Hope is valuable.
The Powers That Be at Tennessee haven’t given us much reason to believe they will make a good decision in this situation. Not only were they completely out of touch in almost hiring Greg Schiano, they believed Schiano was a more valuable candidate than Mike Gundy, Jeff Brohm, and any number of other options available before everything got nuts on Sunday. It was a stunningly poor move on both a football and a fan relations front, one John Currie will have a long and difficult road to recover from, if he still can.
What do you do when you can’t trust the thing you love to make good decisions?
When the Vols hired Butch Jones, Tennessee’s faith was tested. But we could hope the coach who went 9-3 the last two years at Cincinnati with a pair of shared division titles could grow into the role at Tennessee. And fans showed up, early and often and even late into his final season, because we love Tennessee and we tried to love Butch Jones.
It’s been five years, only about 365 days of which, from one October to the next in 2015-2016, felt like a real return on the investment. The last year was the worst in school history.
We’re all here because we love Tennessee. What we need is hope.
And what we’re losing by the hour is faith in the decision makers.
I actually liked swinging and missing on Mike Gundy; it was a serious play for a serious coach. I don’t know what happened with Jeff Brohm, but fan reaction to the possibility/momentary probability should be educational for the decision makers, if they’re willing to listen.
It’s not exclusive to hiring Tee Martin. You certainly don’t have to hire Lane Kiffin. But you have to hire hope.
When faith seems non-existent, love gets very difficult. When you’ve already shown up for a decade now and been met with only disappointment, it gets more difficult to write the check for tickets. When you don’t believe those in charge are making good decisions about the future of the program, it gets more difficult to show up to support the program.
Tennessee needs hope. And even if there is little faith in the decision makers long-term, they can still make a hire that provides hope today.
Jeff Brohm would have done that, but he’s not the only one. Tee Martin would do that in a different way, but he’s not the only one either. Again: we hoped in Butch Jones. It can be done.
As one example, consider the difference between Chad Morris and Dave Doeren.
Chad Morris took over an SMU team that went 1-11 in 2014. He went 2-10, then 5-7, then 7-5. Before that he was the architect of the Clemson offense from 2011-14. I don’t know if Chad Morris would be a good coach at Tennessee. But there is reason to hope. (There’s also reason to enjoy an offense that’s currently seventh nationally in S&P+ and 16th in yards per play. If you hire Chad Morris, you take some of that Mike Gundy money and buy a defensive coordinator.)
Chad Morris wouldn’t have been anyone’s first choice, before or after Sunday. But there is reason to hope.
It is simply a much harder sell with a more known entity like Dave Doeren.
Dave Doeren is the guy NC State hoped would make a difference. After a 3-9 first season, Doeren went 8-5, 7-6, 7-6, and is 8-4 this year. Tom O’Brien’s last three years at NC State: 9-4, 8-5, 7-5.
Chad Morris (and Jeff Brohm, and Tee Martin, and a bunch of other guys) is an unknown. He might be good. He might not be. But I can hope.
We already know much more about Dave Doeren. Another power conference school (and one with a lower standard of success, traditionally) already hoped he was the guy to move them forward, and so far he has only achieved the same things his predecessor did before being fired.
It is simply much, much harder to hope in Dave Doeren than an unknown.
Consider this as well: five of Tennessee’s first seven games next year are vs West Virginia, Florida, at Georgia, at Auburn, and Alabama. That is a challenge, to say the least. If Tennessee takes a beating in some or all of those games, who do you want to take that beating?
If it’s Tee Martin, the narrative is patience. I have no idea if Tee Martin would be a successful coach at Tennessee if he took the job right now, but I do know no one would get more patience from the fan base. If he starts 2-5 and finishes below .500 his first year, fans would handle it much better. But they will also handle it better if it’s someone like Chad Morris, someone who walks in the door with more hope. Tennessee is likely to struggle next season no matter who is wearing the headset. But they’re 2-5 with Dave Doeren, he will get far less benefit of the doubt because he will inherit far less hope. Even though one year on the job doesn’t prove much of anything, some will say they’re already out on Dave Doeren because deep down they were out on him from day one. I fear Tennessee needs more hope than he can currently provide.
Hope isn’t just about morale. It’s about ticket sales and patience. It’s about keeping love alive even when faith is dormant. Reasonable fans – which I always believe are the vast majority of Tennessee’s paying customers – will always be invested if you give them hope.
(Also, in the hope department: Les Miles. It is baffling to me that he can’t even get an interview. It’s easy to view this as a crisis, which makes one look for safety, and Les Miles is the safest pick on the board. I can easily find hope in Les Miles.)
If the Vols hire Doeren, I will support him. I won’t take it out on him. But hope will be more difficult to come by at a time when Tennessee needs it most. And patience will wear thinner, faster at a time when Tennessee is likely to need more of it.
Even if we lack faith in the decision makers, they might be able to see how such a hire is beneficial to them too. With Tennessee’s name in the national sports news for reasons they don’t like, I’m sure it’s tempting to just hire someone and try to move on. But it is far better for those decision makers in the long run to not panic, at least listen to the people, and make a hire they can find hope in. The longer we can hope, the longer we’re invested. And, in this case, the more time they might buy for themselves before the unrest skips right over the head coach and goes to the top of the ladder. It’s already there tonight. But there is still time to make a hopeful hire that benefits both them and the fans.
The conversations about why we have no faith in the decision makers needs to take place anyway. But Tennessee also needs a football coach; even if not tonight, relatively soon. There are still good options out there. You don’t have to panic. And you should never underestimate the value of hope.