Mike Strange: This time, it's not Year Zero at Tennessee

Mike Strange
University of Tennessee defensive coordinator John Jancek talks with defensive back Brent Brewer during preseason training camp drills at Haslam Field, Saturday, Aug. 3, 2013. (Amy Smotherman Burgess/News Sentinel)

Photo by Amy Smotherman Burgess

University of Tennessee defensive coordinator John Jancek talks with defensive back Brent Brewer during preseason training camp drills at Haslam Field, Saturday, Aug. 3, 2013. (Amy Smotherman Burgess/News Sentinel)

UT practice from Thursday night

The whistles and thuds from practice on Haslam Field echoed into the indoor facility Thursday.

Inside, a couple dozen volunteers from the student body showed up for a walk-on tryout.

The last time Tennessee was preparing for a football season under a new coach, one or two of those guys might have actually gotten in the opening game.

This week three years ago, the Vols were getting ready to open what the new coach, Derek Dooley, would call Year Zero.

The program had been so shaken by the firing of Phillip Fulmer and the hiring and departure of Lane Kiffin after a season that it seemed like starting from scratch under Dooley.

A walk-on freshman, Joseph Ayres, started in an SEC game at defensive tackle. Darrin Gooch, an unheralded summer find, took over at center in the second game against Oregon after the starter was knocked out for the year.

By October, three true freshmen were starting in the offensive line.

A freshman who had spent the past four years playing minor-league baseball was the starting safety by mid-season.

“Back then, it wasn’t a lot of security,’’ Brent Brewer, that former minor-leaguer, said Thursday. “We really didn’t know much. We were just going day by day.’’

Brewer and several of the other survivors of Year Zero are seniors. To a man, they praise this new coach, Butch Jones, for making this transition less anxious than the previous one.

“It seems a lot more steady right now than it’s ever been since I’ve been here,’’ defensive end Corey Miller said.

Miller was recruited by Kiffin — remember the Orange Pride episode? — but found Dooley when he arrived. He started his second game, so depleted by attrition was the roster.

“I was nervous as all get-out,’’ Miller said. “I feel the freshmen we have now are gonna be prepared for that by the situations we’re put in each and every day at practice.’’

Dan Hood had signed with Kiffin and redshirted in 2009. He sees a stark comparison in the coaching staffs. Unlike Dooley, Jones has a history with nearly all his assistants.

“That bond, that connection, we can feed off that,’’ Hood said. “If (strength) coach (Dave) Lawson doesn’t do a workout the right way, he feels like he’s let Coach Strip (Steve Stripling) down. He feels like he’s let Coach (John) Jancek down.’’

Every senior I talked to stressed the family atmosphere Jones has fostered from his first day. Hood has a favorite story:

“Every coach brought their family in front of (the team) and introduced their family. He (Jones), is like, ‘This is who you guys represent, too. If you don’t go out and play, they don’t eat.’

“It was one of those moments you really put a face on those people.’’

When Rajion Neal remembers the weeks before the 2010 opener — the Vols beat UT Martin 50-0 — it’s the loneliness that comes back. He was the only tailback in the freshman class.

Neal said the veterans are making certain the 2013 freshmen feel as if they never have to walk alone.

“Coach Jones preaches nothing but family,’’ Neal said. “We do a great job of spending time, making these guys feel welcome and confident and prepared when it’s time to go play.’’

It’s almost time to go play. And Hood notes another contrast between 2010 and 2013. There won’t be any rookie walk-ons starting at defensive tackle and there won’t be three freshmen starting on the offensive line.

“Anytime your offensive line and defensive line are your most solid units,’’ he said, “it always feels more stable. Because that’s where the bulk of the game is played.’’

It might not be 1998, but it’s not Year Zero either.

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Comments » 98

sameolvolalum writes:

The players have bought into CBJ, his system and his assistants.....to a man, as I understand it. They're all on the same page since.....well, I don't know since when. Those are tangibles, Vol fans, which will bring in positive returns.....meaning a competitive group with a few unexpected wins along the way. Let's just hope the injuries keep down. GBO!

