I woke up Monday morning to an interesting reminder of the full scope of Tennessee football recently.
The Sports Animal, a Knoxville radio station devoted to sports talk programming, was conducting a match-game segment during its morning show. The show’s producers were charged with pairing recent Vols football coaches with things they did.
There was no SEC championship to match with the right coach. There was no victory over Alabama to properly credit.
Instead, there were bucket helmets and shower discipline to align correctly. Take a bow Derek Dooley. There also was a list of the reporters who asked tough questions to be placed in some coach’s back pocket. That fit Butch Jones.
There were matches for former coaches Jeremy Pruitt and Lane Kiffin as well. But I was laughing too hard over the other historical footnotes and couldn’t recall theirs.
The point of this early morning exercise was entertainment. But it also served as a sobering reminder of the bizarre events that have been perpetrated by men who were charged with restoring the program.
So far new coach Josh Heupel hasn’t added any sketches to this routine. He bounced the first pitch that he threw out at a Tennessee baseball game last month but his delivery was, at best, a moment. It certainly wasn’t a meme.
“Well, it was an 0-2 count and I wanted to make sure I didn’t give him something good to hit,” Heupel said. “I like my ball placement down there. I got him swinging.”
Maybe staging a game of dodgeball shortly after being hired or bringing in an ice cream truck at the end of a spring practice might join the aforementioned narrative someday. But not today.
Heupel has come across as an earnest, low-key football coach. He introduced himself in that manner at his first press conference and stayed the course throughout his first spring practice.
He also has come across as approachable and personable, someone who believes what he says about how interaction matters as a foundational attribute of what he intends to build at Tennessee.
“It’s about developing relationships; it’s about pouring into kids,” Heupel said during spring practice.
“There is no substitute for that. In some ways, we’re a little bit behind schedule with the timing of when we got hired. The nature of that and then some of the questions surrounding our program.
“… At the end of the day, this is one of the greatest traditions in college football and we get to put a completely new-age approach on it. That’s the way we interact with our players, the energy we have in our building every day and who and what we’re going to be on the football field.”
Heupel’s boldest attribute might turn out to be his offense. If that’s the case, Tennessee football will be better served by him than his coaching predecessors. And the comedy routines will suffer accordingly.
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Dan Fleser is a 1980 graduate of the University of Missouri, who covered University of Tennessee athletics from 1988-2019. He can be reached at email@example.com.