With National Signing Day squarely in the rearview mirror for Derek Dooley and the rest of the Tennessee football coaching staff, many Vols fans probably assumed we wouldn’t hear much out of Rocky Top for a few weeks.
Yet, despite spring practices being over a month away, Dooley and the Vols still managed to find themselves in another sticky situation.
Earlier this week, Tennessee announced a late change to its 2012 football schedule, sliding its season opener against N.C. State in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Classic in Atlanta from Sept. 1 to Aug. 31.
Wait. Isn’t that…?
Yep. A Friday night.
So now, instead of taking on just one opponent in the Georgia Dome, the Vols will be competing against two.
And high school football.
As you might expect, some high school coaches across the state are not happy with the decision.
Taking place during Week 2 of the TSSAA football season, it’s a fair assumption to make that attendance at prep games across the state will be reduced as Vols fans will be forced to make a choice between local high school games or the Big Orange.
Now, to be fair, Tennessee didn’t voluntarily switch into the Friday night game.
This was a decision made by the folks in charge of the Chick-fil-A Classic (Auburn-Clemson replaced UT-N.C. State as the marquee Saturday night matchup).
And while college football continues to become more commercialized (and the financial incentive to play games on “off nights” becomes greater), college coaches and administrators have to be very careful when it comes to alienating traditionalists.
But if you’re Derek Dooley, this is a no-win situation.
By playing the game on Friday, Dooley, who has been (rightly or wrongly) criticized by many for his in-state recruiting results, runs the risk of splintering precious relationships with high school coaches and potential recruits.
Even worse for Dooley? Friday’s game isn’t even being picked up by ESPN or ESPN2.
Instead, Vols fans that elect to skip a night of high school football will have to scramble through their cable listings to find the game on ESPNU.
From primetime Saturday night to a Friday night afterthought? Yikes.
Interestingly enough, the biggest winner in Tennessee’s announcement?
Fresh off what many are calling the best recruiting class in the history of Vanderbilt football, the second-year head coach will already have the national spotlight to himself when the 2012 season rolls around as the Commodores host South Carolina on Thursday, Aug. 30 in college football’s first primetime game.
So while Dooley and the Vols are playing a non-conference game on a second-tier channel while also competing against high school football, I’ve got a sneaking suspicion of where Franklin will be.
At one of the hundreds of high school games across the state, actively recruiting against the Vols.
The game against N.C. State was already a must-win for Dooley, who is squarely on the hot seat in 2012.
The announcement to directly compete against the state’s most popular high school sport certainly doesn’t help his cause.
Even though he left for the West Coast, Lane Kiffin continues to haunt Tennessee fans from afar.
Just when Vols fans thought they were safe from the coach that left them in the middle of the night for sunny Southern California, Kiffin has resurfaced in Knoxville once again, bringing more torment to the folks on Rocky Top.
On Wednesday, reports began to surface that Kiffin had hired Kentucky wide receivers and former Tennessee quarterback Tee Martin to join his staff at USC.
Hold on. Tee Martin?
The same quarterback that led Tennessee to its first national championship in 47 years and has a Knoxville street named after him is now partnering up with Knoxville’s Public Enemy No. 1?
Yep. Same guy.
From Tee Martin Drive to Rodeo Drive.
Now, to be fair to Martin, he had already spent two seasons in Lexington coaching directly against the Vols.
But, after becoming a popular target among coaching staffs across the SEC over the past two offseasons — including grumblings that Martin would return to Rocky Top and replace outgoing wideouts coach Charlie Baggett this offseason — it appeared as if Martin was set to return for another season at Kentucky.
Instead, Martin has now left to join Kiffin and the Trojans.
Talk about irony.
On paper, this is a terrific hire for USC.
Martin is regarded as a reasonably bright young mind in the coaching ranks (a title once shared by his new boss) and should mesh well with an already-loaded Trojans offense next year.
Kentucky fans should be the most distraught.