JimmyJoe writes:

Good one Mike.

BIVOLAR_BEARE writes:

The year zero Dooley emphatically pointed to (so not to be judged) was arguably his best season as HC.

JimmyJoe writes:

in response to BIVOLAR_BEARE:

The year zero Dooley emphatically pointed to (so not to be judged) was arguably his best season as HC.

I don't think arguably... I think by default.

Fryinpansvols writes:

I got so sick and tired of hearing Dooley saying Year Zero! Dooley was in way over his head, just as Mike Hamilton was! GBO!

10seVol85_Part_Deux writes:

in response to Fryinpansvols:

I got so sick and tired of hearing Dooley saying Year Zero! Dooley was in way over his head, just as Mike Hamilton was! GBO!

And yet, if not for the unfortunate hiring of Sunseri, he probably would have won at least 9 games.

GainesvilleVol1 writes:

Nice read, if the players like Jones and his coaching staff, that will go a long way on how this season plays out.

Getting close!

GO VOLS!!

usafvol writes:

in response to 10seVol85_Part_Deux:

And yet, if not for the unfortunate hiring of Sunseri, he probably would have won at least 9 games.

Agree 100%!

tovolny writes:

Mike does a great job. Let's hear for Mike...MIKE, MIKE,MIKE...!!!!... Orange for POWER, white for MIGHT, smokey gray for ALL THE WAY...YEAAAAAAAAA...FIGHT, FIGHT, FIGHT...!!!! The DOOM and GLOOM have gone AWAY, replaced by smokey gray. Stand and yell or get the YELL out of the WAY. Smokey gray is here to STAY...!!!1

murrayvol writes:

in response to 10seVol85_Part_Deux:

And yet, if not for the unfortunate hiring of Sunseri, he probably would have won at least 9 games.

Don't know about that but it would've been much better than what we saw.

murrayvol writes:

"If you don't go out and play, they don't eat."

Well, they would still eat but might not be able to keep it down.

DC82_Vol writes:

Nice article Mr. Strange.

BTKidd writes:

My hats off to coach Jones for not already making the excuses that his predecessor made. It actually is year 0 because he has to unteach the bad fundamentals taught by the worst coach in UT history.

SouthPaVol writes:

We are well above a "zero" year, but it's too bad the schedule is so brutal. We'll make a bowl; time will tell which one.

Look forward to watching this team grow. With such a great O line and solid D line (not to mention AJ the Beast!)we are gonna make some opposing teams sweat.

Need our WRs and the freshman CB to grow up quickly! Wonder if there is a steroid shot (a legal one) that can accelerate their growth? You got one cupcake to grow up on, boys. If W KY beats KY Wildcats their first game, which is possible, our tough schedule will start 7 September. Go Vols!

BolivrBob writes:

9-3

BIVOLAR_BEARE writes:

in response to SouthPaVol:

We are well above a "zero" year, but it's too bad the schedule is so brutal. We'll make a bowl; time will tell which one.

Look forward to watching this team grow. With such a great O line and solid D line (not to mention AJ the Beast!)we are gonna make some opposing teams sweat.

Need our WRs and the freshman CB to grow up quickly! Wonder if there is a steroid shot (a legal one) that can accelerate their growth? You got one cupcake to grow up on, boys. If W KY beats KY Wildcats their first game, which is possible, our tough schedule will start 7 September. Go Vols!

