John Adams: UT sports due for an upgrade

John Adams

One of the great off-season debates for Tennessee fans could be: Which school year was worse for sports, 2010-11 or 2011-12?

It's a close call if you use the top five sports as a measuring stick. But there's a noteworthy difference: Fans can now say "Wait till next year" with more conviction.

They probably didn't say it at all last June when there was no compelling evidence that the next school year would be wondrously different. In fact, it would be worse.

Nothing that occurred on the field or court in the 2010-2011 school year was as significant as the firing of Bruce Pearl, who had revitalized a mediocre basketball program into an NCAA tournament regular and revived an apathetic fan base as well.

But Pearl's dismissal was neither as tragic nor as traumatic for fans as this year's departure of legendary women's basketball coach Pat Summitt, who was forced to relinquish her position due to early onset dementia.

In each case, UT suffered a terrible loss. The two school years also produced remarkably similar results.

The football teams both lost seven games.

The men's basketball teams both won 19.

The women's basketball team made the Elite Eight of the NCAA tournament each season.

The 2011 baseball team was 7-23 in the SEC; this year's team was 8-22.

Only the softball team improved its status. It won three more games (from 49 to 52) and reached the Women's College World Series this season.

Next season could be better. You could say that about other sports programs as well.

Football — It's typical of fans to raise their expectations the closer they get to a new season. But there's hard evidence to support such optimism in UT football.

After back-to-back seven-loss seasons, the Vols return 20 starters. And third-year coach Derek Dooley has bolstered his depth chart through recruiting.

Eight victories seem realistic, and you could make a case for nine.

Men's basketball — Like football, it should be much improved. In a transitional season from Pearl to first-year coach Cuonzo Martin, the Vols managed to win 19 games and 10 in SEC regular-season play.

They lost only one starter and will return their top four scorers. Based on the Vols' talent and experience, Florida coach Billy Donovan says they could be the team to beat in the SEC.

Women's basketball — The Lady Vols have lost more than Summitt. Also gone are five players,

three of whom were taken in the WNBA draft.

But there's still potential for continued success with a nucleus of promising players like Meighan Simmons, Taber Spani, Ariel Massengale, Kamiko Williams and Cierra Burdick. Also, UT will have the advantage of playing the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament on its home floor.

Softball — Almost immediately after the Lady Vols lost in the Women's College World Series, co-head coach Ralph Weekly vowed the team would be better in 2013.

You didn't have to look further than his starting lineup to understand his confidence. The Lady Vols will return eight of 10 starters in addition to their pitching staff. They also will add six freshmen, most notably pitcher Erin Gabriel.

Baseball — As bad as UT was in 2012, improvement should be a given, even in a conference as competitive as the SEC. Coach Dave Serrano's coaching track record elsewhere also bodes well for a program that hasn't qualified for the SEC tournament in Hoover, Ala., since 2007.

Serrano plans to bring in 23 new players and is setting his sights high.

In a letter to fans, he wrote: "My ultimate dream is the day when we can all celebrate the return of the program to its rightful spot among the nation's elite."

Next season, UT fans would settle for a trip to Hoover.

John Adams is a senior columnist. He may be reached at 865-342-6284 or adamsj@knoxnews.com. Follow him at http://twitter.com/johnadamskns.

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Comments » 22

snafu14u#241639 writes:

Right on JA, a honest evaluation of UTAD. We'll have to see how the Track/Field and the Swim teams do as well. Still maybe a couple of years away from competing for the all sports trophy but the worst should be over. Bonzaivol

TWhite11 writes:

good article

kazoo writes:

It's been a BAD stretch for UT athletics--really, several years of poor or mediocre performances by a lot of teams. To wit:

--Football program has been down for about 10 years. Dooley seems to have some impressive qualities, but the jury is out on him--he's never yet been a winner. This is a HUGE year for the football team; have to make some hay or Dooley will be in jeopardy.
--Pearl had the basketball program going very well, and then he lied about a relatively minor infraction and UT consequently lost the best coach it ever had. I like the new coach but he's got to recruit.
--Baseball has been fairly bad for a LONG time, but I think Serrano has what it takes to build a program.
--The once proud Track and Swimming programs have fallen--track more than swimming, I think.
--You know things have gotten pretty dire when Tennis has been your marquee program for a couple of years. Almost won a national title year before last.

On the women's side, the famed basketball program has lost its coach and lost its luster. Truthfully, I'm sorry for PS's health issue--but even without that problem her best years as a coach were long past. It was time for her to retire. I hope Warlick does well--but this program has not been to a Final Four in four years and the COACHING has NOT been stellar for a long time. Not optimistic--need a dynamic, new coach.
--Women's softball has been strong but the coaches can't quite get over the hump. UT should have been the first SEC team to win a national title, but instead it was bama. Uggh!
--Women's soccer: The previous coach built a pretty good program but could not really keep it going. Never got enough good players to make a real run in the NCAA, and then things began to slip.

