Learning How To Compete, and Learning How to Cope

The 2010 Tennessee Vols are an exercise in going back to square one. The seeds of this were planted some time ago, and the sprouts appeared Saturday night in the most lopsided defeat of a Vol team at Neyland Stadium. The Oregon Ducks are a magnificent squad, but we’ve played a lot of magnificent teams over the past 90-odd years in the old house, and none of those whipped us by this many points on Shields-Watkins Field.

Tennessee showed fire out of the gate against the Ducks, piling up a 13-3 advantage, but after LaMichael James’ long TD run from scrimmage and Cliff Harris’ long INT return for a TD in the second half, the team quit. I’m not the first to say this – Derek Dooley was.

That’s right – Coach Derek Dooley called out his team for quitting. Good for him. He’s not afraid to point out major problems with his team, in public. But now it’s his job to fix those problems. I’m confident he can, and will, given enough time.

Derek Dooley is not only a coach, but he is a teacher. His mantra is learning to compete under adversity. Here is some of what he said during his Sunday teleconference on scoreboard watching and quitting before the 60 minutes are completed.

“Sometimes players, especially nowadays, they get so focused on wanting to win that they don’t enjoy the competitive element of the game. They don’t enjoy when it gets tough how to fight through it, figuring out a way to find solutions to have success… (We have to learn how to play) without thinking about the result and thinking more about how to complete that play. What happens with our team is we get so caught up in getting behind, we start thinking about losing the game and we don’t compete…

“We went into this game in the fourth quarter down 14 and we’re not even competing. That’s something we have to change, and we need to change that before we get to anything else — being able to compete for four quarters no matter what the score is. We’re so focused on the scoreboard, which is the worst thing you can do because then you get affected by the scoreboard. Good and bad. We got affected by the scoreboard, and then that affected our ability to tackle, to hustle, to get off blocks, to do our keys, to run the ball, to throw it, everything went bad.”

“I hope we can see that when we do play with the kind of intangibles that we expect them to play with for 60 minutes, that we can go out and compete and we did that against a good football team. But when we don’t play with those intangibles, whether it be a lack of discipline, a lack of effort or toughness, then we’re going to get embarrassed. I think that’s the case with whoever we play.”

– Derek Dooley

So, it’s very clear: Derek Dooley’s biggest disappointment is his team’s attitude. Importantly, the Coach attributes it in part as a sign of the times – an imbedded characteristic of this generation of young people. I say importantly, because if you don’t understand the complex underpinnings of a situation, then you have little hope of finding effective methods of remediation.

“I think it’s a little bit of a sociological issue. I think that more than ever before, we are in such a results-oriented world that children are groomed from the beginning about winning and losing, and not competing. And I think it’s something that they all want success, and they want all this personal gratification, and they lose site of what it takes to get that.

“And I think you don’t just see it in sports. The sociologists have called this the entitlement generation. If you ask employers out there across the board, there’s a consensus across the board that this generation comes in expecting raises and expecting bonuses and wanting vacation more than any other generation of the past.

“And so I think their focus is on the wrong thing. It’s on kind of the show, it’s on they want everything easy. It’s not their fault. I think it’s a generational thing. It’s important that we teach them the importance of process, and that you get your satisfaction from the investment you put into something.”

– Derek Dooley

Have you ever heard a football coach talk like that? If you have, I bet not many.

Derek Dooley gets it. He’s just young enough to be able to relate to this generation of players. He’s just old enough to have the maturity to articulate their plight and the confidence to speak out about it.

However, the players are not the only ones to whom the term “entitlement generation” applies.


Did the fans fail the Seventh Maxim Test too?

On Saturday night, the Vol players got their dauber down and allowed the Ducks to run all over Shields-Watkins Field. The players have a long way to go to “carry the fight to our opponent and keep it there for 60 minutes” (the Seventh Maxim of Robert Neyland), especially against quality opposition.

By the time the third quarter ended, there were expanses of visible bleachers in the old house. I’m not speaking only about the West grandstand (you in the know know of what I speak). I’m talking about the whole joint. I know there are reasons, as I articulated in my recent post at the blog Rocky Top Talk.

But, as the players “quit” on Saturday, so did many of the fans.

When Simms threw the pick-six, many Vols fans bolted for the exits. That was an act of treason. It wasn’t about being wet or having a long drive home. It was simply giving up, spitting on their Vols. This wasn’t a case of fans being disgusted at a very good football team having a dreadful half. Rather, THIS ISN’T A VERY GOOD FOOTBALL TEAM. So, vent your frustration at previous coaching regimes; vent your frustrations at the athletic department and it’s director; vent your frustration at the university for not hiring a permanent president – vent your frustrations at the entities that caused our present predicament. Don’t take it out on an undermanned squad that needs fan support in the worst way.

I’ve read countless comments on blogs and message boards during the past couple of days. I am dumbfounded how many fans have thrown in the towel and/or are questioning the hiring of Dooley.

Many Vol fans just don’t get it. Just as the “entitlement generation” wants personal gratification in this age of instant gratification, and expect everything to just happen instead of working hard and smart to make it happen, many fans expect that the Vols will win at least 7 games, if not 8 or 9, by just showing up on Saturdays. This is because of the ignorant view that our long winning tradition is a permanent condition. They expect 7, 8, or 9 wins to just happen no matter what the circumstances allow.

We are likely at or near the bottom of a waning era in Tennessee football. The reasons for this are rooted years in the past. It is not due to the present aggregation of players and coaches. Therefore, the fans’ behavior vented at this squad is rooted in ignorance based on a winning tradition causing blindness.

Although the circumstances are different, this season is reminiscent of 1977, when the Vols were undermanned and completely bereft of executing basic fundamentals of good football. It took a long time for the Vols to climb out of that hole. I think it will take the present version of Vol football a while as well.

I’m not sure if I expect better support from the fans in times of adversity as we experienced during the second half of Saturday’s beating at the hands of Oregon. They are disadvantaged compared to the players even though both suffer from the entitlement disease – the fans don’t have a coach. The only thing that will cure the fans behavior is winning.

And that is unfortunate for this year’s team.


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