Immediate support for abrupt change

With just three days of football spring practices left at the University of Tennessee, Derek Dooley is preparing for his first Orange and White game as the head coach of the Volunteers.

While Derek Dooley has embraced his team and the players have appeared to embrace him back, Saturday's final performance of the spring will be a sign of how Vol Nation is embracing its third head coach in three years.

It's been a spring of changes.

Some changes were abrupt, such as the difference in personalities from last year's coach to this year's headman.

While most Vol fans have varied opinions about the new coaching staff, what most people don't consider is the toll it takes on this current football team.

"It's hard to have three different coaching staffs coaching you in three years," one former player commented. "It's not really fair to the players that give their all to the program. It's one reason this team hasn't won much."

Who is to blame for that?

That's where it gets interesting. Everyone has an opinion on this, from the athletic director at UT to the athletic director at USC.

For this writer, the blame has to land on one man, and that would be Lane Kiffin.

Who would have thought after listening to the smooth-talking, confident coach that he would sell the team a bill of goods, gain confidence, build anticipation and then betray the program the way he did?

We found out after his departure during the coaching search that other top head coaches wouldn't leave their current team in the timeframe that Kiffin did.

Yes, I realize that USC was Kiffin's dream job, but what about the young men in Knoxville that gave him their all last season? Did they deserve such a hasty exit? Did they deserve their third head coach in three years?

Some may believe that Athletic Director Mike Hamilton is to blame for hiring a man that would leave a top program after just one year. I, for one, think the hire was a good one at the time, but Kiffin's departure has a lot of fans second-guessing the initial decision. There was no way Hamilton could have envisioned the abrupt departure after just one year.

"It's been tough," one current player said earlier during the transition. "We truly believed in what that coaching staff was selling. We believed in them, we felt that they believed in us. We truly thought they really wanted to be here. Apparently not."

Abrupt departures have been a sign of things to come this spring at Tennessee, from Kiffin leaving in the middle of the night to head to California to three experienced ballyhooed players departing as well.

The first surprise of the spring happened the first day of spring practice under Dooley.

One of the gems of Kiffin's recruiting class, true freshman running back Bryce Brown, decided that he didn't want to play for the new coaching staff. For whatever reasons he has, it appears Brown isn't going to reveal what led to that decision.

It could be that he just missed his family, it could be the fact he wants to play football again with his older brother, or it may be that he missed last year's coaching staff. We will probably never know the real reason; maybe we don't need to know.

The same can be said about Tennessee native and freshman All-American Aaron Douglas, an offensive lineman.

A legacy player for Tennessee, Douglas' parents both played at Rocky Top – his father in football, his mother in basketball. His departure was explained as a personal matter.

The third departure probably was the most abrupt of the short spring season. Fifth-year senior Nick Stephens for the first five spring practices thought the quarterback job was his. After the first scrimmage, he was demoted to third string.

That abrupt change caused another abrupt departure.

Stephens decided that the abrupt move was a sign of how the coaching staff felt and he felt like he had no legitimate opportunity left at Tennessee.

"We would have thought Nick would have finished spring ball before deciding to transfer," Dooley told the press after the Texas gunslinger met with the coach earlier that day.

Stephens' thoughts were a little different.

"It was the abruptness of it," Stephens said. "It was the abrupt way it was handled. I truly thought this was my team. I thought I was the leader in the race at quarterback. I thought I was playing well enough to be the guy."

If you hadn't figured out the point of this column yet, it's about the abruptness of how things have gone down on Rocky Top this spring.

But the key point to this story is the fact that this is Derek Dooley's team.

It's time for all of Vol Nation to support him. It's time for the media to honor the usual honeymoon afforded new hires.

No matter what, this team can't undergo another abrupt change.

Dooley has already proven that he is a man that is going to do things his way, and he earned that right when he was named the head coach at the University of Tennessee.

Dooley has learned from some greats, including his father, the legendary Vince Dooley, and Nick Saban, the coach at Alabama, the reigning national champions.

One thing I failed to mention is that most people that have been around this team and watched them practice and play this past year already knew this season was going to be a challenge for whoever coached them.

Who knows, maybe the former head coach who now resides in California will realize that even he could not pull off that miracle and the program actually is not better off than he left it, as there is significant rebuilding to be done on both sides of the ball, and an argument could be made that he left right when things were about to get a lot harder.

Maybe that's the real reason Kiffin abruptly left in the middle of night, not wanting to face the challenges that would lie before him.

No matter how things turn out this spring and fall, this is the University of Tennessee.

This is a traditional proud program that deserves better than three head coaches in three years. The fans expect it. The players deserve it.

Let's show Dooley our support by surprising the prognosticators and making this Orange and White game the biggest in recent memory.

If not just for the coaching staff, let's do it for the players.

They deserve it, and this new coaching staff does too.


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