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Can Vols End Curse of Facing First-Year Coaches?

Butch Jones-1

When it comes to facing new head coaches, the Vols have too often laid down the welcome mat and given that new head coach a victory. Especially in the SEC. And that history doesn’t bode well for Tennessee’s 2016 season.

Five of the Vols’ 12 opponents in the regular season will have new head coaches in 2016. Virginia Tech, Georgia, South Carolina, Tennessee Tech, and Missouri will all be led by different head coaches than they had last season. That’s nearly half of the teams on Tennessee’s schedule next season. And while some of the new coaches will have better rosters than others, superstitious Vol fans will still cringe knowing how badly the Vols have performed against new head coaches in the past.

Two of teams who will have new head coaches this year, Georgia and South Carolina, have given the Vols fits with new head coaches before. Kirby Smart’s predecessor at Georgia, Mark Richt, won his first game against Tennessee in 2001, pulling off a 26-24 upset victory. Steve Spurrier’s first season as South Carolina’s head coach in 2005 also resulted in a loss for the Vols, as the Gamecocks emerged victorious with a 16-15 win.

And South Carolina’s newest head coach, Will Muschamp, already has a victory over the Vols in a debut season as head coach.

When Muschamp took over at Florida in 2011, his Gators beat the Vols 33-23. Muschamp, much like his predecessor, Urban Meyer, ended up undefeated against Tennessee as Florida’s head coach.

In fact, the Vols haven’t beaten a first-year head coach at Florida since handing Spurrier a 45-3 shellacking in 1990. Ron Zook (2002), Meyer (2005), Muschamp (2011), and Jim McElwain (2015) have all earned victories over the Vols in their first games as head coach of the Gators.

But the list doesn’t stop there.

When Tennessee faced Auburn in 2013, Gus Malzahn was in his first year as the Tigers’ head coach. The Vols were run out of Neyland Stadium in that meeting, as the Tigers left with a 55-23 victory. In Gene Chizik’s debut season in 2009, the Vols faced the Tigers then too, and Auburn was victorious in that game as well, defeating Tennessee 26-22.

Alabama’s current head coach, Nick Saban, is undefeated against the Vols in nine tries. He won his first game against Tennessee 41-17 in 2007 and has rarely had a reason to sweat in his other eight match-ups against the Vols.

The Vols have beaten new head coaches in their debut game against Tennessee over the last decade-and-a-half as well. Both of Vanderbilt’s recent head coaches have lost to the Vols in their first game against them (although James Franklin went on to win his next two), and Kentucky’s Mark Stoops has yet to defeat the Vols. But the majority of the time Tennessee has played a first-year head coach, they’ve ended up on the losing end.

Over half the teams the Vols will face with a new head coach this year should be very winnable games. Contests against Missouri, South Carolina, and Tennessee Tech should be wins for Tennessee because of the overall talent discrepancy. But Justin Fuente’s squad at Virginia Tech is just talented enough to be concerning, and anything can happen on a stage like The Battle at Bristol. And Kirby Smart’s Georgia team will have plenty of talent on the roster.

Tennessee has had a rough time defeating first-year head coaches since the turn of the century. If they can buck that trend in 2016, it will go a long way in helping them reach their potential for the season.

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