the world you must first be electrifying in practice!!! GBO!!!

BradleyJKinkaid writes:

I say gather up all these guys possible: Manning, Little, Wilson, Meachem, Kent, Price and let them all speak to the team at the beginning of Fall camp.

volguy#211935 writes:

Berry bleeds Orange. I am hoping his twin brothers do, as well!

Orangeblood13 writes:

I love berry but the best def player to ever wear orange was Reggie white

VOLliven2it writes:

I believe we will see a different team on the field this fall. They will be more experienced, disciplined and play with all they have. It may not be an SEC east contending team but they will play with heart. Yes, I will agree it is a matter of when and Coach Dooley with his staff will bring it on. Thanks to all the "old" Vols who took part in the golf tournament and especially for how they gave their all for the Orange and White.

TheOpinion writes:

We're coming back. Dont you folks worry about that. Just be patient and give Dooley about 2-3 more years and we'll be back. I don't know if we'll ever see a stretch where we're dominant for 10 years like in the 90s but we can be competitive and be in the top 15 year after year.

JJMcCleskey writes:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

tennrich1 writes:

in response to simmsagain:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Its really kinda disingenuous to act like Phil NEVER won anything...actually, he won a lot...I dont know maybe you werent there, maybe you dont remember....but I remember us winning a LOT of games....Oh and there was that one small thing called a National Championship in 1998...agreed though...wish we could have won more...but to pontificate about how much more we should have won and backhandedly say Thanks Phil????,, I just think he deserves more.....

hglover40#234154 writes:

I wonder how Al Wilson's son is doing. I remember reading he had some health issues; sure hope he is doing well. Anybody have info?

Bigger_Al writes:

When will Eric Berry's little bros play for the Vols? Are they entering 10th grade?

thevoice writes:

in response to Bigger_Al:

When will Eric Berry's little bros play for the Vols? Are they entering 10th grade?

I believe you're thinking about Travis Henry. Had his first kid at age 14.

ncvol17 writes:

in response to simmsagain:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

cripes,what a sour p_ss..Our glory days, 34-5 and you can only see the 5. I remember during that time my buddy said ' this will someday be known as the good old days' I guess not for you. Bummer for you. Go pull the wings off some fly's & have a big time

murrayvol writes:

in response to Orangeblood13:

I love berry but the best def player to ever wear orange was Reggie white

Have to disagree Orange. We got 3 great years (at Tennessee) from Berry. We got 1 great year and 2 good ones from Reggie.

Career (college & pro) wise, the jury is still out.

Bigger_Al writes:

in response to thevoice:

I believe you're thinking about Travis Henry. Had his first kid at age 14.

Nope. E has twin brothers that are further along than he was at their age. Brothers. Not sons.

VolzsFan writes:

in response to simmsagain:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

I agree. He sucked bringing in all those NFL players. I mean all that winning and all. How dare he. The most successful coach in UT history is a joke. They should have never hired him and we could have stayed with the same 6-5 expectations this program had been historically. Thanks Phil

VolzsFan writes:

I love Berry. He might end up being the best but lets hold our horses. Doug Atkins and Reggie White where both All Americans as well as NFL Hall of Famers. John Henderson won one an Outland and should have won 2. He is a multiple ALL Pro. Dale Carter and Leonard Little had great college and Pro careers. Just a bit to early to put him in that category just yet. Had Al Wilson not gotten hurt he was building a Hall of Fame career. Jerrod Mayo is also off to a great start. I am pulling for Eric but Strange is the horse looking down the cliff at the cart on that one.

beartn#223846 writes:

<<Fulmer definitely underachieved with the talent he had. He should have won at least 3-4 SEC championships while AL, AU, GA, LSU, AR and SC all suked at the same time. That kind of decade won't come along again in our lifetimes. But because he couldn't coach or beat FL the 90s thru early 2000's were really TN's lost decade and a half. Thanks Phil.
...>>

I would love to suffer through another lost decade and a half of winning around 80% of the games plus our first national title in 47 years. It was probably time for him to go, but we have to go all the way back to Neyland for results better than(or even as good as) Fulmer's. Until someone else does better, Fulmer is the 2nd best coach the Vols have ever had.

AllforTenn writes:

in response to Orangeblood13:

I love berry but the best def player to ever wear orange was Reggie white

Or maybe Doug Atkins.

AHOUSE writes:

I remember hearing last year or when Eric was playing , his brothers were both future vols.

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