When he signed with the Big Orange four years ago as a heralded recruit out of Oklahoma City, Gerald Jones never imagined this level of mediocrity. Still, he's philosophical about the struggles of the 2010 Vols. At least they have an excuse for their poor play ... inexperience.
"I don't think we were this young in 2008," Jones said this week. "I don't actually know what the problem was in 2008. I know it went downhill once we heard about (the forced resignation of) Fulmer."
Basically, the '08 Vols had difficulty grasping the concepts taught by first-year offensive coordinator Dave Clawson. Those difficulties lasted all season, in fact.
"I think in 2008 our struggles was on the offense because that offense was like foreign to us," Jones said. "This year it's youth. That's our struggle, our problem, our weakness. We're young."
No doubt. There are eight new starters on offense this fall, including a redshirt freshman and three true freshmen. There are seven new starters on defense, including a USC transfer (Malik Jackson) who has been on campus a mere matter of months. Not surprisingly, growing pains are abundant.
"You only get very few athletes that are young but old in the mind," Jones said. "That happens very, very seldom - like a LeBron James. You've got to let youth happen, let maturity occur. You can't force it. You can preach it but that's all you can do. It (maturation) is going to happen when it's ready."
As fans are acutely aware, much of Tennessee's young talent is not yet ready. Several of the rookies, though gifted, are terribly raw.
"It's not that we're not talented," Jones said. "We're just young, and that destroys a lot of things."
It has not destroyed his love for the university, however. Nor has it destroyed his belief that Tennessee will be back among college football's premier programs someday ... if the current coaching staff is given ample time.
"I care about this school and this program," Jones said. "I don't want the young guys to go through what I went through. It's not easy. It sucks; it really does. Changing coaches and trying to get used to a new offense every year is hard.
"I want them to stay with the same coaches and stay with the same offense. Then they (players) can know the offense like the back of their hand. When you get a new offense it's hard. You get a new coach ... now you've got to adjust to him. He's got new rules, and they've got to adjust to them.
"I just hope they can keep these coaches. If they do, I'm telling you they're going to be a hell of a team."