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 firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at http://twitter.com/strangemike44 and http://blogs.knoxnews.com/strange.