Act Like A Champion

When Derek Dooley was hired to fill the gaps (plural) left in the wake of Lane Kiffin’s disappearing act, there was one hole as deep and wide as an ocean – a cultural abyss.

Tennessee, its players and fans, had been through so much controversy, including national media attention of the kind you don’t want. Everything rubbed off on everything else to the point that we were at rock bottom of the feel-good department. We felt slimy, in need of an industrial-strength shower.

We were, in some measure, ashamed of ourselves for falling under the spell of a brash outsider, to the point of wanting the old guard back that we had (rightly) put out to pasture.

Now that we have Dooley & Co. running the show, things, outside of the men’s basketball mess (which I think will turn around quite quickly) seem to have returned to some semblance of ‘normal’, apart from the usual 8- to 10-win seasons we grew accustomed to for many years.

One of the reasons for this is Dooley’s mission to clean up our own mess of a culture that had soiled itself for a few years due to  neglect (Fulmer) and bravado (Kiffin). Dooley, in a recent interview, said that we have come a long way in a short time, but still have a light year to go.

I think we are lightyears ahead of where we were a year ago — I know we are. Ultimately it’s hard for your culture to fully change until the guys that you went out and sold your program to, who believe in everything you believe, come in and they cycle through the program… [W]hen I say culture change, early on it had a lot to do with behavior and civility. Now it’s we’re shaping the culture to more of understanding what the expectations are here at Tennessee and understanding what you represent at Tennessee, and I think we lost that. You know, our program, the players became more interested in self-preservation than working together for a common purpose of winning a championship. We have to redirect that culture into when you come into this program, there’s an expectation that you perform on the field. So we’re in the beginning stages of that, of understanding what the bar is.

In today’s world of spin doctors having moved from politics to sports, it’s refreshing to see a coach who has the self-confidence to look at a situation with honesty, humility, and a sense of purpose.

To become champions once again, the Vols have to first act like champions.

We’re off to a good start.


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