A Meditation on Losing in 2010
I was thinking, while watching an NFL pre-season game this week with family on vacation at the South Carolina coast, that I had never given much thought to the fact that college football has no pre-season games. The NFL has four; the NCAA has none.
Then I asked the question: how reliable are NFL pre-season games as an indicator of the future? The trite answer came first to my mind: not much, as pre-season games do not have the same sense of urgency as a regular-season game.
But the second answer that dawned on me seemed more relevant to the matters at hand: NFL pre-season games give us a helluva lot more indication of future performance than the sundry workouts and scrimmages held on a college campus in August.
And, that’s all we’ve had in the days leading up to the 2010 season opener days – workouts and scrimmages. Nothing more.
I felt better, a whole lot better, about the nothingness I feel everyday that I read news reports on the Vols as they toil in the heat of August – the dog days of summer, those days when baseball gets really interesting after having slogged through four months of tedious repetition, those days when it is so hot that you can’t even imagine conjuring up an original thought, those days that produce so little in the way of information from summer football camp that prognostication becomes a pipe dream.
Prognostication. Now, there’s an interesting word. “To predict according to present indications, or signs”, according to the freedictionary.com.
If you have no reliable indications or signs – my thesis in this ramble (hang in there!) – from those workouts and scrimmages that August gives, then how can one predict with any sense of reliability, or better yet, any measure of respectability, the Vols’ 2010 season record?
We must move past prognostication to speculation.
Speculation. Now, there’s a much better word. (a) “Contemplation or consideration of a subject”; (b) a conclusion, opinion, or theory reached by conjecture”; (c) reasoning based on inconclusive evidence; conjecture or supposition”.
Conjecture. That’s all anybody can do: predict this season’s record by speculating via conjecture: “A statement, opinion, or conclusion based on guesswork.”
My prediction (guess) is five wins and seven losses. That equates to much less than no chance at the conference crown. It gives us no bowl game. It gives us a losing season.
A losing season.
Some losing seasons are better than others. The better ones are those that come at the beginning of and early part of a new era. The bad ones are those that happen in the middle or toward the end of an old era.
The bad ones: 2008, 2005, 1988.
The better ones: 1964, 1977, 1980, 2010.
The bad ones create justified disappointment. The better ones should not create any disappointment, because they are the necessary result of previous mismanagement – they are a new coaching staff inheriting the train wreck created by a former coaching staff.
Doug Dickey in 1964 inherited the systemic mediocrity that infected Tennessee Football nearly immediately after Bowden Wyatt’s near-perfect 1956 squad – it took years to recover from that Sugar Bowl loss to Baylor that more than just spoiled the Vols’ hopes of 11-0.
Johnny Majors in 1977 told people the truth of what he inherited from the Bill Battle years – an alarmingly thin, undersized team. People didn’t believe Majors. He was proven right: 4-7 made everybody run to the record books looking for a worse season. Research showed that the only seasons with more dreadful winning percentages were 1909, 1906, 1893, 1892, and 1891.
The situation in 1977 was so bad that a false recovery was witnessed during 1978-79, before the truth came marching home again with a 5-6 record in 1980. What kept Majors employed was the universal knowledge that Majors was as good of a coach as there was in those years.
Derek Dooley will likely not have that kind of luxury.
2010 brings us a situation similar to ’64 and ’77 in that the present sorry state of the program is the effect of causes set in motion in the early 2000’s when complacency seemed to replace the sense of urgency of the mid- to late-1990s.
Kiffin’s role in this legacy will likely be a delay in the recovery, perhaps a mobilization of rock bottom: from 2008 to 2010.
I tried to convince myself last season that all we needed was a jolt of energy, no matter the nature of that voltage, to turn around the mess that had been created during the prior years. We now know that Kiffin and some of his company certainly brought a current of energy, but it was of such a type that nearly burned the house down. The plug he brought to town didn’t fit our socket. The faulty wiring was a hazard that didn’t fully manifest until Kiffin left to go back home.
Coach Dooley has the energy, and he seems to have the correct prongs in his plug for our socket: he appears to be a good fit. However, the signs – the thinness of his first squad – point to this season as one that will require a stiff upper lip while we first reclaim our dignity, restore respect from other programs, and then create a program that quality recruits will want to join.
But, we first must weather the storm of losing that surely will come this season. Blaming it on Dooley and his staff will be like blaming our current national economic crisis on the current administration.
There is little doubt in my mind that the Vols’ in 2010 will be 5-7 at best. The more important question will be how many more losing seasons will follow.
If this ‘prediction’ is troubling to you, remember that my ‘prognostication’ is no more than speculation – conjecture, really; just a guess with a lot of built-in hope for the long-term future.