Tennessee Baseball Looking to Carve Out SEC Niche Under Tony Vitello

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On Tuesday evening, during the barrage of rain delays during the SEC Tournament, Tennessee head coach Tony Vitello joined the SEC Now set in Hoover to talk some SEC baseball.

Ever since Tennessee’s rise to prominence began under Vitello, Tennessee has sort of had the “bad boys on the block” reputation. But the Vols certainly aren’t going out there and starting brawl after brawl a la the Pistons in the 80s. Instead, Tennessee’s new reputation comes from pride, confidence, and ultimately just a fiery desire to win.

But where does that nature come from? For Vitello, it’s embedded in his roots that were built at Missouri and Arkansas.

“We kind of had to find a niche and it kind of originally just became a bunch of guys with attitude,” Vitello said about his time with Missouri on Tuesday evening via a tweet from 11 Point 7.

Vitello has been in the college baseball coaching world since 2003. So, for almost 20 years now, Vitello has been collecting experience, with a considerable amount of that time spent around players with an edge, or attitude to their game. Now, the overflow of all that experience is pouring out into his Tennessee teams.

Tennessee’s in-your-face, dominant style of play has become a talking point throughout the season as the Vols just kept clinging to their No. 1 ranking. The Vols’ players, coaches, and fanbase have all developed, accepted, and welcomed in this new attitude of play, but it began far before this season, or even the last.

“Max Scherzer is an easy one to point to but there was Danny Hill, Taylor Parker, Brock Bond, just guys that embodied that edge that Drew Gilbert, Evan Russell play with,” Vitello said in the interview with SEC Now. “I could go on and on about our roster. I think you learn to look for it a little bit in recruiting and also the family background and just how guys compete.”

Tony Vitello

Photo By Caleb Jones/Tennessee Athletics

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The players that Vitello mentioned there in comparison to Gilbert and Russell – Hill, Parker, and Bond – are all former Missouri players that Vitello coached at Missouri in the mid-2000s.

“It was great playing for Tony Vitello and watching him mentally prepare guys even as a 23 year old,” Danny Hill said on Twitter while responding to the post. “The countless hours he spent chasing recruits and mastering his pitches to them has truly paid off. The shoutout is appreciated!”

With all of Vitello’s experience, he is more than familiar with the established landscape of the SEC baseball world. So now it’s about carving out a spot for the Vols.

“We needed a niche at Tennessee because we don’t have the tradition that LSU had, we don’t have the in-state players and the warmth in Florida, I came from Arkansas where you have the Taj Mahal – not just the facility but the fans filling it. So what’s our niche?”

Attitude and edge, that’s Tennessee’s niche.

Check out the full video of Tony Vitello on the SEC Now set below. Video courtesy of 11 Point 7 on Twitter.

Ric Butler is a Knoxville based sports media personality who has covered University of Tennessee athletics since 2017. Most recently, he served as the lead writer for the website of a local radio station. Ric also helped create and host a daily radio show called “The Blitz." Ric’s passion for sports, smooth vocal, and infectious personality have made him popular with both his peers and Vol Nation. Originally from Dallas, Ric didn’t grow up riding horses to school. But he did dream of the big city lights. When not chasing down the latest Tennessee story, Ric can be found watching the WWE, often attempting their moves in an embarrassing fashion.