It was a statement Tennessee coach Derek Dooley made on Sept. 28 leading up to the Buffalo game regarding UT’s offensive line under-performing, but now it’s of greater significance.
“I never think things are as bad as everybody else does and I never think they are as good as everybody else does,” Dooley said.
Now, more than ever, Tennessee fans need that even-keel approach.
Dooley is in year two of a massive rebuilding job, and doing so in the toughest conference in the country.
But it’s going to take time.
“Everybody wants the quick fix, the magic pill that’s going to make everything great. It doesn’t exist,” Dooley said. “It doesn’t exist in life.”
Were the Vols ever serious contenders in the SEC East? Most likely not. And that was before the summer injury to linebacker Herman Lathers and the dismissals of safety Janzen Jackson and defensive tackle Montori Hughes.
Yes, this team had arguably the best quarterback in the league in Tyler Bray. Yes, Justin Hunter and Da’Rick Rogers formed one of the best receiving duos in the country.
But winning in the SEC is more than having a few underclassmen playmakers.
It’s about being a complete football team, equipped with quality and experience on offense, defense and special teams.
Tennessee has little of both.
Did fans’ expectations become bigger than they should’ve been after watching Bray and Co. play “backyard football” the first two games of the year? Probably, but the thinking that UT was going to go down to Gainesville and knock off Florida is the kind of passion and attitude championship-level teams and fan bases need to have.
“Our deal is not our spirit. We’ve got good spirit and we want to do good and we believe in the program and we believe in the values,” Dooley said. “It’s just learning how to be mature competitors where we don’t get affected, we don’t get emotional, we don’t get down, we don’t expect everything to be easy, we don’t expect things to fall in our lap. You just have to grind. You’ve got to work at it and eventually you develop the confidence through all that hard work and things start happening.”
Question marks at Florida, Georgia and South Carolina gave UT fans hope that if the Vols got some lucky breaks, they could find a way to make “things start happening” and possibly win the SEC East in a year it’s as wide-open as it’s ever been and probably ever will be.
Instead, the opposite has happened.
Hunter’s season-ending torn ACL early in the first quarter of the Florida game was bad enough. Then, Bray breaks a bone in his right thumb late in the Georgia game and will be out at least five weeks.
On top of that, UT faces the two best teams in the country over the next two weeks: LSU and Alabama.
After the Georgia loss, all of the fan base’s dreams of a special season became wrapped up and put in a sling like Bray’s throwing arm.
The good news is Bray will be the Vols’ signal-caller again, and UT will be a contender for a conference championship again. (Maybe the two go hand-and-hand.)
But it takes time.
“I don’t have any doubts that Tennessee is going to be what Tennessee expects to be,” Dooley said. “But we also have to confront some tough, brutal facts that we are facing right now. Is it going to be tough? You’re dang right. But you’re presented with a set of circumstances every day and you can’t change what has happened in the past.
“You can’t worry about what might happen. You can’t say, ‘Well, this might happen if that.’ You can’t do any of that. You have to deal with the circumstances you are presented with and go after it the best you can. That is all you can do, and never lose faith in the end of the story.”
Tennessee fans shouldn’t give up on the Volunteers or Dooley, especially right now. It’s times like this when fans bases, including the Big Orange Nation, need to rally behind their school and support it, knowing the story isn’t over.
It might just be getting started, and a new chapter could even begin on Saturday against LSU.