Vols Orange and White Report
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You rarely learn a lot from a spring game. After all, it’s a glorified scrimmage, there to give recruits a taste of what a game day is like and the fans a bit of excitement heading into the second half of the off-season. The coaches don’t want to give anything away about their teams just for a scrimmage. But some spring games are more revealing than others.

Tennessee’s Orange & White Game was very revealing in a number of ways, but not in the ways you’d expect. Sure I could go through a list of things I liked and things I didn’t like from the players on the field, but that’s not what I look for in a spring game and especially a spring game right after a tumultuous transition.

I look for other things. I’ll leave all the position breakdowns and play analysis to the guys who do it better than I do, which is pretty much every journalist in Knoxville. What I’m good at spotting are elements that don’t necessarily take place on the field, and there were a few things I took note of that I found interesting.

Like, for example, injuries. Stop for a second and think about this. The Tennessee Volunteers went an entire spring practice cycle without any serious injuries.

How long has it been since anyone’s been able to say that? I’ll give you a minute to think...

I’m watching the Georgia spring game as I write this and I just watched Jake Fromm hang out Riley Ridley to dry on a pass in the end zone that left the WR down after the play. Showy pass, but unnecessary in a spring game and with potentially serious connotations for the real football season. But in Knoxville, the trainers ran out on the field exactly zero times. That tells me the S&C woes are on their way out the door. New strength coach Craig Fitzgerald seems to be on his way to building that bigger, stronger, meaner Vols team that UT fans expect.

As Coach Pruitt mentioned in his post-game press conference today, there were four guys out for the game that were left-over injuries from prior to spring ball, and on a legit game day some of those guys would have been cleared to play. For a squad that’s going to be facing depth issues on some units, that’s outstanding news and should be very reassuring for the long haul, as well. To me, it’s an indication that the past few years of having 25 injuries by mid-October might be in the rear view mirror for real, and that’s huge news.

I also noted that the play-calling demonstrated a definite trend back to what longtime UT fans have always expected from their teams. Fullbacks? How did that happen? QBs under center? Wait…is that still legal?

I-formation?

Quick! Someone bring the crash cart, stat!

Very little razzle-dazzle, and I’m of the opinion that a flea-flicker doesn’t count as razzle-dazzle. Good, sound football fundamentals. And despite SEC Network’s Greg McElroy running around the field in his Boogie Fever-inspired electric blue skinny pants talking about how it’s going to take QB Jarrett Guarantano a long while to learn the pro-style offense this new Volunteers incarnation will run, let’s be serious. With 226 yards passing and 134 yards rushing, the first team offense didn’t seem to have that much trouble figuring a pro-style offense out. That’s because a pro-style offense requires a sound football foundation to run successfully, and those foundations were starting to show during the O&W game.

And finally, investment. There’s no doubt this coaching staff is fully invested in this team — and not themselves. Coach Pruitt’s voice when he spoke about the lack of commitment of some UT players demonstrated spoke volumes.

Elements of that investment could be seen on the field too. Daniel Bituli’s fire and brimstone couldn’t be denied on the sidelines, as he came down hard on the defensive unit for a lackluster performance. Leadership — both on and off the field — can only come from a fully invested player.

Could there be any doubt about Jauan Jennings’s investment? During the Vol Walk and on the sidelines, still not cleared to play, no one was happier to be in a Vols uniform than Jennings. Watching his coiled tension on the sidelines as he watched the game, you could tell he was yearning in every sinew of his body to be out on the field too.

And let’s continue to be honest — the thought of a Marquez Callaway-Jauan Jennings tandem at WR is the kind of thing to make UT fans drool and SEC defensive coordinators wince. Especially when you throw in Austin Pope/Domick Wood-Anderson and Eli Wolf, Tim Jordan and Ty Chandler, Josh Palmer and Brandon Johnson.

UT has a lot of options offensively. Hallelujah.

When grad transfer QB Keller Chryst shows up this fall, the quarterback competition is going to be something to keep an eye on. Not just because of who ultimately wins the position between Chryst and Guarantano, but because of how that competition will hone the skills of both players. Competition is healthy, and Coach Pruitt has made it clear that no one has a starting spot on the roster yet. Players have to earn that shot, and make no mistake — whoever is named the starter in any position will have flat smooth earned that place on the field and not in the boardroom.

