Mike Strange: More than anyone, the new coach will affect returning players

Mike Strange
Tennessee linebacker Jacques Smith leaves the field after the loss to Vanderbilt at Vanderbilt Stadium in Nashville on Saturday, Nov. 17, 2012. Vanderbilt defeated Tennessee 41-18. (AMY SMOTHERMAN BURGESS/NEWS SENTINEL)

Photo by Amy Smotherman Burgess

Tennessee linebacker Jacques Smith leaves the field after the loss to Vanderbilt at Vanderbilt Stadium in Nashville on Saturday, Nov. 17, 2012. Vanderbilt defeated Tennessee 41-18. (AMY SMOTHERMAN BURGESS/NEWS SENTINEL)

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Vols talk about Derek Dooley losing his job

When it comes to actually playing football, they're in the loop. They have virtually all the information.

They're at practice. They're in the video sessions, all the meetings. On Saturday they're in the locker room, on the sideline, in the huddle.

But — and there was obviously a but coming — when it comes to the biggest decision of all, Tennessee's football players are just like the fans and the media.

"I have no idea who it's going to be,'' sophomore Tiny Richardson said Monday.

"I hear all the rumors ... but I have no idea.''

Who's going to coach their team in 2013?

The returning players will be affected more than anyone by Tennessee's coaching search to replace Derek Dooley.

The guy athletic director Dave Hart picks will more or less run their lives from the moment he dons the borrowed orange tie and shows up for the press conference. This will occur presumably sometime in December.

There is one pressing piece of old business, a 12:21 p.m. date with Kentucky on Saturday at Neyland Stadium. After that, there's not much to do other than sort through the onslaught of information — and disinformation —about the coaching search.

Some will have decisions

to make. Stay? Transfer? Join the Peace Corps?

"Me personally,'' said junior Jacques Smith, "I have no choice but to stay.

"I feel like I haven't accomplished everything I need to accomplish at the university and I think I owe it to the state to at least get some wins.''

Spoken like a native son of Tennessee, which Smith is.

At least three juniors have decisions to make about turning pro: quarterback Tyler Bray and his two favorite targets, Justin Hunter and Cordarrelle Patterson.

Bray didn't help himself at Vanderbilt on Saturday night, but the NFL boys like his skill set. Same with Hunter and Patterson. It would not be a surprise to see all three apply for the draft.

The great majority of the underclassmen will be back to play for the new head coach, and, in all likelihood, a new position coach.

Junior tackle Ju'Wuan James spoke up Monday on behalf of retaining Sam Pittman, the first-year coach who has gotten terrific results with the offensive line. For the record, I agree, but that will be the new head coach's call.

There's not a single player on the roster who can say he's satisfied with the way things have turned out. Going 1-14 in the past 15 SEC games isn't what they signed on for when they chose Tennessee.

A new face at the top at least provides hope for a fresh start on putting UT back in an orbit these players envisioned as recruits.

"I would just like to see somebody bring spirit,'' said Smith, "bring energy back and bring belief back.

"It just amazes me the third week of the season, we're going against Florida, we're ranked, they're ranked, the atmosphere, the spirit amongst the fans.

"To have that go away and to not ever bring that spirit back, I just feel like we need someone to ignite that fire again at UT.''

Someone will come and he will promise to light that fire again and bring back that energy and belief.

But for now, this team has no idea who it will be. They're in the dark with the rest of us.

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 » 8

oldvolsfan writes:

yes keep sam pittman and jay graham

laraccoon writes:

nice article Mike , these players havent had to many breaks go their way since they been here , i would say they are due one . i dont get the impression that Hart is going to pull a Hammy on this hire . L'chaim

Memphis_VOL_Alum writes:

in response to laraccoon:

nice article Mike , these players havent had to many breaks go their way since they been here , i would say they are due one . i dont get the impression that Hart is going to pull a Hammy on this hire . L'chaim

I so hope you are right. I have a bad feeling about this hire. I don't think we will pick the coach as much as we will take what we can get.

hikerdude writes:

I hope Bray goes. He looked stoned in the Vandy game. Any rumors going around about that?

jack4444 writes:

I agree- keep JayG and Pittman, but what about Coach Mac the strength guy? He's the one who'll have the biggest daily influence til spring camp.

orange_eVOLution writes:

in response to oldvolsfan:

yes keep sam pittman and jay graham

We can only hope.

GO VOLS!!

jamgod writes:

I wonder if the new coach will have the power to take some scholarships away. I mean as in take away the scholarship from the player that should not be on the football field unless its the prcatise squad. I don't know about most of you but what I saw on the field equated to some extremely low football IQ. What was it then, extremely bad coaching...don't know that I have ever seen that bad of a coaching job....really, if that is the case then how did that coach get the job in the first place. But then you say, well what about Sunseri....well he has some titles as a coach and he sent quite a few players to the NFL so....is it just the player not buying into the system, or should the guy just flat-out not be on the fiel....or is the coach really that terrible. Anyways, if it is the player is it too harsh to take away that young mans scholarship because he is not holding up his part of the bargain??? Because from what I saw, and some of you may bash me for saying this but, there are some guys on the field and I am not going to say names but those of you who watch know who I speak of, that should just not be allowed to play until they figure out what is going on....take a scholarship away and give it to someone that has a descent amount of awareness to them. Just wondering?

FanNotSheep writes:

Maybe UT will hire a defensive specialist who will hang on to Chaney, Graham and Pittman. It wasn't the offense that ruined the season; Dooley's disastrous hiring of Sunseri is eerily reminiscent of Fulmer's decision to hire Dave Clawson. Makes you wonder in each case where the program would be if they'd made better decisions.

Apparently Dooley was not easy to get along with -- his assistants felt micro-managed and many of his players saw him as a coach who did not have their backs. At least that is what a player who played under Fulmer, Kiffin and Dooley told me. He also said Monte Kiffin was the best coach and teacher of the game he ever played for.

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