Let's hope things turn around across the board.

arkyvol writes:

i'd settle for not being dead last in the conference apr. anything to keep 'university' and 'tennessee' from becoming mutually exclusive terms.

btw: recent rankings show that alabama's academic standings are, like its football team, leaving the vols in the dust.

tovolny writes:

Okay, John...good job.

aspenvol2 writes:

If anybody knows about not making the grade, it's John Adams. Vol hater.

jcvol#215939 writes:

Thanks to Mike Hamilton

nomietn#281095 writes:

It's hard watching such a proud university become so irrelevant in so many sports. It especially is true for football and men's basketball, the life blood of the program. Incompetence(Hamilton), cheating(Pearl), and poor judgment(Fulmer, Kiffin, and Cheek) are the primary causes.

Bigger_Al writes:

About as worthwhile for discussion as:

"What sucked more - Adams' articles in 2011, 2012, or any other year?"

TommyJack writes:

Good piece, Adams.

mocsandvolsfan writes:

No worries. I'm happy with what's coming up this fall and winter. Next summer? Did he say 23 new players for baseball? That sounds awesome considering our past coupla seasons.lol

AllVol1 writes:

I agreed with everyone who said it would take any coach three years to get anything going in UT football. This is it, year three for Derek Dooley and staff. Obvious improvement on the field or cut our losses.

Distinct areas of scrutiny:

QB
Bray has the physical tools and is surrounded by weapons. Need to see the mental catch up with the physical. His ability to anticipate and respond must make a big step forward.

RB's.
It's not a reflection on Coach Graham. Dooley should have hired him when he came aboard. Regardless, we need to run better, more aggressively hitting holes, running north-south, holding onto the ball, and sustaining drives.

OLine.
With our size, numbers, and experience, there are simply NO EXCUSES not to be dominant. They have been good in pass protection. That should be great. I want to see bulldozers make pancakes when we run.

D Secondary.
We have the talent and the experience. These boys practice against some of the best in the nation. They get their chance to man up in this more aggressive 3-4 scheme. Let's see some jamming and ball-hawking.

Special teams.

Return specialist(s) This is just a positive, not an area of concern. I can't wait to see more Devrin Young. Boy is explosive and fearless. Patterson is supposed to be special too. We'll see.

Back to areas of concern...
Kickers...They really can only improve. Our kicking game cannot get any worse. Enough about that...

Coverage. That Arkansas play is haunting. I hope it has not been forgotten.

If we can improve, definitively, in these areas, I will be in favor of keeping this staff and moving forward. Go Vols!

WetumpkaThumpa writes:

in response to kazoo:

It's been a BAD stretch for UT athletics--really, several years of poor or mediocre performances by a lot of teams. To wit:

--Football program has been down for about 10 years. Dooley seems to have some impressive qualities, but the jury is out on him--he's never yet been a winner. This is a HUGE year for the football team; have to make some hay or Dooley will be in jeopardy.
--Pearl had the basketball program going very well, and then he lied about a relatively minor infraction and UT consequently lost the best coach it ever had. I like the new coach but he's got to recruit.
--Baseball has been fairly bad for a LONG time, but I think Serrano has what it takes to build a program.
--The once proud Track and Swimming programs have fallen--track more than swimming, I think.
--You know things have gotten pretty dire when Tennis has been your marquee program for a couple of years. Almost won a national title year before last.

On the women's side, the famed basketball program has lost its coach and lost its luster. Truthfully, I'm sorry for PS's health issue--but even without that problem her best years as a coach were long past. It was time for her to retire. I hope Warlick does well--but this program has not been to a Final Four in four years and the COACHING has NOT been stellar for a long time. Not optimistic--need a dynamic, new coach.
--Women's softball has been strong but the coaches can't quite get over the hump. UT should have been the first SEC team to win a national title, but instead it was bama. Uggh!
--Women's soccer: The previous coach built a pretty good program but could not really keep it going. Never got enough good players to make a real run in the NCAA, and then things began to slip.

Let's hope things turn around across the board.

Uh...Baseball went to the College World Series just seven years ago in 2005. That's not a LONG time ago. The biggest disaster in UTK history, Mike Hamilton fired that coach though for Todd "Gorilla Ball" Raleigh.

snakeplissken writes:

A monkey coaching could show "improvement" over what we've seen in football the last two years. With a much easier schedule and 20 starters returning, I'd think 9 wins minimum, 10 reasonable, should be the mark to show REAL improvement in football. These are mostly Dooley's players that HE recruited and has coached two full seasons.

volvann writes:

in response to snakeplissken:

A monkey coaching could show "improvement" over what we've seen in football the last two years. With a much easier schedule and 20 starters returning, I'd think 9 wins minimum, 10 reasonable, should be the mark to show REAL improvement in football. These are mostly Dooley's players that HE recruited and has coached two full seasons.