Losing a coach (and particularly a recruiter) like Martin this late in the offseason is never a good thing. In fact, given how badly Joker Phillips has performed, one could argue that Martin is the lone bright spot of Kentucky football right now.
And while Tennessee fans will likely be upset that Martin “sold out”, the actual football effects of Martin leaving for the West Coast should be a positive for Tennessee.
Instead of flipping possible Tennessee recruits to nearby Kentucky, Martin now has a much more considerable amount of work to do to flip a Vols target to USC.
But, with the way his evil genius has worked out thus far, don’t put anything past Lane Kiffin.
Allow me to introduce myself.
My name is Wade Neely. I am 25 years old. And I am a Twitter addict.
Not an addict in the sense that I can’t put down my smartphone or tear myself away from the laptop long enough to pay attention to my other duties (I refuse to call getting paid to co-host a radio show and write about sports for a living a “job”).
I am an addict, however, in the sense that Twitter is now my absolute go-to source for virtually any news topic or search.
(In fact, as I’m writing this, Richard Deitsch of Sports Illustrated and Darren Rovell of CNBC are having a dispute about media ethics – and the whole world is able to follow in real time.)
As many have already wrote, Twitter is completely revolutionizing the way news and news reporting is done these days.
Sports is no different.
Long gone are the days where you would wake up and rush out the door to pick up a newspaper to find out the latest sports headlines and box scores.
And now, as information continues to become more and more accessible, users are expecting to receive the news, not look for it.
Depending on who you follow and how you wish to use it, Twitter can be virtually anything you want it to be.
Want to limit your profile to old college friends and share inside jokes and messages? You can do it.
Want to use Twitter to place your resume or networking information in the hands of employers or future professional contacts? No problem. (In fact, a huge percentage of our interviews on “From the Sideline” are initially set up via Twitter. You’d be amazed at the responses we’ve received just from simple Twitter messages.)
For many, however, Twitter is quickly emerging as their leading news source. Why scan a web page when you can have the news delivered to you?
I’ll admit, Twitter isn’t a perfect solution. It can be extremely confusing for newcomers, especially those who are new to the whole social networking phenomenon.
And, in speaking with a lot of sports fans who aren’t on Twitter, a large number seemed to cite lack of knowledge on who to follow as their main reason for not joining.
That’s where I come in.
Considering the diversity of sports culture that’s embedded here in Tennessee, I had to think long and hard about a “must-follow” list for a complete Twitter newbie.
After all, the state boasts three major professional sports teams, and Tennessee fans would argue vehemently that their Vols should receive pro-team attention.
And before I present the following list of must-follows, I wanted to make sure and inform that this is not an end-all-be-all list, but merely a building block.
Therein lies the beauty of Twitter. There’s no right or wrong way to use it.
Additionally, I wanted to note that a lot of great writers and reporters just simply aren’t on Twitter (for whatever reason). Their efforts are noted (just not digitally).
So without further adieu, and in no particular order, I present my list of Top 10 Tennessee Twitter Follows:
Teresa Walker (Associated Press — @TeresaMWalker)
Quite simply, Teresa Walker is a grinder. If a major sporting event is happening in Tennessee, Walker is there. And she’s tweeting about it. Can’t make a game or follow anywhere but Twitter? Walker usually provides some of the best play-by-play tweets of anyone around. Like her employer, when it comes to pure information, Walker is one of the absolute best.
Jesse Smithey (Knoxville News Sentinel — @prepxtra)
Jesse Smithey is one of the youngest follows on the list, but he is also one of the most valuable. Even though Smithey technically covers just one third of the state (East Tennessee – more specifically, the Greater Knoxville area) and preps athletics, his tweets are as informative (and funny) as any of those across the state. The number of schools Smithey covers alone should be worthy of a follow.
Clay Travis (OutKickTheCoverage.com — @ClayTravisBGID):
As far as the internet goes, no one in the South moves the needle like Clay Travis. Whether it be SEC football (his specialty), the Titans, media ethics issues, or just providing links to flat-out funny stories, Travis does a great job of fusing news and entertainment. Travis is often controversial, but is never afraid to chime in on a topic. His followers love him and hate him for it at the same time, making him a must-follow.