I agree with most of which you said, but, when I hear people put a threat of WKU may be a test it makes me laugh. You're only going off the fact that Petrino had decent stops at Louisville and Arky. Remember, they lost their all-conference qb and BP is implementing a completely different system to an inexperienced qb. UT or UK should be able to line up and cram the fb down their throats. UK had the worst team in the SEC last year and WKU had to edge them out with their best team during the FBS era. This game won't be close by the 3rd qtr. UT and UK will roll over these red rag toting hill-toppers.

licknpromise777#651578 writes:

Tip of the hat to Kiffin/Dooley for signing the
#8 rated class for 2010 Incoming freshman were...Hood..Fulton..Pair..Stone..Revis..James..Miller..Neal..Hunter..Brewer..Carter..Toney...Sapp..Propst. These guys earned their stripes and are now the core of Jones team. Guys in that class that did not make it or see it thru..Eric Gordon..Nash Nance..DaRick..Matt Milton..Jarod Askew. I guess the point is Dooley did an alright job laying a foundation for a team that are true VOLS!!!

BIVOLAR_BEARE writes:

in response to JimmyJoe:

I don't think arguably... I think by default.

Good point, but his deflecting of that season was ironic.

RockyTop1_old writes:

in response to BolivrBob:

9-3

I LIKE your optimism!!! GO VOLS!!!!

Campagnollo writes:

The next coach at any school (I'll even include Bama) that uses the 'Year Zero' term needs to be shot! It didn't work for Pol Pot or DD and I am extremely doubtful it will work anywhere else.

BTKidd writes:

in response to licknpromise777#651578:

Tip of the hat to Kiffin/Dooley for signing the
#8 rated class for 2010 Incoming freshman were...Hood..Fulton..Pair..Stone..Revis..James..Miller..Neal..Hunter..Brewer..Carter..Toney...Sapp..Propst. These guys earned their stripes and are now the core of Jones team. Guys in that class that did not make it or see it thru..Eric Gordon..Nash Nance..DaRick..Matt Milton..Jarod Askew. I guess the point is Dooley did an alright job laying a foundation for a team that are true VOLS!!!

You can keep that 4-19 SEC foundation. I want no part of it!

volgrog#210164 writes:

5 chances for a huge upset this year. They'll beat someone(s) they aren't supposed to beat.

licknpromise777#651578 writes:

in response to BTKidd:

You can keep that 4-19 SEC foundation. I want no part of it!

Your obviously missing the point. Dooley lost tons of games but most of this teams core players and leadership are in some part credited to Dooley.. Those Oline players Dooley put on the field as freshman are now the best line in the country and Iam quite sure Jones isn't complaining he has no talent to work with on both sides of the ball. Dooley had green freshman while Butch has veteran starters

BTKidd writes:

in response to licknpromise777#651578:

Your obviously missing the point. Dooley lost tons of games but most of this teams core players and leadership are in some part credited to Dooley.. Those Oline players Dooley put on the field as freshman are now the best line in the country and Iam quite sure Jones isn't complaining he has no talent to work with on both sides of the ball. Dooley had green freshman while Butch has veteran starters

You're "love interest" would have complained if he had Bama's roster. The seniors on this year's squad had to be untaught the bad fundamentals that he taught them his three years.

licknpromise777#651578 writes:

in response to volgrog#210164:

5 chances for a huge upset this year. They'll beat someone(s) they aren't supposed to beat.

How great would it be for us to go to Oregon with a great game plan and dominate the Ducks for an upset..NOBODY is giving us a snowball chance in h#LL but an upset would set college football on it's ear

TNboy72 writes:

"If you don’t go out and play, they don’t eat."
Does this comment irritate anyone else? Made by someone who make's 3 Million a year referencing a staff that make's 6+ figure salaries??? I get the premise, but still.

licknpromise777#651578 writes:

in response to BTKidd:

You're "love interest" would have complained if he had Bama's roster. The seniors on this year's squad had to be untaught the bad fundamentals that he taught them his three years.

Come on man!! Nobodys reworking bad fundamentals on our Oline that gave up almost no sacks last year while Tiny pushed Clowney around all over the place..Are you actually saying Dooley hiring Pittman was a bad move. No love here for Dooley but he did some good things and didn't leave Butch with a bunch of zero talent freshman

volfanlostnbama writes:

Great article Mike & just a good word & expressions here to kick off a new beginning for the players, coaches, & fans--GBO, & yes we will beat somebody everyone expects us not to beat this year, no doubt!

