UT off pace in all-sports race

Florida has won the SEC all-sports trophy 14 consecutive years but Georgia is making a push.

The Bulldogs are only 1.5 points behind the Gators with three sports remaining: baseball, softball and track and field.

Who's not in the conversation?

Tennessee.

The Lady Vols have upheld their end of the bargain, winning the women's all-sports trophy the last two years. But the Vols have faltered this year.

Tennessee hasn't won the men's all-sports trophy in more than a decade, although the Vols finished second last year. This season, UT projects to finish no higher than fourth.

The football team tied for seventh. The golf team finished ninth. Tennis was 10th. Swimming and cross country were fourth. The basketball team, which cost UT a chance to win the all-sports award last year, and indoor track placed second in the SEC.

The baseball team is eighth and could finish anywhere between sixth and last. The track and field team, nationally ranked, should finish in the top five.

In the 2000s, the UT men haven't fared well when it comes to winning SEC championships. The nine sports have won just four this decade: two in outdoor track (2001, 2002), and one in tennis (2000) and basketball (2000). Football hasn't won the SEC since 1998, swimming and diving since 1996, baseball since 1995, cross country since 1991 and golf since 1990.

Bottom line: When it comes to SEC championships, the Vols aren't getting much bang for their bucks – about $55 million.

``I certainly aspire to do more than we have,'' Tennessee men's athletic director Mike Hamilton said. ``We have the budget to do more. The coaches might tell me I've got to remember we're in the SEC. We've talked a lot about that in our head coaches meetings – the things necessary to achieve our expectations.''

In some respects, UT has done better on the national scale than in the SEC. UT won the NCAA indoor title in 2001, but didn't win the SEC. The UT baseball team went to the 2005 College World Series but didn't win the SEC regular season or tournament title. Of UT's 20 sports last year, 19 made NCAA postseason play.

Yet, as Hamilton said, the first goal is to win the SEC.

``The facilities and resources are there,'' Hamilton said. ``The budget is there. We're working toward helping our coaches (win titles).''

Will they get there soon? Good question.

The football team could bounce back, but that's not a given. Anything higher than fourth in the SEC would be a good season. The baseball team under Rod Delmonico is just as likely to make a College World Series as it is to miss the SEC Tournament. Track was riding a high in the early 2000s, but has dipped since sprinter Justin Gatlin turned pro in 2002.

The golf team hasn't been able to turn the corner under Jim Kelson. The tennis team had to rebuild after Michael Fancutt had a run of three consecutive final four appearances. The swimming program is a solid top 15 under John Trembley.

Bruce Pearl's basketball team is the healthiest program on campus.

What were the odds of that a year ago?

AUBURN COURTED CALDWELL

Steve Caldwell, Tennessee's outstanding defensive ends coach, had an opportunity to be a candidate to coach at Auburn but declined.

Caldwell was contacted by a friend on the Auburn staff, defensive line coach Don Dunn. Before talks went far, Caldwell said he wasn't interested.

Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville was looking for an assistant to replace Joe Whitt, Jr., who was reassigned.

That Auburn courted Caldwell speaks well of his coaching and recruiting ability. Caldwell has signed more good players than any UT coach over the past six years, hitting Oklahoma, Arkansas, Mississippi, Hawaii and parts of Tennessee.

If UT lost Caldwell, it would be a huge loss for the program.

NOTES: West High School product Steven Pearl, son of UT coach Bruce Pearl, said he probably will walk on at Tennessee. Pearl played in an AAU tournament in Arkansas last week and might play in another this week in Akron, Ohio. But he still plans to play for his father. … Tag Wylie, a Knoxville resident who played golf at North Carolina State, played a round last week with Michael Jordan. If that's not enough, Wylie made a hole in one during the round. … Lady Vols coach Pat Summitt is expected to reach an agreement within 10 days on a new six-year contract that will pay her $1 million per year with bonuses that would take the value even higher. … the Lady Vols were scheduled to play Arizona State each of the next two years because of Sybil Dosty of Arizona, but because Dosty is leaving the program, Pat Summitt has canceled those games. UT has called UT-Chattanooga about playing.


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