“I will give my all for Tennessee today” is no longer just a catchphrase. It’s a requirement.

And while there were demonstrable elevations of the team’s investment on the field, there were some observations regarding investment off the field as well. Coach Pruitt noted one of those after the game:

Our fans today were like our football team. Some were here and doing great, some weren’t here for legitimate reasons, and some should have been here and weren’t. That sounds just like our team.

Yes, Coach, it does — coming from one of those should-have-been-there-and-had-legitimate-reasons-not-to-be. Now I personally don’t take offense to this comment, mostly because I agree with him. I don’t hear this comment and think, “Oh wow — Coach just insulted the fan base.”

He didn’t.

Instead, Coach Pruitt also learned a few things himself today and not just about the team. He learned valuable lessons about the fans and the condition of Vol Nation after the past ten years.

Just like the team, the fans’ ability to hope has been decimated the past few years. So for a while, it’s understandable that just the bare bones show out when asked. As we get closer to the season, that’ll change.

Just like the team, some fans are asked to change positions just so UT can field a full squad. Turnout for the spring game wasn’t 102,455, but a packed lower bowl and the dulcet sounds of 55–65,000 folks singing “Rocky Top” are one hell of a start.

Just like the team, there are bright moments when the fans can almost see the future. Once all the despair and anger and hopelessness begins to fade, fans will look at the 2018 schedule and think, “Yes, 6–6 is reasonable but I wouldn’t be surprised by 7–5 and maybe, just maybe, there’s a Dobbnail Boot in our future that can get us to 8–4.”

Just like the team, the fans must once again learn the sound foundations of the game and how to best provide that support base to the team in games. Sometimes not everybody’s going to show up to play, but those who do show up aren’t afraid of any game or opponent…ever.

But then, too, the fan base is also a lot like AD Phillip Fulmer.

I know where the bones are buried. I know the good guys…the bad guys…

Vol Nation knows who the good guys are…and where the bad guys’ bones are buried too. Vol Nation knows what it takes to succeed in the SEC. Vol Nation knows what it takes to make a difference in a game. Vol Nation knows what kinds of preparation and hard work are necessary to make a massive transition in a reasonably short period of time.

There’s no reason for anyone to be offended or insulted about Pruitt’s comments, or to try to twist them into a narrative that isn’t the case. Fans learned more about Pruitt; he learned more about the fans.

And at the end of the day, we all know what category of the three the offended folks are probably hailing from. I think, too, that the way Coach Pruitt ended that comment about Vol Nation is the real takeaway from that moment.

I think we all need to look in the mirror and see who we want to be.

That’s a great use of one’s time during the off-season, by the way…for players, coaches and fans.

And writers.

Any writer or journalist that finds a way to create outrage based upon what Coach Pruitt says is just feeding the same old narrative that’s brought them clicks in the past. Stories like that happen when the media is trying to steer the story back to that unrest because it sells news…makes people click on their links. They’ve learned that an angry UT fan base equals money in this cash for clicks media existing today, so they show a picture of two people sitting alone in the upper bowl and then flat-out state that the attendance the university announced officially is a little exaggerated.

Only by twenty-five thousand people or so.

Buying into that narrative and letting unscrupulous media outlets convince UT fans that the brand new head coach insulted the entire fan base because no one showed up for the spring game is like opening up the mouse hole in the garage wall and inviting vermin right back into the house that was just exterminated.

That’s not covering the story. That’s creating the story, and Vol Nation should know better than to let the rats right back in.

The major takeaway from the Orange and White game is that this is a work in progress, and some of that progress really impressed the heck out of me, at least. I liked what I saw on the field. I liked seeing the lower bowl full of excited fans — and there were a lot more than 40,000 people there. I liked seeing well-crafted, well-run football plays.

And I really liked watching Pruitt’s presser and knowing that for this man, it’s never going to be good enough.

Never.

As we head into the slough of despair known as the second half of the off-season, I’m pleased with what I’ve seen so far this spring from the Volunteers. I looked at Neyland Stadium on Saturday afternoon, and for the first time in a decade had the comforting sense that now things feel like they’re supposed to feel again. Make no mistake: the 2018 season is a rebuilding year, but not in the normal sense of the word.

