So what do you call this team now? The Big Orange and Gray?
And what’s next? Do you change the checkerboard end zones to pinstripes? Does Smokey don a hoodie? Do you add an eighth maxim to General Neyland’s seven?
Tennessee’s new alternative uniforms were revealed at Thursday’s media day. And a generation of fans cringed en masse.
The first samples modeled by players offered only subtle changes to the conventional orange-and-white attire. The fifth was dressed to kill any traditionalist in the crowd.
The helmet was mainly white. The trim was orange.
But the uniform was predominantly gray.
First-year UT coach Butch Jones called it “smokey” gray, as though the mascot tie-in dulled the dagger that had just been stuck in the heart of every UT traditionalist. He also mentioned that the 1914 Tennessee team wore gray, as if the Vols were merely recycling some old clothes they found in the closet.
It was a sudden switch for a man who has been selling tradition ever since he arrived on Rocky Top. Now, he’s selling tradition and new uniforms.
And he might be good enough to pull it off. Time and the won-loss record will tell.
If the Vols aren’t winning big in a couple of years, Jones will be cast as a clueless maverick who couldn’t figure out UT is a traditional program that cloaks itself in orange and white with no exceptions.
He will be the gray dullard who sold out UT’s tradition to help sell recruits. Some will say he colored himself out of a job.
But suppose today’s seven-loss program becomes a 10-game winner. Then, Jones becomes the creative genius who was rewarded for his daring change of hue.
It’s supposed to help recruiting, you are told. Well, what if it really does?
Perhaps, the five-star quarterback who yawned in the face of orange and white will be bedazzled by the orange and gray.
If you could sign five-star quarterbacks with regularity, would you really care what color your team wore?
A segment of UT fans would. They still haven’t recovered from the rush-order Halloween black jerseys former Lane Kiffin put on the Vols for their 2009 game with South Carolina.
Never mind if the Vols rarely have looked better at any other time in the last five seasons. Some hated Kiffin almost as much for the black jerseys as for his rude departure.
But the program needed a change then. It still does.
The Vols have lost seven games in four of the last five seasons. They have even fallen behind Vanderbilt and its hip coach, James Franklin.
So far, the hiring of Jones has been a change for the better. The fan base has been revitalized by how well he and his staff have recruited for 2014.
That recruiting success makes the display of gray more acceptable to many.
Fans also can rationalize that an alternative uniform isn’t a drastic switch, just a tweak of tradition that’s designed to make the future better than the recent past. Moreover, Jones promises the Vols will wear them only once a year.
Here’s something else to consider, though: The orange and gray look really sharp together. As an added bonus, someone in the upper deck of Neyland Stadium should be able to decipher the numbers and names without a telescope.
And if orange and gray are both prettier and clearer, why would you keep them on the bench for most of the season? You don’t do that with your running backs and quarterbacks.
That’s not to suggest the Vols should drop their orange and white uniforms altogether. They could still break them out for an occasional non-conference game — as long as they run it by recruits first, of course.