Plenty of questions remain as Vols close season

Tennessee wide receiver Justin Hunter celebrates after scoring a touchdown during an NCAA college football game against Kentucky Saturday, Nov. 24, 2012, in Knoxville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Adam Brimer, Knoxville News Sentinel)

Tennessee wide receiver Justin Hunter celebrates after scoring a touchdown during an NCAA college football game against Kentucky Saturday, Nov. 24, 2012, in Knoxville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Adam Brimer, Knoxville News Sentinel)

Tennessee wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson catches a 21-yard touchdown pass as Kentucky cornerback Cartier Rice defends during an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 24, 2012, in Knoxville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Michael Patrick, Knoxville News Sentinel)

Tennessee wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson catches a 21-yard touchdown pass as Kentucky cornerback Cartier Rice defends during an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 24, 2012, in Knoxville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Michael Patrick, Knoxville News Sentinel)

Tennessee linebacker A.J. Johnson pressures Kentucky quarterback Jalen Whitlow during an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 24, 2012, in Knoxville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Adam Brimer, Knoxville News Sentinel)

Tennessee linebacker A.J. Johnson pressures Kentucky quarterback Jalen Whitlow during an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 24, 2012, in Knoxville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Adam Brimer, Knoxville News Sentinel)

Tennessee fans hold signs for the coaching changes during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Kentucky, Saturday, Nov. 24, 2012, in Knoxville, Tenn. The Vols won 37-17. (AP Photo/Chattanooga Times Free, Dan Henry) THE DAILY CITIZEN OUT; NOOGA.COM OUT; CLEVELAND DAILY BANNER OUT; LOCAL INTERNET OUT.

Tennessee fans hold signs for the coaching changes during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Kentucky, Saturday, Nov. 24, 2012, in Knoxville, Tenn. The Vols won 37-17. (AP Photo/Chattanooga Times Free, Dan Henry) THE DAILY CITIZEN OUT; NOOGA.COM OUT; CLEVELAND DAILY BANNER OUT; LOCAL INTERNET OUT.

Tennessee offensive coordinator Jim Chaney, serving as interim head coach since Derek Dooley was fired after the last game, cheers for the senior class players as they take the field to play Kentucky in an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Nov. 24, 2012, in Knoxville, Tenn. The Vols won 37-17. The Vols won 37-17. (AP Photo/Chattanooga Times Free Press, Dan Henry) THE DAILY CITIZEN OUT; NOOGA.COM OUT; CLEVELAND DAILY BANNER OUT; LOCAL INTERNET OUT.

Tennessee offensive coordinator Jim Chaney, serving as interim head coach since Derek Dooley was fired after the last game, cheers for the senior class players as they take the field to play Kentucky in an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Nov. 24, 2012, in Knoxville, Tenn. The Vols won 37-17. The Vols won 37-17. (AP Photo/Chattanooga Times Free Press, Dan Henry) THE DAILY CITIZEN OUT; NOOGA.COM OUT; CLEVELAND DAILY BANNER OUT; LOCAL INTERNET OUT.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Now that Tennessee's season is over, the real intrigue begins.

The Volunteers aren't bowl eligible after posting a 5-7 record that included just one Southeastern Conference victory, but they'll still command plenty of attention over the next few weeks. Questions surround this program that annually competed for conference titles not long ago.

— Who's going to be the Vols' next coach?

— Will quarterback Tyler Bray and wide receivers Justin Hunter and Cordarrelle Patterson — all projected as first- or second-round draft picks — return for their senior seasons?

— And perhaps the most important question of all: What will it take for Tennessee to become a consistent winner again?

"I think if we can just (get) someone here who can get us back to playing Tennessee football — hard, physical football — we'll be back there dominating everybody like we used to," said fullback Ben Bartholomew, one of 13 seniors who finished their college careers Saturday in a 37-17 triumph over Kentucky.

Tennessee's victory over Kentucky prevented the Vols from going winless in SEC competition for the first time in school history. The Vols still recorded their third straight losing season, the first time that's happened here in over a century. This extended run of futility resulted in the firing of Derek Dooley, who posted a 15-21 record in three seasons.

Athletic director Dave Hart now must search for Dooley's successor while the Vols' most notable players decide on their futures.

Bray, Hunter and Patterson all are projected as first- or second-round picks if they enter next year's draft. The three juniors said Saturday they hadn't decided whether to turn pro. Bray and Hunter indicated the coaching search could impact their choices.

