I believe it is quite easy for fans to sit in the stands or at home or at a bar and spout off drivel about, "what they'd do" or "he should go" and all that garbage. How many of these "fans" would like to have every decision they make at work hyper-analyzed by an entire state as well as "experts" on blogging sites? I'd bet a months salary most of them couldn't handle that pressure cooker for a month.
Hamilton's job is to manage the sports programs at UT. If he believes (and I'm sure others in the business side of UT must have agreed) that this is the right move for this snapshot in time then I'm comfortable they're doing what they think best for the program. It is, after all, their job.
Personally, I'd like to have seen us play them. But, after years of playing easily the best out of conference schedule making this move hardly constitutes a pattern if ducking opponents.
When news broke yesterday that Tennessee was planning to buy out a two-game football contract with North Carolina, we immediately predicted that UT athletic director Mike Hamilton would be skewered.
Today he might as well change his name to “Shish KaMike.”
John Adams of The Knoxville News Sentinel writes that while it might be good business to get UNC off the schedule in 2011 (and break up a brutal stretch that includes Cincinnati, Florida, Alabama, LSU and Georgia all in a row), “the Vols should be embarrassed.”
As we wrote yesterday, the noose around Hamilton’s neck is growing tighter these days. Hiring Lane Kiffin — whether Vol fans bought in at the time or not — will do that for you. He needs for Derek Dooley to win. Quickly. He needs for his school to reach bowl games. Quickly.
Dumping UNC and adding a home game with Buffalo should help on both fronts. Hamilton seems to be betting that if UT can reach a bowl game in 2011 with six or seven wins, fans will forget all about who they had to drop and add to get their invite.
So UT’s AD is willing to pay $750,000 to buy his way out of the Carolina deal. That means he’s literally paying three-quarters of a million dollars for the right to have himself and his school called cowards. Hamilton knows that. Which means if you think this decision was made lightly, you’re wrong.
Adams writes in The Sentinel that UNC is “a basketball school. It plays in the ACC. … You’re running from that?”
Actually, it’s Tennessee that’s the basketball school these days. Butch Davis — who wasn’t interested in the UT job prior to Kiffin’s hiring — has the Tar Heels on a bit of an upswing, regardles of that whole player-agent mess. In all the previews I’ve read suggesting LSU is in for a tough game in this year’s opener, I haven’t seen anyone mock Carolina as a patsy.
No, UT is a patsy. Volunteer fans will no doubt bury me in ugly emails, but facts are facts. Tennessee is now the school that is stronger in basketball than in football. And the ACC has proved to be pretty tough for the football Vols in recent years, too.
2009 — Virginia Tech 37, Tennessee 14
2003 — Clemson 27, Tennesseee 14
2002 — Maryland 30, Tennessee 3
In other words, this might not be a good time for anyone in the Volunteer State to be throwing stones at UNC or the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Chris Low of ESPN.com writes that The Carolina Dodge is “further proof of where Tennessee’s program is right now, and Mike Hamilton is doing his best to make these next couple of years as manageable as they possibly can be with the Vols down in talent, depth and experience.”
He continues: “… it would be a reach at this point to still label Tennessee an SEC power. This is a program that’s lost 13 games over the past two seasons and hasn’t been nationally ranked in the Associated Press poll since the opening week of the 2008 season. The last time the Vols played in a BCS bowl game was the 1999 season.”
He left out the part about UT having three seasons of six or more losses since 2005.
The Vols aren’t the Vols anymore. Like all SEC powers, they’ll likely find their way back to the Promised Land at some point, but it might take a long walk in the desert to get there. UT fans have seen LSU, Alabama and Georgia all bounce back from slumps of mediocrity since their Vols last tasted so many defeats in such a short time. It’s been 25 years since Johnny Majors rebuilt the Vols… and it took him nearly a decade to do so.
The reality is this: Schools change their schedules. Hamilton believes UT might have overscheduled in the first place. The Vols will need to ease their schedule as much as possible if they’re going to get Dooley off on the right foot, reach a bowl game and save Hamilton’s job. Also, no one in the SEC has matched the Vols’ non-conference schedule over the past 15 years. UT has hardly run scared from anyone.
The perception is this: Tennessee is so down that they’re running from a basketball school and they should be ashamed of themselves.
Verdict: Perception is reality.