sports (2006-07)

Marquees Collapsing

UT football, Kentucky basketball share hard times

Marquees Collapsing

by Tony Basilio

In a year when the UT basketball team has defied all conventional wisdom, one formula remains. That age-old theorem is tied around the eerie symbioses of UT football and Kentucky basketball. Both are the cash cows and all consuming fires for Big Blue/Big Orange fan bases. While other revenue generating sports have had periods of success, it’s UT football and UK b-ball that truly matter. Tennessee and Kentucky are each obsessed with succeeding in its sport of choice and pay close to $5 million a year in head coaching salaries just to prove it! Despite the expenditures, both tried and true programs, storied as they are, appear to be waning.

It goes without saying that UT football plummeted to parts unknown in ’05. Our most recent memory of our beloved football Vols is a dismal 5-6 season that was equally lethargic and unwatchable.  It was UT’s worst year in football since ’88-89. While theories and excuses for last season abound, Tennessee logged its worst year because the coaches failed to recruit enough quality playmakers.

Kentucky basketball is “enjoying” (OK, I’m enjoying) its worst year since the scandal ridden days of Eddie Sutton’s regime back in ’88. Kentucky is failing to get it done with a team that is devoid of guys who can make plays. Like UT football, recruiting in Big Blue land has slipped. That slide comes under the watch of head coach Tubby Smith who, like Fulmer, jacks down a phat $2 million plus per season. But Tubby and Phil have a lot more in common than a few digits on the bi-weekly check; both continue to point back to ’98.

Kentucky’s last national championship occurred only months before Tennessee would claim the National Title. If that isn’t strange enough, both were led by home-state guys who hit key threes. For UK it was Cameron Mills drilling a couple of threes in the NCAA tourney. UT’s triple was provided by kicker Jeff Hall, whose game winning field goal versus Florida touched off a roar that is still heard reverberating in the bowels of Neyland.

Fan dissatisfaction with each party in question makes it possible to play a twisted game of mad libs by inserting either Fulmer or Smith. Try this.

Coach______ just doesn’t get the kids to play hard like they once did. Remember when they won the National Title back in ’98? Back then coach ______ used to make the right calls. Now he just stands there while the other team out-hustles us. Coach _____’s offense is unwatchable. How much longer do we have to endure this? And by the way, how many times is coach _____ going to tell us that he needs more discipline in his program? While I’m on the subject, coach ____ needs to take all the heat. After all, we are paying ______ over $2 million a year. It’s bad enough that we’re not competing for a championship this year but now coach _____ has us in the bottom half of our division. We really stink, and coach ___’s recruiting isn’t getting it done these days. 

Both guys also share attacks on their flanks that they seem unable to fend off.

Tubby has to compete annually with Billy Donovan, an established coach who has been to the Final Four since UK’s last appearance. To the south, Bruce Pearl’s era is now officially legit with a huge win over Kentucky’s vaunted program while Kevin Stallings, a capable veteran at Vandy, picked up his school’s first win at Rupp since the days of the split-T offense.

Fulmer is left with the reality that he’s lost his grip on his division to an equally formidable trio. Mark Richt, like Donovan, fills the established role in the division. Like Billy the Kid, Richt has a couple of conference titles and BCS appearances since Tennessee’s last whiff. Urban Meyer is Bruce Pearl’s counterpart in that he’s creating a monster in Gainesville. His era was aided with instant credibility with a win over UT. Steve Spurrier fills the role of the capable veteran who also claimed his school’s first win in Neyland versus UT.

Tubby has a young AD that it’s perceived he controls. Fulmer has Mike Hamilton. Both AD’s, Mitch Barnhardt and Mike Hamilton, are strong suited in sports not coached by the Big Two. Barnhardt is perceived as a football guy while Mike Hamilton has revived UT hoops.

Tubby and Phil are both panned by their respective fan bases due to a dull offensive approach. Not only are both teams hard to watch offensively, but both seem to be having concurrent identity crises. Kentucky basketball is built on perimeter shooting, yet they suck out loud at the lost art. UT football’s age old mantra “pounding the rock” connotes running the football with authority, and the Vols can’t do that.

Both Tennessee football and Kentucky basketball share huge facilities and even larger expectations. It seems appropriate to mention these two guys in the same breath and thus in the same sentence. It just seems to work, doesn’t it?

Listen up! Tune in and talk sports with Tony Basilio weekdays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on ESPN Radio WVLZ 1180 AM.