2018 is about rebuilding the heart of what it means to be Tennessee for all of us — players, coaches, media, and fans. And watching the Jeremy Pruitt era kick off on Saturday, along with this week’s confirmation of the Phillip Fulmer captaincy of the UT Athletics ship, made me quietly confident to be a Tennessee fan again.

I have a feeling the Vols will have at least one surprise for us this fall, and I would not be surprised at all if that surprise came in Charlotte. For the task at hand of rebuilding a football program, I like what Coach Pruitt has brought so far and want to see more. I think UT’s on the right track and I think Pruitt has nothing but the greatest respect for Vol Nation…no matter what the vermin might want you to believe. At the end of the day, though, my biggest takeaway from the Orange and White game is probably the one that gives me the greatest pleasure.

Welcome home, Tennessee football. Great to have you on the way back to where you belong.


Welcome Home, Tennessee Football: Observations from the Vols’ Spring Game was originally published in Orange & White Report on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.



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The Swain Event — 4/20/18

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Hour 1: Swain, National Champion Fred White, the legend Seth Stokes, Charlie, and Ben break down the Orange & White Game and what they’re expecting to see.

Hour 2: The guys take listener calls and respond to their questions and comments.

Hour 3: More listener calls and questions and the guys discuss the players they’ll be watching during the Orange & White Game.

Download The Swain Event app to stream the show every day from 7–10 a.m. ET by clicking the logo below


The Swain Event — 4/20/18 was originally published in Orange & White Report on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.



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The Swain Event — 4/19/18

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Hour 1: Swain, National Champion Fred White, Charlie, and Brad discuss the Orange & White Game and the importance of current players knowing UT history.

Hour 2: VFL Corey Larkins joins the show and talks with the guys about the Vols.

Hour 3: The guys discuss what songs they use to get pumped up and take some listener calls.

Download The Swain Event app to stream the show every day from 7–10 a.m. ET by clicking the logo below


The Swain Event — 4/19/18 was originally published in Orange & White Report on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.



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Photo Credit: Rocky Top Talk

Last fall, the entire sports world watched as the University of Tennessee fan base exploded into outright rebellion on SchiaNO Sunday. The national sports media referred to Vol Nation as ignorant. Uneducated. An online lynch mob. Trailer park Bubbas from Pidgeon (sic) Forge. The thought that a sprawling fan base could actually protest against a football coaching hire was something those pundits couldn’t wrap their heads around — particularly when the ignorant, uneducated, unwashed masses succeeded and forced the university to back out of their deal with Greg Schiano.

And then forced the firing of John Currie.

And then forced the hiring of Phillip Fulmer.

We all know that story. It’s our story, regardless of what ESPN shills might claim. For the rest of the sports world, that story ended when Coach Fulmer hired Jeremy Pruitt as the new head football coach. For the sports media, their narrative shifted. The backwards populace of Rocky Top was now appeased and ready to sink back into the downtrodden mass Vol Nation had always been…something the media needed so they could continue to further the belief that Tennessee fans in general were too stupid to do anything but yell “Woo!” at the right time.

But man, they were so wrong.

The UT fan base didn’t say “We are the caretakers now” lightly, and they didn’t stop believing it after Pruitt was hired. The huge amalgamation of people that make up Vol Nation didn’t just return that power immediately to the elitists who run anything, although they seemed to think that’s what had happened. That’s why Governor Bill Haslam felt completely confident in his hastily drawn-up UT FOCUS Act, a bill that would eradicate the current UT system Board of Trustees and allow him to appoint every single member of the reconstituted BoT. After all, why would the peasantry care about the Board of Trustees?

All those people care about is winning football games, right?

And that’s why he and other state leaders were surprised when they called for the first vote on the bill in the TN house of representatives. All of a sudden, a significant chunk of the legislature was voting against the bill — after a hurried social media-generated campaign where UT fans called or sent emails to the entire legislature to protest the bill.

After the UT FOCUS Act was passed by only two votes in the house — not bad for a protest that lasted only a couple of days — the governor probably felt like his troubles were over. After all, confirmation of his appointees was merely a formality. No protest could get organized fast enough to have an impact. Since the bill passed, he could name who he wanted to and no one would care. After all, UT fans only cared about one thing in the SchiaNO disaster. Football. They wouldn’t be interested in which bureaucrats would be named as trustees.