Jim Wyatt (The Tennessean — @jwyattsports)
When I think of Titans football and Twitter, I immediately think of Jim Wyatt. Whether it’s breaking news, sending out links to stories, or providing postgame quotes, Wyatt does it all. Wyatt doesn’t tweet as much as some of the others on this list, but nearly every one of his tweets are big. In fact, a friend once told me that he only had a handful of Twitter posts sent as text messages to his phone – those from his parents – and Jim Wyatt.
Wes Rucker (GoVols247.com — @wesrucker247)
When it comes to Tennessee Volunteer athletics, Wes Rucker is an absolute must-follow. After previously working at the Chattanooga Times Free Press, Rucker transitioned to a position as Senior Writer with GV247 and never missed a beat. Rucker is a tireless worker (as his 60,000+ tweets show) and while he doesn’t show it as much as others, Rucker is as in tune with Tennessee as he is with other regional and national topics.
Chris Herrington (The Memphis Flyer — @FlyerGrizBlog)
A lot of readers already on Twitter may recognize most of the people on this list, but an equal number probably are unfamiliar with Herrington. And, given the miniscule amount of coverage the Grizzlies receive statewide, that’s not overly surprising. Herrington brings a solid sense of humor in addition to already solid reporting to a largely under-reported team.
Josh Ward (WNML-Knoxville — @Josh_Ward)
With all due respect to the other members of this list, Josh Ward’s nickname (at least for the purposes of this blog post), could be considered The Professional. Ward is all business and is all-things Vols. In addition to football and basketball, Ward is heavily in tune with Tennessee recruiting. Ward is a must-follow, even if you’re not a fan of Rocky Top.
Chris Vernon (730-AM Memphis — @ChrisVernonShow)
Chris Vernon has the distinction of being the only member on this list that has an extensively full-time radio background. The Chris Vernon Show, based out of Memphis, has evolved from a tiny radio show to a show that received national media attention for its grassroots Memphis Grizzlies t-shirt campaign in 2011. Much like Rucker and Travis, Vernon provides a more contemporary perspective on a variety of topics – both in and out of the sporting world.
Tom Kreager (Daily News Journal — @Kreager)
In addition to being one of the most informative and active Tennessee sports media members on Twitter, Tom Kreager also has one of the most recognizable Twitter handles. As the DNJ’s preps editor, Kreager does a terrific job of covering a lot of schools while blending scores, stats, and data in with comments and thoughts on other regional stories.
Joe Dubin (102.5 The Game — @BIGJOEONTHEGO)
As former TV reporter, Joe Dubin knows a thing or two about entertainment. Now a full-time radio man, Dubin hasn’t let it impact his tweeting. When it comes to fusing comedy with sport, Dubin blurs the line, but everyone has fun while he does it. If you’re looking to be entertained while also following a little sports, Dubin’s your guy.
Beth Rucker (Associated Press — @BethRucker)
Jonathan Hutton (Titans Radio — @Hutton1045)
Steve Layman (News Channel 5 – @SteveLayman)
Andrew Gribble (Knoxville News Sentinel – Andrew_Gribble)
Jeff Lockridge (The Tennessean – @jefflockridge)
Adam Sparks (Daily News Journal — @AdamSparks)
Joshua Cooper (The Tennessean – @joshuacooper)
Chad Withrow (104.5 The Zone — @WithrowZone)
Paul Kuharsky (ESPN AFC South Blogger – @espn_afcsouth)
Chris Low (ESPN SEC Blogger – @espn_SEC)
Dawn Davenport (WKRN — @DawnDavenportTN)
Brent Dougherty (104.5 The Zone — @brentdougherty)
Mike Griffith (Knoxville News Sentinel – @MikeGriffith32)
On The Cusp:
Justin Lamb (Columbia Daily Herald — @JustinLamb34)
Ian Rhodes (WSMV.com — @IanRhodesWSMV)
Buddy Oakes (PredsOnTheGlass.com — @PredsOnTheGlass)
As you can see, Twitter is an absolute wealth of information and those listed are just intended a building block. Shape your following list as you see fit.
