Tennessee baseball has never been a perennial powerhouse, but this season is moving in a direction that could make the kind of history that no one wants their name associated with.
Short of an unexpected turnaround in the last few weeks of the season, this could go down as the worst UT team since 1987, when John Whited's club (17-27, 5-18) finished last among the 10 teams that made up the Southeastern Conference at the time. Only two current Vols, Josh Liles and Tyler Horne, were alive during that season.
Head coach Todd Raleigh's current squad (22-20, 5-16) is on the heels of a sweep by Vanderbilt by a combined score of 39-5, which is good for the largest deficit in a single series in the program's 114 years of existence.
This season's collapse, combined with the fact that Raleigh's first three years at the helm produced mediocre results, leads to an inevitable question: Who will be UT's head coach this time next year? For good reason, the thought is on everyone's mind.
It doesn't matter where you are: in the press box, where the question is whispered; in the scarcely-populated stands in Lindsey Nelson Stadium, where it is discussed at length; in the locker room, where the elephant in the corner is ignored completely.
The best indication that Raleigh's days might be numbered comes from athletic director Mike Hamilton's comments when he decided to relieve Rod Delmonico from his head coaching duties after the 2007 season.
"In recent years, [we] have lacked the consistency in Southeastern Conference regular season and NCAA postseason play that is expected of all our programs at the University of Tennessee," Hamilton told media after Delmonico's firing. "I did not have a clear indication that would change in the near future."
Keep in mind that Delmonico led the Vols to three appearances in the College World Series and is also credited for bringing the program to the national spotlight. When he was canned, Delmonico was two years removed from a club that made it to the College World Series and the team was on the heels of a record that was four wins better than any of Raleigh's clubs have managed.
If consistency in the SEC and NCAA postseason play is the standard for UT baseball, is it time for Hamilton to explore his options again?
Hamilton, who will make the decision on Raleigh's future with UT, remains unavailable for comment on Raleigh's future. A contract buyout is purely hypothetical, but this is what it would look like:
UT is still paying Phil Fulmer and Bruce Pearl, so the timing is less than ideal to start a search for yet another head coach. But the cost to buy out the remainder of Todd Raleigh's contract pales in comparison to the amount spent to rebuild the football and basketball programs.
That in mind, if Hamilton pulls the plug, UT is responsible for the final 13 months of the contract that Raleigh signed in 2007.
Like most NCAA coaches, Raleigh's salary is broken apart into three pieces: base pay, broadcast pay and equipment pay. Those components total $315,000 for the 2011-12, and if his contract is terminated he is also owed a prorated total from this year for the month of June.
The total damage is around $340,000. But that's only half of the fix.
If UT is serious about making its baseball team match the newly renovated stadium, Hamilton will need to put up the money to find a coach that will make it happen.
Ray Tanner, who led South Carolina to its second NCAA Championship last season, takes home a guaranteed $510,000 per year plus an array of incentives and potential bonuses.
That makes the total investment for UT to revitalize its baseball program in the neighborhood of $1 million. If Hamilton means what he said when he fired Delmonico, that seems like a fair price to pay, especially when you consider the $4.5 million that have already been dumped into the new stadium.
Coming soon: A list of possible replacements if Raleigh's contract is terminated