BTKidd writes:

in response to licknpromise777#651578:

Come on man!! Nobodys reworking bad fundamentals on our Oline that gave up almost no sacks last year while Tiny pushed Clowney around all over the place..Are you actually saying Dooley hiring Pittman was a bad move. No love here for Dooley but he did some good things and didn't leave Butch with a bunch of zero talent freshman

I think Tyler Bray's getting rid of the ball in 3 seconds had a lot to do with the low sacks. You remember Tyler Bray, the guy you only cheered when he failed to get drafted? I fail to remember the people we ran up and down the field on in the running game for three years.

You can spin this any way you want it. He was the worst coach in the history of UT according to the only measurable that matters (record book) and a complete fraud.

MetroplexMojo writes:

While the roster that Coach Jones inherited wasn't quite as bad as the one Coach Dooley inherited, it's not nearly what Coach Fulmer and Coach Kiffin inherited.

If you look at position groupings, is there a grouping other than OL that is above average in the SEC in talent/depth? Here are my thoughts:

Any defense/special teams grouping - Gotta prove it
QB/WR/TE - Limited SEC Experience
RB - Could make argument but should produce more with that OL in front of them, depth concerns.

pcshowtime writes:

in response to BIVOLAR_BEARE:

The year zero Dooley emphatically pointed to (so not to be judged) was arguably his best season as HC.

If i am not mistaken it was his best year recruiting as well. Probably because of kiffens start. Kiffen is a snake and a mediocre coach. But he was still light years ahead of dooley.

antonio14313 writes:

i guess coach dooley DID lay a foundation: without the players that he brought in, we'd be in even worser shape this year than back when he was hired!

we're in good shape. coach jones will build on what he has today...

GO VOLS!!!

t

allvols4life writes:

in response to TNboy72:

"If you don’t go out and play, they don’t eat."
Does this comment irritate anyone else? Made by someone who make's 3 Million a year referencing a staff that make's 6+ figure salaries??? I get the premise, but still.

This statement bothered me too. I think they will eat, but maybe not the way they are accustomed to eating. I also get the premise and if it motivates the players to play for the coaches families, I am all for it.

antonio14313 writes:

in response to DC82_Vol:

Nice article Mr. Strange.

i agree!

strange > adams

go vols.

t

bUTch_please writes:

in response to JimmyJoe:

Good one Mike.

+1

antonio14313 writes:

in response to licknpromise777#651578:

Tip of the hat to Kiffin/Dooley for signing the
#8 rated class for 2010 Incoming freshman were...Hood..Fulton..Pair..Stone..Revis..James..Miller..Neal..Hunter..Brewer..Carter..Toney...Sapp..Propst. These guys earned their stripes and are now the core of Jones team. Guys in that class that did not make it or see it thru..Eric Gordon..Nash Nance..DaRick..Matt Milton..Jarod Askew. I guess the point is Dooley did an alright job laying a foundation for a team that are true VOLS!!!

i agree!

coach dooley was a pretty good bricklayer, and a pretty good recruiter. unfortunately, he wasn't that good of a coach, and a horrible game manager.

i believe we're in good hands. now...

go vols!

t

bUTch_please writes:

Should be a good year..the bamboo is as high as an elephants eye.
SEC OL of the Year wears Orange!

Go Team #117.

licknpromise777#651578 writes:

in response to BTKidd:

I think Tyler Bray's getting rid of the ball in 3 seconds had a lot to do with the low sacks. You remember Tyler Bray, the guy you only cheered when he failed to get drafted? I fail to remember the people we ran up and down the field on in the running game for three years.

You can spin this any way you want it. He was the worst coach in the history of UT according to the only measurable that matters (record book) and a complete fraud.

