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OPINION: Just Give Up Hope, Hugh Freeze Isn’t Going To Happen

Hugh Freeze

Hugh Freeze

Jeremy Pruitt blew another one on Saturday. They should have won it, but they didn’t. Couldn’t? Wouldn’t?

The writing is on the wall; Jeremy Pruitt ain’t it. We’re back to the Jones/Dooley days of setting new, exciting records in futility. And there’s really no silver linings to show for it.

Not. One.

The vaunted coaching staff looks like a group of beginners. The whole team hasn’t shown up for a second-half all season. The heralded recruits look like they aren’t, you know, improving. And, to top it all off, they keep sending out a quarterback that literally scores more for the other team than he does his own.

It’s a dark comedy. It’s performance art.

Due credit to Trey Smith, Eric Gray, Hank T, and any other player that looks like they still give a damn about this season. They’re putting their bodies on the line, trying real hard, blah, blah, blah. They deserve much better than what this coaching staff, this program, and this school are giving them.

With all that said, the grass is always greener on the other side. There’s a proven winner out there that would drop everything to come here as soon as he’s given a chance. There’s a Freeze warning coming to Knoxville! #HireHugh

What The Hell Are You Talking About?

What has given anyone the confidence that Tennessee will handle this coaching transition with one modicum of competence? Has the administration and the athletic department shown some sense of competitive drive or tangible commitment to winning football games that I haven’t heard about recently? Actually, forget competitive drive or commitment; what about self-awareness? None of these are rhetorical questions; I’d love to hear answers.

This is the same administration that extended Pruitt and Phillip Fulmer this year for…reasons?

It’s the same athletic department that was told “No thanks, I like my money more than I like the rest of you people.” by 80% of the football staff while also paying one of Nick Saban’s assistants $200,000+ a month to wash his Mercedes and fetch him his coffee.

It’s led by the same athletic director who told Jeremy Pruitt, “The head coach at Tennessee is going to be judged by three games: Florida, Georgia, and Alabama.” Tennessee has since been comprehensively manhandled in every one of those matchups, producing an average scoreline of 43-15. And the guy who gave us that quote a few years back? MIA.

The same AD also believed Jeremy Pruitt was fit to run this program, to begin with. And still apparently does.

It’s the same football program that rewards mediocrity hire after hire with buyouts so impossibly unwarranted that I’m frankly surprised there isn’t a line of coaches winding through campus waiting to work here. Why go anywhere else when you could come to Tennessee, fail, then get paid to sit at home?

From where I’m sitting, there is absolutely nothing that suggests Tennessee football will be in better hands any time soon. In fact…

First The Indecision

How long did our little Fanrun segment of the fan base know Derek Dooley was going to get fired? As I recall, everyone knew he would be fired any day after the 2012 Florida game.

He was eventually fired two months later, once he got his ass kicked by Vanderbilt and the season couldn’t be salvaged.

How long did we know Butch Jones was going to get fired? 2016 South Carolina or Vanderbilt are probably popular answers, but the final straw for most, as I remember it, was 2017 Georgia.

In reality, he got almost two more months to sink the program further into oblivion.

The problem this go round is similar; the majority of our little segment of the internet has known since Kentucky that Pruitt is a goner. Yet, almost a month later, it still seems the majority of the fan base is just now coming around to this reality. And to make matters worse?

Recent history shows the decision-makers on The Hill are always three steps behind the fan base, anyway. So there’s going to be a longer wait for a change. By then, Freeze will almost assuredly be committed to another program.

“But this year is different!” the sheep with their heads buried in the sand still shout. Well…

Then The Excuses

“Covid has screwed everything up!”

First off, everyone has been affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. It has not kept the traditionally successful from succeeding. Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State, etc., have all found ways to stay at or near the top.

Nor has it kept the borderline teams from having great years. Do people think Covid just skipped over Cincinnatti, BYU, Coastal Carolina, or Liberty? Last I checked, Tennessee should be in a better position to win than all of those top-25 programs.