"It's going to play a big part in our decision, so we have to wait for that before we make our decision," Hunter said.

Their choices will determine what kind of offense the new coach inherits.

Bray threw for 3,612 yards and 34 touchdowns this year to rank second on Tennessee's single-season list in both categories, behind Peyton Manning's 3,819 yards and 36 touchdown passes in 1997. Justin Hunter accumulated the second-most catches (73) and third-most receiving yards (1,083) in school history. Patterson gained 1,858 all-purpose yards to break Reggie Cobb's 25-year-old school record.

"It was an awesome year," Patterson said. "Things came up big for me. I didn't expect any of this coming from junior college. I didn't even think I was going to play that much. I just came here and worked hard every day, and good things happened."

Tennessee already must replace departing senior receiver Zach Rogers and tight end Mychal Rivera. If Hunter and Patterson both leave, the Vols wouldn't return a single wideout who caught more than 13 passes this year.

If Tennessee must break in a first-year starting quarterback and a new receiving corps, the offense would need to rely on a line that gave up just eight sacks this season. The Vols would welcome back four starters on the line if junior tackle Ja'Wuan James doesn't enter the draft.

James hasn't made a decision about next year, though he hopes Dooley's successor retains offensive line coach Sam Pittman.

"We got comfortable with him," James said. "That guy recruited me. I like what's going on now, and if we can keep him, that would be good."

But the biggest chore facing the new coach is reviving a defense that couldn't stop anyone this season.

Tennessee allowed the most points (35.7) and yards (471.4) per game of any SEC team this season. The Vols hadn't allowed that high a scoring average since 1893, when they gave up 42.7 points per game while playing a six-game schedule. They hadn't yielded that many yards per game since at least 1950, the earliest year Tennessee's sports information department has that statistic on file.

The Vols have one exceptional defensive playmaker in linebacker A.J. Johnson, who pulled off a rare achievement as a sophomore this year by leading his team in both touchdown runs and tackles. Johnson ran for six touchdowns while carrying the ball 12 times all season on direct snaps. He also leads the SEC with 138 tackles and is ranked fourth nationally with 11.5 tackles per game.

Tennessee must find plenty more defenders just like him. While Dooley and his staff received much of the criticism for Tennessee's struggles this year, the Vols' fortunes won't change until the players start performing better.

"I am not really focused on" the coaching search, Johnson said. "I know that it is really on us as players. I'm going to try to come in and lead the team as much as I can."

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Comments » 21

snafu14u#241639 writes:

Mr Hart has this correct in the sense that UT is at a crossroads. The UTAD budget is shot, the SEC is super strong and all the leading candidates have good reason to stay put. A bad fit/hire THIS time would set UT back a decade. And this just doesn't effect football. It effects academics and all the other sports programs. Sometimes I miss Doug Dickey......Bonzaivol

BigVolFaninSC writes:

Any analyst (ESPN or otherwise) that believes that Bray and Hunter are ready for the NFL are only watching highlights and looking at stats! Both have potential, but they are not ready for the Big-time! Patterson's natural ability might make him worth a higher pick, but I think all three would benefit if they came back next year.

standfast#211788 writes:

This is what we're dealing with folks:

Cordarelle Patterson said: "It was an awesome year. Things came up big for me. I didn't expect any of this coming from junior college. I didn't even think I was going to play that much. I just came here and worked hard every day, and good things happened."

My question is, what good things happened? We had one of the worst teams in memory. We lost a coach. Our probation got extended. Attendance was down -- way down. We got whipped by Vanderbilt. The season is over and you still can't get open half the time. Tell me Mr. Patterson, what good things happened?

Supersayin1 writes:

Tennessee must find plenty more defenders just like him. While Dooley and his staff received much of the criticism for Tennessee's struggles this year, the Vols' fortunes won't change until the players start performing better.

^^^^^^
TRUTH!

6972 writes:

The only question DD has is, What times does the bank open in the morning? The other coaches question is, when does the other shoe fall?

tnoutlaw2001#228008 writes:

in response to BigVolFaninSC:

Any analyst (ESPN or otherwise) that believes that Bray and Hunter are ready for the NFL are only watching highlights and looking at stats! Both have potential, but they are not ready for the Big-time! Patterson's natural ability might make him worth a higher pick, but I think all three would benefit if they came back next year.

