Life after Trooper

The impending departure of ace recruiter Trooper Taylor from Tennessee's football staff has created considerable wailing and gnashing of teeth within the Vol Nation.

Based on the prevailing tone of several websites and message boards, you'd think Trooper is the only assistant in America capable of luring a prospect to Knoxville. You'd think athletics director Mike Hamilton might as well shut down the football operation ... or at least place it under the auspices of the intramural program.

This knee-jerk reaction is not unprecedented, of course. When you've been around as long as I have, you realize that this sort of thing happens every few years.

When Doug Dickey left a thriving UT program to become head coach at Florida following the 1969 season, many observers thought Vol football would crash and burn without him ... including yours truly. I had an excuse, though. I was only 18. I've gained an awful lot of gray hairs – and an awful lot of perspective – since then.

The most important thing I've learned about Tennessee football is this: The program is bigger than any player, any assistant, any head coach.

Dickey was coaching royalty when he bolted for Florida, yet Tennessee's next three teams went 11-1, 10-2, 10-2 without him. Quarterback Heath Shuler was a superstar when he jumped to the NFL following his junior year, yet Tennessee went 40-9 over the next four years. Peyton Manning was a living legend when he ran out of eligibility, yet Tennessee won the national title the first year after he left. Rodney Garner was the world's greatest recruiter, yet Tennessee has reeled in numerous top-five recruiting classes since his departure.

Big Orange football survived the loss of Doug Dickey. It survived the loss of Heath Shuler. It survived the loss of Peyton Manning. It survived the loss of Rodney Garner. I'm pretty sure it will muddle through somehow without Trooper Taylor.

I'll be the first to admit that Trooper is a fine assistant, a fantastic motivator and an exceptional recruiter. He's one of the bubbliest personalities and best quotes this writer has been blessed to encounter. The media will miss him. Tennessee football will miss him. But life WILL go on.

Being a college football fan is a roller-coaster existence: You're up when the team thrives and you're down when it struggles. The longer you follow the game, though, the more you come to realize one simple fact:

The ride doesn't stop just because one guy gets off the roller-coaster.


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