He had a chance no other governor would ever have — every single member of the BoT would be appointed by him. If he needed to call in those favors for any reason at all — like, say, hiring the replacement for outgoing UT president Dr. Joe DiPietro — he’d have the votes to get what he wanted.

Nope.

It became instantly apparent that it wasn’t going to be business as usual in those confirmation hearings when Senator Dolores Gresham, Chairman of the Education Committee from District 26 said the following:

There is an uproar in our state about the scandalous events being supported by our leadership of the University of TN. Tennesseans are blessed with a bedrock foundational values for life, for family, for freedom. These events on the UT campus fly in the face of those values. Email after email, phone call after phone call reflecting the outrage of our constituencies are not to be ignored. Not by us and certainly not by the leadership of the institution. Heretofore, these Tennesseans have held a love and loyalty for the institution, so they are saying to themselves, ‘What a betrayal’…So for the candidates here for confirmation, heed my words: we expect better…and we expect lots better.

If you haven’t watched that committee hearing, you need to because nothing demonstrates the shift in the political winds more clearly than that hearing. Why? Because what would only a few weeks before would have been an automatic, thoughtless approval suddenly was not. Gresham’s speech set off a conflagration in the committee’s confirmation process that burned through five of the governor’s appointees. Current BoT Vice Chair Raja Jubran withdrew his name from consideration, leaving the governor’s staff scrambling and shell-shocked. Eventually, the committee would refuse to confirm four more of the governor’s candidates: Sharon Pryse, Brad Lampley, Melvin Malone, and Bill Evans.

That’s huge. According to the UT FOCUS Act, all appointments must be confirmed within 90 days. In this first BoT, that means July 1, when it would officially be empowered to run the UT system. However, this is an election year and the legislative session ends early. If those five slots aren’t filled by the time the legislature is done for the year, then the next governor of Tennessee would fill those remaining appointments.

The three other members of the previous BoT the governor appointed — Pryse, Evans, and Lampley — were rejected because of their ties to the recent fiascos on campus, particularly the athletic department’s coaching search. The other rejected candidate, Malone, was nixed because he was a lobbyist. Senate Speaker Randy McNally’s words emphasize what’s really happened in Tennessee in the months following the Rocky Top ReVOLution:

It dealt mainly with a desire to start anew — with a fresh board — that didn’t have some of the problems that the previous boards have had.

No one could ever have predicted even a week earlier those refused confirmations. The political shift took everyone by surprise. But then this week came an even more shocking development — the coup de grace to the governor’s plans for UT. On April 17, a bill was quietly introduced in the Tennessee Senate to extend the tenure of the current board until June of 2019. That bill goes to the House for a vote on April 19.

That, Vols lovers, is called a VICTORY. And it reflects an aspect of UT fans and Tennesseans in general that the national media is incapable of understanding or even recognizing, as evidenced by this hatchet job that CBS Sports’ Dennis Dodd wrote earlier this week.

A large portion of those protestors (sic) were faux moral ethicists. They simply didn’t care to see Tennessee hire a former Rutgers coach with a 68–67 record who hadn’t led a team in five years.
All of them should be embarrassed.

No UT fan is embarrassed about what has unfolded, nor should they be. During the Rocky Top ReVOLution, this fan base saved its program from continuing to descend into the nightmare that Phillip Fulmer’s firing had instigated. Quite frankly, what national media figures like Dodd can’t understand is that a fan base exists that doesn’t need to be spoon-fed its opinions and preferences, that refuses to kowtow to the powers that be that supposedly know so much more about what’s best for Tennessee.

They don’t and cannot comprehend that the stereotype applied to UT fans is one they created and perpetuated themselves and that stereotype is wrong. Tennessee fans aren’t illiterate and ignorant, barefoot ridge runners speeding toward the outhouse or the cement pond. UT fans aren’t the Beverly Hillbillies or The Waterboy or Forrest Gump, no matter how much they try to shove that perception down everyone’s throat. This fan base is highly educated, knowledgeable about the game and its players, coaches, conferences, and rules.

And this fan base loves its state university passionately.

This fan base is so educated, in fact, that it rose up again and quietly forced the state legislature to take a stand against a lame duck governor’s agenda — the same agenda that many believe was integral to the astonishing collapse of UT athletics over the past decade.