Totally agree. If a scout looks over the schedule and realizes most of the numbers came against weaker competition then yes they are over rated.

In non conference games Hunter, Patterson and Bray looked awesome, in SEC contests their numbers went down as did the touchdowns and total yardage.

So the stats are definitely inflated to some degree.

Rock85 writes:

TENNESSEE PLAYERS ,Tennessee ALUM,Tennessee fans. HAVE GAVE ALL FOR THE PROGRAM. Its Time for the Adminiseration to GIVE BACK. HIRE GRUDEN!!!!

govols0463 writes:

in response to standfast#211788:

This is what we're dealing with folks:

Cordarelle Patterson said: "It was an awesome year. Things came up big for me. I didn't expect any of this coming from junior college. I didn't even think I was going to play that much. I just came here and worked hard every day, and good things happened."

My question is, what good things happened? We had one of the worst teams in memory. We lost a coach. Our probation got extended. Attendance was down -- way down. We got whipped by Vanderbilt. The season is over and you still can't get open half the time. Tell me Mr. Patterson, what good things happened?

The good things that happened were all to do about him as an individual. As soon as I read it, you could tell that he got what he came here for. He got his millions, and it just so happened that it occurred a little bit sooner than, even he, thought it would happen, with the departure of Da'Rick. They had to push him along even quicker than planned. I don't blame the kid a bit, but the "good things that happened" were all about him, and therein lies a huge reason Tennessee hasn't been successful in a while now. A "team" attitude has to be instilled back into the university, instead of the "me first" attitude that has taken hold here. It can happen with the right person. Alabama, Florida, Georgia, and A&M are loaded with superstars, but they are well-coached by people that get the players to play as a team. By the way, based on what we read, including today's article in the Chattanooga Free Times Press, it sounds like the players didn't have to look very far to polish up on their attitude of arrogance. It was coming directly from their ignorant head coach. I agree with Ben Bartholemew. Let's bring the team attitude back to Tennessee, get physical, and play Tennessee football. To h*ll with all of this throat slashing, staring down opposing sidelines, falling down after catches, and claiming to have had a great season just because you now have a pro contract. Bring back Tennessee football! Hire, not only a man of character, but one with some football sense and experience running a SUCCESSFUL program!

OwensboroVol writes:

Has anyone noticed that the KNS is attempting to blackmail you into subscribing to GoVols247. They are beginning to move all of the stories concerning the Coaching Search into that area where you can't read it unless you pay to. I said more than 10 years ago that I will not pay to read news on the internet. This includes the KNS, ESPN, Sports Illustrated, The Sporting News, or any others. They are already collecting big dollars for the advertising. If everyone would quit paying for it they would change really fast. When the number of visitors go down on a site they cannot collect as much for the advertising.

Vol_in_Mich writes:

in response to standfast#211788:

This is what we're dealing with folks:

Cordarelle Patterson said: "It was an awesome year. Things came up big for me. I didn't expect any of this coming from junior college. I didn't even think I was going to play that much. I just came here and worked hard every day, and good things happened."

My question is, what good things happened? We had one of the worst teams in memory. We lost a coach. Our probation got extended. Attendance was down -- way down. We got whipped by Vanderbilt. The season is over and you still can't get open half the time. Tell me Mr. Patterson, what good things happened?

He's going to flunk out of school, but he got to prove he could play & will get paid millions in the NFL (ready or not). So yeah, he had a pretty awesome year. How about you hotshot?

CantStandCantStandSaban writes:

in response to standfast#211788:

This is what we're dealing with folks:

Cordarelle Patterson said: "It was an awesome year. Things came up big for me. I didn't expect any of this coming from junior college. I didn't even think I was going to play that much. I just came here and worked hard every day, and good things happened."

My question is, what good things happened? We had one of the worst teams in memory. We lost a coach. Our probation got extended. Attendance was down -- way down. We got whipped by Vanderbilt. The season is over and you still can't get open half the time. Tell me Mr. Patterson, what good things happened?

I believe he was referring to his NFL draft stock.

RoyaltyVol writes:

It's obvious to all of us how important this hire is. We need a proven winner. Gruden and Stoops are the home runs and we need a a hire that will restore the fans faith in this football program and I'm confident Hart will make the right hire

Vol_in_Mich writes:

in response to tnoutlaw2001#228008:

Totally agree. If a scout looks over the schedule and realizes most of the numbers came against weaker competition then yes they are over rated.

