FIFTH IN A SERIES ::The 2008 Tennessee Review
When Tennessee went 5-6 in 2005, the folks in Knoxville made changes within the assistant coaching ranks and hoped for the best. While Tennessee was on its way to 5-7 in 2008, the folks in Knoxville hit the reset button.
If you listen to some rival fans, the Vols may have hit the panic button instead with the hiring of Lane Kiffin. They're conjuring up images of Ron Zook at Florida and now-Tennessee assistant Ed Orgeron at Ole Miss. Kiffin is a calculated risk though. Almost no one who follows a coaching legend actually succeeds anyway, and yes, with 150 wins and a national title, Phillip Fulmer qualifies. If he flames out in two and a half seasons, then you buy him out and hope the next guy is your long term solution. In the meantime, Kiffin and his staff will stock the cupboards full of quality players just like the Zook and Orgeron regimes at Florida and Ole Miss did.
No one knows where this is all going in Knoxville, but it's probably going to look awfully familiar this fall. We won't see a rehash of 2008's Clawfense of course, what with its perplexing schemes and constant confusion. Rather, it's likely to resemble the archetype of a standard Fulmer team, despite the pass-heavy Cutcliffe Revival years of 2006-07. Given what the Vols have at quarterback versus what they have at running back, it's only logical that a run-heavy scheme will materialize.
The other half of that is a tough defense. With a good defensive staff headlined by coordinator Monte Kiffin and a roster headlined by S Eric Berry and LB Rico McCoy, the Vols don't figure to fall much (if at all) from their top ten defense perch of a year ago. It'll remain to be seen if they'll have the best defense in the conference, as Alabama and Florida will also be fielding stellar units, but the Orange will be crushing a few offenses along the way.
As much as the story about Tennessee right now is about the team's prospects for the fall, it is even more so about the brain and heart transplant the program has undergone. When it's the first head coaching change since the first year of SEC divisional play, that's the way it goes.
Brain transplants, at least on offense, have been a rather regular occurrence lately. Jim Chaney will be the fourth UT offensive coordinator in five years. Outside of Dave Clawson though, all of them fall more on the "conventional" side of the spectrum. On defense, Monte Kiffin should keep up the high standards that existed under John Chavis.
The heart transplant has been by far the more striking one. Fulmer was nothing if not boring in press conferences. Few in the country could say as little in as many words as he could. He also tended to avoid public controversies, at least to whatever extent they can be in this conference.
Kiffin however is very interesting and very public by design. He's all about grabbing attention and getting the Tennessee name out and about as much as possible. On those fronts, he can hang a "Mission Accomplished" banner, though with the caveat that those don't always work out so well.
This will be somewhat of a contradictory year for Tennessee. While everything off the field is dramatically different, everything on it will be classic Tennessee. This experiment could be a smashing success, or it could blow up in everyone's faces. Either way, we know it will be a fascinating ride.
TODAY: Past as Present
TUESDAY: The Tennessee Coaches Meet; The 2009 Schedule
WEDNESDAY: The Depth Chart
FRIDAY: Feedback and Conclusions