That’s not something a social media lynch mob comprised of uneducated Bubbas from the Pidgeon (sic) Forge trailer park is going to be able to accomplish or even be that interested in. If Vol Nation was how Dennis Dodd and his ilk try to portrays us, the only thing anyone who sports the orange and white would be interested in would be football. Beating Florida. Beating Bama. Going to the SEC Championship.

Not who makes up the Board of Trustees and who appoints them.

Underestimating Vol Nation has proved to be a big mistake for the powerful, self-important members of the national sports media time and time again. Always. They don’t get who our people inherently are. They don’t understand how Vols persevere, no matter what the obstacles or odds are. They forget things like the LSU game last fall, with Tennessee headed toward their worst season ever, and how Vols fans were packed in the stands singing Rocky Top at the top of their lungs during a veritable monsoon.

Just like the ReVOLution, where Vol Nation demonstrated the true power every school’s fan base actually possesses.

Just like the defeat Vol Nation just handed the UT FOCUS Act, stiffening the spines of the state legislature against a proposal that would have undercut the fan base’s power and consolidated it once again in the hands of those who triggered a need for a revolt in the first place.

A quieter victory, but ultimately more important for the future of UT as a whole. This wasn’t a win in football or basketball or who sits in the AD’s chair, but the entirety of a university that means so much to the people who love it that they found a way to make their voices heard.

And Dennis Dodd thinks we should all be embarrassed about that?

Man, get out of here with that crap.

Don’t be ridiculous. Vol Nation should — and does — stand proudly shoulder to shoulder with heads held high because we accomplished something that not one other fan base in the country has ever done. Dodd doesn’t understand that still evidently, or he’d never have said:

Social media and protesting Vols fans became unhinged. The rest of us cringed.

Cringe away, Mr. Dodd. While you’re cringing, we’ll just continue to do what it is we do so well.

We will continue to support our state university. We will continue to stand up for our beliefs. We will continue to let our voices be heard on any aspect of UT we choose to. While you’re cringing over the behavior of a fan base you’re incapable of understanding or respecting, we will continue to be Vol Nation and we don’t care what you think about that. Sorry to disappoint your narrative, but Vol Nation has nothing to be embarrassed about. We’re not going to cringe like you do. We don’t have to.

Because we won.

Again.

So continue to cringe, Mr. Dodd. Continue to underestimate Rocky Top, and perpetuate the stereotypes you helped to create instead of making an effort to understand who and what Vol Nation really is. Keep making the same mistakes you and your peers have always made, applying a false stereotype to the people who love the University of Tennessee, with all the contempt and condescension you normally display while keeping that fictional narrative alive.

No matter what anyone in a golden tower proclaims, we are Vol Nation…and Vol Nation doesn’t cringe.


Vol Nation Doesn’t Cringe was originally published in Orange & White Report on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.



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The Swain Event — 4/18/18

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Hour 1:

Hour 2:

Hour 3:

Download The Swain Event app to stream the show every day from 7–10 a.m. ET by clicking the logo below


The Swain Event — 4/18/18 was originally published in Orange & White Report on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.





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The Swain Event — 4/17/18

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Hour 1:

Hour 2:

Hour 3:

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The Swain Event — 4/17/18 was originally published in Orange & White Report on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.



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The Swain Event — 4/16/18

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Hour 1: Swain, Charlie, and Ben take a few listener calls and discuss Tennessee football.

Hour 2: Swain Event contributor Mark Alewine joins the show to talk about Tennessee players in the NFL Draft and the guys give out some For Whats.

Hour 3: Ryan Callahan of GoVols247 talks Tennessee recruiting with the guys and there’s even a little Predators talk.

Download The Swain Event app to stream the show every day from 7–10 a.m. ET by clicking the logo below


The Swain Event — 4/16/18 was originally published in Orange & White Report on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.



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The Swain Event — 4/13/18

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Hour 1:

Hour 2:

Hour 3:

Download The Swain Event app to stream the show every day from 7–10 a.m. ET by clicking the logo below


The Swain Event — 4/13/18 was originally published in Orange & White Report on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.



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Photo Credit: Charlie Burris / Orange & White Report

The Vols held their eleventh practice of the spring on Thursday and we were there to capture the action. You can check out our best clips in the video below…


VIDEO: Tennessee Football Spring Practice No. 11 was originally published in Orange & White Report on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.