Agree except for one thing... The junior's are what he salvaged from the Kitten debacle. Dooley has 2 recruiting classes he can claim 100% credit for, and they were pretty darn good considering how UT finished the last couple of years.

DannyVol writes:

Good article, John? Does he have another? He's been rehashing the same old garbage for years, trying to inflict as much damage as possible, and you have the nerve to say "good article" while having a stitch of orange in your closet??? Do you say "good article when he saves a particularly juicy expose for Saturdays when the top recruits and their families are in town? Because if you do, you can take your Tennessee gear down to the Goodwill where it will do someone some good.

Harrit writes:

in response to AllVol1:

I agreed with everyone who said it would take any coach three years to get anything going in UT football. This is it, year three for Derek Dooley and staff. Obvious improvement on the field or cut our losses.

Distinct areas of scrutiny:

QB
Bray has the physical tools and is surrounded by weapons. Need to see the mental catch up with the physical. His ability to anticipate and respond must make a big step forward.

RB's.
It's not a reflection on Coach Graham. Dooley should have hired him when he came aboard. Regardless, we need to run better, more aggressively hitting holes, running north-south, holding onto the ball, and sustaining drives.

OLine.
With our size, numbers, and experience, there are simply NO EXCUSES not to be dominant. They have been good in pass protection. That should be great. I want to see bulldozers make pancakes when we run.

D Secondary.
We have the talent and the experience. These boys practice against some of the best in the nation. They get their chance to man up in this more aggressive 3-4 scheme. Let's see some jamming and ball-hawking.

Special teams.

Return specialist(s) This is just a positive, not an area of concern. I can't wait to see more Devrin Young. Boy is explosive and fearless. Patterson is supposed to be special too. We'll see.

Back to areas of concern...
Kickers...They really can only improve. Our kicking game cannot get any worse. Enough about that...

Coverage. That Arkansas play is haunting. I hope it has not been forgotten.

If we can improve, definitively, in these areas, I will be in favor of keeping this staff and moving forward. Go Vols!

That Arkansas punt coverage play was one of the worst plays ever, I counted at least 9 players who touched him, some even had him wrapped up, but nothing could stop him from going through our entire coverage team for 6. The under-handed backward pass/interception to avoid a sack, the LSU 13 men on the field, and the North Carolina penalty to stop the clock also rate up there as low points. The parting of the red-sea with the Florida guy running untouched down the middle of the field 83 yards for a TD hurt alot, and the long run by the Oregon guy was disappointing. But that punt returning still upsets me the most to this very day, that and the backward pass given what we now know.Completely inexcuseable, both plays!

GONAVY writes:

I'm not much for predictions, but I'm hard pressed to find more than 8 wins in 2012. The first and third games will be pivotol for UT. Forget Bama, @ UGA and probably @SC. Missouri is a huge late season home game. If UT starts out of the blocks 1-2, I see the heat turned up. 2-1 or 3-0 means something different, obviously. But, one game at a time.

Harrit writes:

If the Vols can get out of the box with a win vs NC State, knuckle-up, and snag a huge W at home vs Florida, you can circle that trip to Athens as a notice that one of the college football super-powers is back. A 5-0 start and that horse will be way down the road, and you might not be able to get her back in the yard for a while. The key is good health.

DeltaCharlie3 writes:

Fair assessment.

CrankE writes:

After years of hearing that UT has bottomed out and surely better days lie ahead, I'm still not convinced.

With all the house cleaning that has gone on, I think there are two more dismissals that need to happen related to the world of Tennessee sports.

John Adams. The Debby Jennings of sportswriters. KNS is due for an upgrade.

Bob Kesling. The VoV is due for an upgrade.
Perhaps since Kesling is an employee of UT, Dave Hart can address this next. We'll not find John Ward's equal, but surely UT can do better than The Bob.

Colliervol writes:

in response to DannyVol:

Good article, John? Does he have another? He's been rehashing the same old garbage for years, trying to inflict as much damage as possible, and you have the nerve to say "good article" while having a stitch of orange in your closet??? Do you say "good article when he saves a particularly juicy expose for Saturdays when the top recruits and their families are in town? Because if you do, you can take your Tennessee gear down to the Goodwill where it will do someone some good.

John's journalistic abilities are due for an upgrade as well. But don't hold your breath. We've been subjected to his particular brand of "journalism" (and I use the term VERY loosely) for far too many years. Rarely even bother to read his articles anymore. What did this one say anyway?

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