For the first time, and hopefully not the last, this blog has engaged in a Q and A session with a nationally known sports writer. Asked various questions about the football team, basketball team, and the overall state of the Tennessee program based on their particular area of expertise the writers respond to the best of their abilities. This week’s writer is from ESPN. Check it out by reading more…
This week I had the pleasure of talking to Bruce Feldman of ESPN.com. According to his bio on his blog, Bruce Feldman is the author of Meat Market: Inside the Smash-Mouth World of College Football Recruiting and Cane Mutiny: How the Miami Hurricanes Overturned the Football Establishment. A senior writer at ESPN The Magazine, Feldman also writes a popular college football blog for ESPN.com. His articles have been cited in several editions of The Best American Sports Writing, and he has won first place awards in contests sponsored by the Football Writers Association of America. Prior to joining ESPN in 1995, Feldman played wide receiver for a semi-pro football team in New York. He is sad to report that he wasn’t a two-stepper.
1. What did you think of the Lane Kiffin departure and How do you think that has affected the Volunteer football program as a whole?
In terms of the departure, it was just about as messy as it could get. The only thing that would’ve made it even tougher would’ve been if it had happened a few weeks later, right on the eve of signing day. The hardest part, big picture wise, is that regardless of the circumstances, this means the UT players now are going to be coping with their third different coaching staff in two plus years. That’s really hard. New systems. New personalities. New ways of doing things.
2. What do you think of the Derek Dooley hire and What do you think of his job so far?
Honestly I’m not sure yet because Dooley is still an unproven head coach to a large degree. I do like some of the hires he made. His strength coach Bennie Wylie will have a great impact on the program. Keeping Jim Chaney was big.
3. Do you think that the Vols will be competitive in the next two years? If so why and if not how long do you think it will take?
Competitive to the point of being in bowl contention? Yes. Competitive to be a legit top 20 team? I don’t see that in the next two years. This program had been falling apart for a few years. The Fulmer staff’s recruiting efforts had really been lacking at the end and the discipline in the program had eroded quite a bit. There wasn’t much depth and I don’t see them rising up that fast. The O-line is going to be a big rebuilding job and it’s only made worse when you lose the one experienced player that was back in the program. I do like the young receivers that are coming in.
4. What did you think of the Vols draftees this past NFL draft? Pretty impressive for a group that coach Kiffin referred to as depleted right?
I think Eric Berry is a fantastic player—and person. I was impressed by the improvement Dan Williams and Montario Hardesty made in their final seasons. This program obviously had some big-time players, but Kiffin does deserve credit for developing Jonathan Crompton. He wasn’t a guy anyone would’ve seen as a draft pick last September. I think the talent level though, really was/is depleted there. You didn’t see any difference-makers at receiver. The linebacker group was really thin. It certainly wasn’t anywhere near the level people were used to earlier in the decade.
5. Have you seen or heard about the renovations to Neyland Stadium? What do you think about them and in general the benefit of facility upgrades/having the best facilities does for the program?
It’s so important because UT has to try to keep up with the Floridas, Alabamas and LSUs of the SEC. If you’re Tennessee, it’s probably even more significant to wow recruits because the in-state recruiting base isn’t anywhere as deep as it is for most of the rest of the SEC.
6. What do you think of the Volunteer football program as a whole? Would you consider it a top-tier job? What would you consider the biggest asset, disadvantage to being head coach at UT to be?
I think it has an awesome game-day environment and tradition. It is a big-time college football program. I definitely think it’s one of the top 10-15 jobs out there, but it does depend on where you grew up. If you grew up in Big Ten country, I suspect you’d think Michigan and OSU were about as good as you get. If you grew up in Tulsa, you’d say OU or Texas.
Biggest asset: Great stadium/tradition and you play in the SEC.
Biggest disadvantage: not as strong in-state recruiting base as compared to LSU, UGA and Florida.
7. I know your a college football guy but what do you think about what coach Pearl has done with the Vol’s program during his 5 years here in Knoxville? Do you think he will be able to continue at the high level of success he has had?
I’m very impressed with him. He’s an incredibly charismatic presence. He makes a program relevant. He plays an exciting style.
I do think he will continue to raise the program because recruits will continue to buy in.
8. Predict the Vols record this upcoming year in football?
They should be no worse than 2-2 entering October and I think their final four games of the season, all in the state, will be against unranked teams.