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August 22, 2010Saturday, as I waited on the scrimmage to end, I strolled around Neyland Stadium, checking out the construction, imagining the Vol Walk in 13 days and thinking about the challenges of this season for Derek Dooley, his staff, the players and the fans.
Then I stopped and read it.
As I checked out the base for the statue of General Robert Reese Neyland, I saw one of his game maxims etched in stone.
If at first the game - or the breaks - go against you, don't let up put on more steam.
Right now, it's an important message to anyone associated with Tennessee football.
For the last few years, I have written a column near the close of fall camp trying to capture the anticipation for the start of the football season. Last year, the column was a letter to the previous head coach, who read it at the behest of a media assistant and promptly told that staffer that he 'didn't get it'.
Lane Kiffin had no interest in "getting" how special that Tennessee football is. That's why he currently resides on the Left Coast.
But times---and coaches---change.
If you think head coach Derek Dooley needs a letter explaining to him what football on the banks of the Tennessee river is all about, then you haven't been reading or listening to Dooley the last few months.
Dooley gets Tennessee football. He gets the SEC. He wants to restore the Vols to where they have customarily resided in college football's elite conference
The problem is that Dooley is trying to do it with 72 scholarship players and a team that has as little experience. The 2010 Tennessee Volunteers are very young and lack depth and talent in several areas. This is not rhetoric and it's really not opinion---look at the depth chart for yourself and compare it to other SEC teams or even Tennessee teams of the recent past. These are the cold, hard facts for Tennessee fans to face, facts that are not easy to face for a fan base that is used to contending.
The feeling is kind of like the scene in Hoosiers where fans starting chanting "Jimmy, Jimmy" as the Hickory team was introduced, prompting Coach Norman Dale to step to the microphone and say "This is your team, I hope you support them."
The Vols aren't missing a "Jimmy". They are lacking a lot of Jimmys. But they are who they are and, in 13 days, they take to the field.
"We're going to have to create turnovers, we're going to have to protect the ball and we're going to have to be good on special teams just to have a chance to win. That's where we are," Dooley said.
That's not a normal place for Tennessee, but there will be enjoyment in seeing this team play. It's a team that will give great effort and it's going to be a team that is going to grow as the season progresses.
The reality is that the Vols are in this situation because of mistakes that were made over the course of several years. A bunch of mistakes. By several different people. These mistakes that have been accurately documented in columns, television features, message boards, tweets, blogs and on radio talk shows.
We ALL agree on this.
But the fact of the matter is that the 2010 Vols are here, so no rehashing of the last three years is going to change it or fix what ails the current team.
Where the 2010 Vols end up is anyone's guess. How many wins is certainly not known. We know they won't be favored in a lot of games. But my bet is that they are a different team, a better one, come the last month of the season---and a team fans will appreciate. But to fully appreciate them, you are going to have to let go of why this program is where it is and when things aren't going wel,l take stock in the following two items:
Maxim #3 - If at first the game - or the breaks - go against you, don't let up put on more steam.
Translation: Don't give up on this team when things aren't going well.
And this from the head coach of the Vols
"We're not singing the blues here. You all do understand that? I'm not saying, 'Oh, poor me!' I'm happy to be here. I'd rather be here with 72 than about anywhere else."
That's your coach, Vol fans.
Your coach who doesn't have to be told to read General Neyland's game maxims.
Your coach who believes in those game maxims, who believes in rebuilding Tennessee from the ground up.
My bet is that Derek Dooley and these Vols will put on more steam when the going gets tough.
It will be interesting to see if everyone who loves Tennessee football will be able to say the same.