When asked if he viewed the 2016 season as a disappointment, Tennessee head football coach Butch Jones didn’t answer how many expected him to.
“I don’t view it as a disappointment,” Jones answered when asked about the 2016 season while at SEC Media Days on Monday. “The way I view it is we didn’t accomplish everything we set ourselves out to. And, again, our goal every year is to win a championship and compete to win a championship.
“So, was it a disappointment? No. Did we not accomplish some of the things we set out to do? Absolutely.”
But one of Jones’ players didn’t echo his sentiments.
When asked a similar question, Vols’ senior defensive tackle Kendal Vickers had an almost polar opposite reaction.
“Anytime you don’t go to Atlanta, we have such high expectations for ourselves and not just from outside people,” Vickers replied. “It’s disappointing.”
So, which one is it?
Before we continue, let’s make one thing clear: There is no controversy in the team over the 2016 season. Just because Vickers worded his answer differently than Jones doesn’t mean there’s a “rift in the locker room” or some deeper issue. Jones likes to speak motivationally and uses coach speak like a second language. Vickers is a football player. A defensive lineman at that. He’s more likely to speak his mind and not mince his words. It’s also entirely possible for a player to disagree with his coach on something and still respect him and play hard for him.
The two can disagree and there not be some deeper meaning behind the two having differing opinions.
With that out of the way, let’s move on.
Was Tennessee’s 2016 season a disappointment? Considering the expectations heading into the season from the national and local media, yes. The Vols were picked at SEC Media Days last year to win the SEC East. And the Vols failed to do that despite defeating both Florida and Georgia early in the season en route to a 5-0 start to the season.
You don’t need to hear a rehashing of how the 2016 season ended. You know what happened. Tennessee didn’t win the East. Therefore, objectively speaking considering the expectations heading into the season, Tennessee’s 2016 season was a disappointment.
But feelings like disappointment are subjective. One person can be disappointed with a situation while someone else may not be. When it comes to feelings, there’s not really a “right” way to feel. And some Vol fans will argue the expectations were too high for Tennessee in 2016. Therefore, by their logic, last season wasn’t a disappointment.
However, just looking at the Vols’ season from an objective point of view, by looking purely at the season from an emotionless, non-biased perspective, the season was a disappointment because of the early season expectations. Tennessee had the most experienced roster in the East last season, and they returned several pivotal senior starters. Things looked promising for the Vols.
But then injuries mounted, and the Vols’ depth was decimated. That’s another reason some fans will claim last year wasn’t a disappointment. Early expectations couldn’t account for the dearth of injuries the Vols sustained.
Regardless of how you feel about the Vols’ 2016 season, one thing is for certain: the hype around the Vols in 2017 is much lower than it was this time last year. And the Vols will have to bounce back this season to regain some of that attention.
Even though Jones and Vickers disagreed on last season, they both agree on how to face the upcoming season and move forward.
“I told our team this,” Jones said in front of the national media, “the lessons you learned from last year, the resolve, the resiliency, are going to serve you for many years down the road in life.
“We have to learn from the things that went wrong that we could have done better.”
Vickers agreed with his head coach in that regard.
“You can’t look at the past and say ‘what if,'” Vickers stated. “You got to look forward and right those wrongs. We’ve been working hard this offseason, so we’re just going to go out July 30th and get camp started and try to right the wrongs from last season.”
No matter if the Vols’ 2016 season was a disappointment or not, Jones and his players both agree that last year should serve as a learning experience for the 2017 season.