After all, it’s your Twitter. You’re in control.
I know I left a lot of people out, but I’d love to grow this list so if you see anyone that has been left off that you feel needs adding, please hit me up @WadeNeely.
As the seconds ticked off the clock at Thompson-Boling Arena in Knoxville Saturday afternoon, Tennessee and first-year head coach Cuonzo Martin had to come to grips with another last-second loss to a ranked opponent.
Less than 48 hours after suffering a 62-58 loss at No. 20 Mississippi State on Thursday, the Vols came thisclose to knocking off No. 2 Kentucky, falling 65-62 to the Wildcats.
Not bad for a team that entered this season with virtually no expectations and that many had left for dead in mid-December.
After starting the season 2-0, the Vols went on to lose six of their next seven games, with an 86-80 squeaker over Division II Chaminade standing as the lone victory.
Things seemed to reach a low mark for the Vols when a then-struggling Austin Peay squad went into Thompson-Boling and pulled off a 74-70 upset on Dec. 10.
Tennessee reached bottom, some would argue, when the Vols went lifeless in the second half of a blowout loss to Memphis on Jan. 4.
And, as bad as that 69-51 loss to the Tigers was, something seemed to click for Martin and the Vols afterward.
Playing with a renewed commitment to their defensive principles, the Vols held then-No. 14 Florida to its worst offensive performance of the season in a 67-56 win on Jan. 7.
And despite their back-to-back losses to the Bulldogs and Wildcats, the Vols held those squads to their respective second-worst offensive outputs of the year.
Quite simply, the Vols are playing relentless defense first, score baskets later.
And it appears to be working.
In addition to their recommitment to defense, the Vols also received a big surprise (both literally and figuratively) Saturday from much-hyped freshman Jarnell Stokes.
Listed at 6-foot-8 and 250 pounds and wearing his own size 20 sneakers (Tennessee was unable to get Stokes’ custom-sized footwear delivered in time for Saturday’s game), the big man had quite the debut, scoring nine points and grabbing four rebounds in just over 17 minutes.
Cuonzo Martin has the Vols playing with a renewed commitment to defense that appears to be paying off.
How big was Stokes’ game?
For a decent portion of the afternoon, Stokes was trending nationwide on Twitter.
Not bad for a kid that should still already be worrying about which girl to ask to his high school prom.
For those who haven’t followed the story, Stokes was a high school senior less than a month ago, but decided to graduate school early and begin his college career mid-season after he was denied a hardship waiver from the TSSAA to play at Memphis’ Southwind High School this year.
So, after getting cleared to play by the SEC earlier this week, Stokes hit the floor against the second-ranked team in the country just a few short weeks after receiving his high school diploma.
Sound unusual? It should.
That’s because Stokes, who was a consensus top-20 recruit in the nation across all major recruiting sites, is believed to be the first major player in the history of college basketball to attempt such a feat.
Even better for Vols fans? Stokes will be back next year.
Even though the NBA has stipulations in place to prevent players from going directly from high school to the league, the rule won’t apply to Stokes because players are required to be a full year removed from high school before becoming draft eligible.
Which mean Vols fans are guaranteed at least another season of the Jarnell Stokes era in Knoxville.
So while Stokes looked impressive against the No. 2 team in the country Saturday in his first-ever college minutes, imagine how he might look one year from now.
Which leads us to the question: Will Tennessee string together a magical SEC run and sneak in the NCAA Tournament this season?
Sitting at 8-9 overall and 1-2 in the conference, a tournament berth seems unlikely this season for the Vols. They still have to play UConn, at Kentucky, at Alabama and then two games against Vanderbilt.
But if they continue to play relentless defense and Stokes continues to mature and improve, the Vols could be playing meaningful games in late February and early March.
A far cry from a team that appeared lifeless less than a month ago.