James Boofer: A New Legend On Rocky Top

  • Tuesday, June 11, 2024
The definition of a legend according to Google’s English dictionary is a person who is an extremely famous or notorious person, especially in a particular field. If that is the criteria, in Tennessee Coach Tony Vitello is the embodiment of a legend.
When I think of UT legends, and I realize that your list will differ with mine, I immediately think of names such as General Robert R. Neyland, Johnny Majors, Reggie White, Peyton Manning, Todd Helton, Gene McEver, George Cafego, Dewey Warren, Chris Lofton, Jalen Hyatt, Dale Jones, Al Wilson and I could name more.
For me, Tony reached legendary status when he had all of Vol Nation mesmerized during a fiery, passionate five-minute rant following last Sunday's victory over Evansville. Coach Vitello’s pregame speech last night to his team has not been made public but his post-game comments won’t be forgotten by Vol fans anytime soon.
He said, “We’ve done it I think from the ground up here. While I’m at it, anybody that’s thinking about visiting our place that we’re recruiting, and you think this is a place that you can come and have your handout and see how much money we can give you, don’t waste our time and don’t waste your time either. Success for me is what I get to judge. If you’re talking about success for this team, the one thing I stated after last season is I’m in a bathroom crying with just a lot of emotions after we’re able to beat Clemson last year, was to show up at work every day and get out of my car excited and to have fun and to be around people who want to be here and being in an environment that you’re excited to get to everyday, 100 percent success.”
As a lifelong fan of Tennessee athletics, I can remember two specific speeches by coaches that truly made an impression on me that I remember until this day.
Just before taking the field in New Orleans for the 1986 Sugar Bowl matchup with second-ranked Miami, Coach Johnny Majors told his team to make them (Miami) remember them as long as they live. My guess is, the Vol players who suited up that night, if they were not already, they would have been willing to run through a brick wall by that point. I doubt any of the Hurricanes have forgotten the beat down they took by the Vols that night although I'm sure they would love to forget The Vols went out and trounced the favored Hurricanes 35-7. Coach Johnny Majors was inducted into the college football Hall of Fame as a player and as a Coach.
Coach Bruce Pearl was hired in 2005 to resurrect a floundering Vol hoops program which suffered through two losing seasons in the previous four years with no NCAA tournament appearances. Just prior to taking the court against second-ranked Florida midway through his first season, Coach Pearl calmly said to them that they had already done enough losing and told them it was time to do some winning. The un-ranked Vols then proceeded to shock the world and the Gators behind superstar Chris Lofton. The 2005-2006 Vol squad would claim the SEC-Eastern Division title and later earn an invitation back to the NCAA tournament. They would only win one game in the tourney, but Pearl’s passionate coaching style transformed the Vol program quickly into an SEC power. Imagine being a player in that locker room that night!
In today’s world of social media, fan sentiment can turn quickly on a team and/or a coach and as Johnny Majors once said, “there will always be a small few that will never like you or what you do, and I call them the legions of the miserable.” If Tony’s Vols do not bring home a national title this season with this team, some will disagree with me and say that he must win it all to reach legendary status. I see the logic but when you consider the state of the program before his arrival, he has, in my mind, already reached legendary status. National title or no, he has built a Bonafide national powerhouse on Rocky Top.
Now, there is one scenario that would immediately disqualify him from legendary status and be subsequently removed from my UT legends list and that is if Tony were to accept the Texas job that is rumored to be open soon. I realize that might seem petty on my part but after his speech to players last night who contemplate signing with just to receive a big paycheck, if he were to leave UT for a bigger paycheck that would be disappointing although I sincerely doubt that will happen anytime. 
If the Vols do come home with a trophy from Omaha, and if he remains in Knoxville for a few more years, he will, in fact, be remembered by many, if not all Vol fans, as a legend on Rocky Top. In my book, he already is.

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