Won't argue The worst coach part but your venom over Dooley in post after post after post is exhausting.The record book has Nothing to do with the fact that under Dooley and Pittman a Green freshman OLine has become probably the best in the SEC..The rest of the Vol nation knows this and are proud of it but you always find a way to discredit the few good things Dooley did..I guess the next thing you'll say is Dooley had nothing to do with bringing in Patterson and Hunter both undisputed 1st round draft picks. In your eyes I guess Patterson got to UT because he got off the airplane at the wrong airport

62vol writes:

in response to 10seVol85_Part_Deux:

And yet, if not for the unfortunate hiring of Sunseri, he probably would have won at least 9 games.

I fully agree! If Sunseri had got 'er done, the play calling on offense would have been much better because we would not have been coming from behind every series.
Fulmer picked an Offensive coordinator who did not fit and goodby that all she wrote.
It is clear that Jones is much more thorough than his last 3 predecessors and his staff has good chemistry. It is old school-leadership from big brother- situational game senerios, and on and on. I see a couple of wins just off of these intangibles.

VolFanHoping writes:

in response to JimmyJoe:

I don't think arguably... I think by default.

Here here!

VolFanHoping writes:

in response to murrayvol:

"If you don't go out and play, they don't eat."

Well, they would still eat but might not be able to keep it down.

Given the MILLIONS in buyouts to all the coaches who've been let go, I don't think anyone in the UTAD ever hasn't had enough to eat. Dooley got what, about $8 million for three years of losing? boo hoo

LiveFaith writes:

in response to TNboy72:

"If you don’t go out and play, they don’t eat."
Does this comment irritate anyone else? Made by someone who make's 3 Million a year referencing a staff that make's 6+ figure salaries??? I get the premise, but still.

I have a feeling it was "tongue in cheek" there counselor.

calvolfromkingsport writes:

I wish Fulmer had stayed and been sucessful, after he got fired, I wished Kiffin would have stayed and been sucessful(ugh, as much as I hate to admit it), then I wished Dooley had stayed and been sucessful, after he got fired, I now have hopes that Coach Jones will stay and be sucessful. Hope springs eternal! One thing that doesn't change. Go Vols!

AthensVolGirl writes:

in response to calvolfromkingsport:

I wish Fulmer had stayed and been sucessful, after he got fired, I wished Kiffin would have stayed and been sucessful(ugh, as much as I hate to admit it), then I wished Dooley had stayed and been sucessful, after he got fired, I now have hopes that Coach Jones will stay and be sucessful. Hope springs eternal! One thing that doesn't change. Go Vols!

You and me both, my friend... well, with the exception of Fulmer staying around. I would have been fine with it, except it was plainly clear that he just wasn't as "all-in" as he used to be. Discipline issues (albeit minor ones, but they evidence further disrespect by the players), attitude problems, etc. I am grateful for the legacy he left, but we needed a change.

I wish the best for Coach Jones and his staff, and as always, I still love my Vols, win or lose - but I sure do prefer winning!

NINEisgonnabeFINE writes:

in response to BolivrBob:

9-3

Please tell us which 9 games ut will win.

Southland writes:

Amen to the article

utvolfan1955 writes:

in response to NINEisgonnabeFINE:

Please tell us which 9 games ut will win.

shut up Jeffy

utvolfan1955 writes:

in response to NO_SIR_REE:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Jeffy, Crafty Commodore or whoever else you are. Who cares about Dooley? He is gone. We now have a coach that appears at this point to be a great hire. Do not say we when referring to UT. You are no Vol fan. Any one that would come on this site acting like a Commodore fan(Crafty Commodore), Georgia fan(DawgDayDoosh) and many others I'm sure, is no Vol fan, just a pot stirring piece of slime troll

usnavyvolfan__times_free_press_can_shove_it writes:

Really excited about this season. I think CBJ has the goods to turn this program around.

Vol43 writes:

The anticipation of seeing the Vols run through the T for the first game is overwhelming. Your heart is racing. Last year Dooley broke our hearts. My heart is starting to race once again, but this time it's different. There's something in the air and it smells sweet. ButchPlease

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