In non conference games Hunter, Patterson and Bray looked awesome, in SEC contests their numbers went down as did the touchdowns and total yardage.

So the stats are definitely inflated to some degree.

You think the NFL guys don't know all that? Ever hear of the combine? Oh, I forgot that some of you Vol fans are smarter than God, no wonder you supported Dooley till the end.
I hope you experts pick a better coach this time cause I know Mr. Hart will defer to your judgement.

bhenry writes:

Everyone is talking about the big three leaving. You better hope JJ & big Zach stay. Zach is rated as the 3rd best guard in the draft. He is so underrated. Thanks O-Line what a great improvement. Keep working hard.

civilianvol_formerly_marinevol writes:

in response to standfast#211788:

This is what we're dealing with folks:

Cordarelle Patterson said: "It was an awesome year. Things came up big for me. I didn't expect any of this coming from junior college. I didn't even think I was going to play that much. I just came here and worked hard every day, and good things happened."

My question is, what good things happened? We had one of the worst teams in memory. We lost a coach. Our probation got extended. Attendance was down -- way down. We got whipped by Vanderbilt. The season is over and you still can't get open half the time. Tell me Mr. Patterson, what good things happened?

He's one of the most talented football players I've ever seen. But, when he had two touchdowns called back in two weeks for taunting, he clearly showed he was not out there for the team. He'll be right at home in the NFL, where everyone is in it for himself, and he will make a lot of money. Maybe the right coach can instill a TEAM concept in the players. That concept is certainly lacking now.

PUL4VOLS writes:

"Starting all over again, is gonna be rough, on us, be we gonna make it!" -from a song in the 70s. No matter who is hired, who jumps to the NFL, it is a start over situation, like that or not. Granted, the experience and draw certain potential coaches have could make it happen sooner but it will take time...Oh yeah, we said that with Dooley and many had him fired before the first depleted team took the field. He is gone and that's history. What fans need to do is give the next head coach time instead of thinking overnight we become SEC east favorites. I don't like the thought but that is highly unlikely in any scenario. And anyone who comes on here claiming that is accepting losses, is completely out of his/her/their head.

voodoo101 writes:

in response to OwensboroVol:

Has anyone noticed that the KNS is attempting to blackmail you into subscribing to GoVols247. They are beginning to move all of the stories concerning the Coaching Search into that area where you can't read it unless you pay to. I said more than 10 years ago that I will not pay to read news on the internet. This includes the KNS, ESPN, Sports Illustrated, The Sporting News, or any others. They are already collecting big dollars for the advertising. If everyone would quit paying for it they would change really fast. When the number of visitors go down on a site they cannot collect as much for the advertising.

That falls into "give the devil his due" category. The media (including the KNS) have worked hard to make this a story about a coaching search - struggling teams just don't generate the followers. It's a well crafted script that works equally well in sports and politics - just like jackals cutting a weak animal out of a herd; and this was a bounty year for the SEC media.

gobigorange5090 writes:

in response to snafu14u#241639:

Mr Hart has this correct in the sense that UT is at a crossroads. The UTAD budget is shot, the SEC is super strong and all the leading candidates have good reason to stay put. A bad fit/hire THIS time would set UT back a decade. And this just doesn't effect football. It effects academics and all the other sports programs. Sometimes I miss Doug Dickey......Bonzaivol

I miss him too!

Pipe_Down_Otis writes:

The difference in our few arrogant athletes, (Bray, Patterson, Hunter) and some other team( Alabama, LSU)....is they know there is no 5 star athlete at their position ready to take there place. Alabama and LSU players keep their mouth shut and play hard, cause they know Saban and Miles will pull their butt in a heartbeat and just insert another all-american. They have that luxury, we don't. So we have to put up with the taunters, the pouters, and the guys that play not to get hurt so they can play in the NFL.

volswinsome writes:

Sounds crazy, but I almost rather all 3 go. It's Kelly Washington syndrome from 01. It's not their fault but none of these kids can help be scarred from the last 3 years. They've been thru a ton & it's about impossible to not have the wrong attitude going in. We've learned how important senior leadership is to the team...those would be a our big 3 leaders? Let them go and wish them luck. Starting from scratch might be better in the long run.

suggest_removal_4_all_troll_posts writes:

I'm gladded the season has closed. The defense finally got off the field.

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