We answer your questions about the Vols or anything else in Insider Mailing, our weekly mailbag.
“Will UT ever be good at anything other than ineptitude? I’ll hang up and listen.” – @KnoxvolTN81
Daniel: I’ll spin it both ways for you just for fun:
Yes, things are looking up for Tennessee. The Vols have their most stable football program in a decade and three straight bowl wins for the first time since the mid-90s. There’s a lot of young talent on the roster for 2017, and there’s no way the injury bug will bite that hard again. Rick Barnes, one of the winningest active coaches in basketball, has an improving young nucleus of talent that is outplaying expectations so far this year, and could be set up for a tournament run in the next year or two. The softball program is elite, track and cross country is on the rise, and the baseball team and the Lady Vols both have some exciting young players coming in. On top of all that, David Blackburn very well could end up as the AD in the coming months, and will bring stability, credibility and wisdom to oversee everything. Facilities are improving, the NCAA hasn’t been sniffing around and APR scores have been solid. You have to feel good about the way things are going overall.
No, it’s a disaster. Butch Jones and the football team fell short of expectations in what should’ve been a championship season. A star player walked out on the team in the middle of the season, three of the best underclassmen are going pro early and an article, citing sources in the program, said the culture is a disaster. And the Vols have to replace Joshua Dobbs – one of the most productive players in UT history. The basketball team is likely heading for its third straight postseason at home, and is barely getting a sniff from any elite prospects. Baseball is irrelevant, the Lady Vols aren’t elite anymore, and the softball team, the only consistently good program, got the Lady Vols name stripped for no apparent great reason. On top of all that, the Vols are completely botching the AD search. It’s going to take them nine months to hire somebody that would’ve likely signed on in less than a week, and they may pass him over altogether. Dave Hart is in lame-duck status, so everything going on has no formal leadership and is continuing to spiral out of control.
The truth is somewhere between those takes. There are some good things going on, but Tennessee certainly has some dysfunctional parts that prevent it from consistently winning at a high level.
Nathanael: Given what you or anyone else has seen from UT’s administration over the last decade, I don’t blame anyone for doubting things will ever truly improve at Tennessee. Yes, the Vols have taken steps and aren’t in the desolation they were three or four years ago. But are they were they should be? Are they making the obvious choices? No, not at all. So I don’t blame anyone for having little to no confidence in this administration.
“On a scale 1-10 grade the Strength and Conditioning coach hire.” – Tyler Wright
Daniel: This comment from a former Rams player is the really only negative thing I can find on Rock Gullickson. All-in-all, I don’t see how you could do much better than hiring a long-time NFL head strength and conditioning coach who has been honored as the best in his field. Plus, the guy’s name is Rock and he still deadlifts 500 pounds. I’m giving it a 9/10. Well done, it seems.
Nathanael: All things considered, I think it’s a very solid hire for Tennessee. Rock has the name recognition and experience you want, and he’s received mostly positive reviews from players who have trained under him and people who have worked with him. Is he a bit old? Yes, he is. But I don’t think that matters as much as others do. So I’d give it a solid 8/10 for now. Can’t truly grade it till we see the results on the field, though.
“What do you think the over/under of tweets to become OC at @JBCVOL is?” – Ben Lee
Daniel: Being the hard-nosed journalist that I am, I reached out to the owner of the Twitter account @JBCVOL to get the facts right. Here’s what he said:
“I would say at least 300 times. Not sure if people are saying it to be funny, if they think it’s really Jim Bob Cooter, or they think he would leave being the offensive coordinator for the Lions to be the coordinator at Tennessee in a lame duck year. Either way, I enjoy it.”
“Who was the last starting QB Tennessee had that was from Tennessee?” – Ryan Reed
Daniel: I believe that would be Knoxville native Todd Helton (correction from Matt Scroggs on Twitter: Joey Mathews started one game in 2000), who started a few games at quarterback in 1994. Andy Kelly (Dayton, Tenn.) is the last one to start for a full season. Shoutout to him for starring for the Nashville Kats as well.
Daniel: Not totally sure what’s going on here, I feel like we’re picking up in the middle of a conversation. But I think the only way you could lose to Vanderbilt and win a national title is if you were in an Alabama-like situation from this year – you’re so far ahead of everybody heading into Week 13 that you could afford to drop a game and still make the playoffs. Maybe you rest some guys or just overlook them, you lose and then bounce back into form and run the table from there. Highly unlikely, but physically possible.
Nathanael: Whatever world that is, I don’t know if I want to live there. It sounds like it makes no sense. It certainly isn’t a planet the Vols could live on because of when they play Vandy in the season. Unless Vandy is actually a good team and Tennessee would lose to them on a fluke play or two and went on to win the SEC Championship, there’s no way the Vols could ever lose to Vanderbilt and still win a title.
“Why will Jones not hire Mark Helfrich?” – @marcusclay26
Daniel: I know there’s at least one report saying he’s not a viable candidate, but I’d wait and see. If he doesn’t, it very well might be because he feels that Helfrich would make too many changes to an offense that Jones already feels pretty comfortable with. Or it could be that Helfrich has other options and UT doesn’t have the stability/cash to get him.
Nathanael: Pretty much what Daniel said. Butch doesn’t want to change his offense too much because he thinks it’s what’s best for his teams. And he has a right to think that. The offense wasn’t the problem this last season; the defense let Tennessee down much more than the offense. It had its issues in 2015 and didn’t come alive till Josh Dobbs took over in 2014, but I don’t blame Jones for feeling confident in it after the 2016 season. That’s why I think it’s highly likely we see him promote someone already on staff to be the new OC.
“Can the Vols win 8 games next year?” – @TJVol49
Daniel: They absolutely can, but I wouldn’t place a bet on that. That’s probably about the over/under I would set right now. The trip to Alabama is the only game that feels realistically un-winnable. But outside of Indiana State, Southern Miss and UMass, there aren’t a ton of games that feel like gimmes, especially after Tennessee, with a team that had arguably more talent and more experience than next year’s, lost to South Carolina and Vanderbilt. On paper, I think Tennessee would be favored against the three teams I mentioned, Vanderbilt, Kentucky, Missouri and South Carolina. Georgia, Florida, Georgia Tech and LSU feel more like toss-ups or UT is the slight underdog.
Nathanael: Like Daniel said, I think they can, but I’m not all that confident they will. Tennessee starts off the season with a brand new quarterback and a lot of new defenders and immediately have to take on Georgia Tech’s option offense. The Vols could absolutely lose that game. Throw in road trips to Florida and Alabama while hosting an improved Georgia squad and a tough LSU team, and the Vols could definitely go 7-5 in 2017. I think they’re more likely to go 8-4 than 7-5, but right now there are just a ton of questions about this team and staff.
“Do you think Dormady would leave if Guarantano got the starting QB position?” – Kyle Munson
Daniel: It’s impossible to say, but I’d have to think that he’d at least consider it. One thing I don’t know is his academic situation. If that happens and he’s not too far from getting his degree, maybe he waits until the end of the 2017-18 school year, graduates, and then is a graduate transfer somewhere and can play immediately in 2018 without sitting out. I don’t want to speculate more than that because it’s not fair to these guys, but I do think both are Power-5 caliber starters and both can’t be full-time starters at UT for the next two years.
Nathanael: I absolutely think Dormady transfers if he doesn’t win the starting job. I think there’s a chance Guarantano does too if he doesn’t win it. Dormady has a ton of potential, and he’d be wasting it sitting behind Guarantano waiting for either an injury or ineptitude for a shot to go prove himself on the field. If he doesn’t win the job, he not only probably will transfer, but he should. Same thing for Guarantano.