Perhaps most importantly, it hasn’t kept the struggling from adapting. South Carolina has already fired its coach, in case you missed it.

Using the pandemic as an excuse to not be prepared, not be disciplined, not have a young quarterback ready to play, or not fire a bum coach is an indictment of your leadership abilities.

“But the money!”

Well, don’t blame the fans. This season not-withstanding; Tennessee hasn’t had a home game dip under 85,000 fans since 2017. We’re doing our part by buying the tickets and showing up.

Maybe, just maybe, paying millions of dollars to people that don’t work here anymore isn’t a profitable financial model?

“But that’s why we can’t get rid of Pruitt; we would owe him and his staff too much money!”

Yep, now you’re painted into the proverbial corner. If you run him and his staff, you owe them a lot of money. If you keep them and the current trajectory of the program keeps up, as it almost assuredly will, you won’t make any money. In true Tennessee fashion, we’re damned if we do and damned if we don’t.

All the while, Tennessee fumbles through money problems that can only be described as “self-inflicted” and struggles to find a way to handle a pandemic that has affected everyone, some other program with unified, competent, proactive leadership will find a way to make paying Hugh Freeze and his staff work. It’ll probably be somewhere in the SEC, too.

“But Freeze has too much personal baggage!”

That’s not going to stop someone else from hiring him. Nor should it. Not if winning is the priority.

Definition Of Insanity

“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”

I’ve been seeing this cliche a lot more lately, most often associated with the quarterback situation. It’s used in a way to try and belittle Jeremy Pruitt and his coaching staff into, you know, trying something different.

But by this definition, are we as fans any less “insane”? Haven’t we done this two other times in the past decade? When our current coach struggles, we fixate on some other hot, new coaching candidate that “would do anything to be here.” Hat tip to Charlie Strong, Jon Gruden, Mike Leach, Chip Kelly, Jeff Brohm, Dan Mullen, Les Miles, Mike Norvell, Gary Patterson, Justin Fuente, Lane Kiffin, and Mike Bobo for also receiving this designation somewhere along the line.

But maybe if all the fans root real, real hard against Tennessee, our problems will get better down the road. Because booing Dooley as he ran off the field and #EmptyNeyland for Butch both worked to perfection. We definitely didn’t wind up with another lame-duck coach after trying that the first two times; maybe we’ll get a different result with #DumpTheGump.

Meanwhile, the university and its athletic department stumbles around in the dark, trying their best not to be embarrassing, all while digging their own hole deeper and deeper. Other sports may be doing fine, but the breadwinner football program is floundering. Am I talking about Mike Hamilton, Dave Hart, John Currie, or Phillip Fulmer? You decide.

Even if Hugh Freeze is the obvious, easy choice, does anyone think Tennessee’s powers-that-be have the financial wherewithal, leadership capacity, or social gumption to take the chance and make it happen?

Inevitably, Pruitt will get more time than he hasn’t warranted to fix this disaster that he created, and Freeze will go somewhere else and succeed.

OR

Tennessee will decide to make a coaching change sooner rather than later. At which point, Freeze will already be long gone anyway. Worst case scenario, he will use Tennessee as a means to get more money from wherever else he decides to go. His agent is Jimmy Sexton, after all.

And after all that, we’ll all be pissed Tennessee couldn’t land him. Then Fulmer or some other incompetent athletic director will make another ill-advised panic hire of a coach that will initially give us some semblance of hope, but ultimately fail in a fantastic fashion. And the cycle begins anew. It’s already happened three times in the last 12 years.

Wash, rinse, repeat. The definition of insanity.

Whether it’s rampant indecision, ubiquitous cowardice, or just outright organizational stupidity, Tennessee is not going to hire Hugh Freeze. You should give up hope that they have the competence to even try it. You’d think we would all know better by now, but apparently, we don’t.

Guess we’re all insane.

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