The Tennessee Vols moved on from Hall of Fame head coach Phillip Fulmer after the 2008 season.
In the 13 years since that decision, the Vols have struggled to find success.
Tennessee is 73-75 since moving on from Fulmer. The program is currently on its fifth head coach since Fulmer. And there’s no clear indication that UT is about to turn the corner, thanks to a lingering NCAA investigation.
But despite the lack of success over the last decade, Tennessee is still one of the premier college football programs in the nation.
This is obviously subjective, but I’m not alone in this opinion.
Recent comments from The Athletic’s Andy Staples — a well-respected national college football writer — prove that Tennessee moves the needle more than most programs.
Staples recently discussed the top 24 programs that any conference would want. His list isn’t based on on-field performance. Instead, it’s based on what TV programmers would want. In other words, the 24 programs that folks around the country want to watch every week.
“These are the schools that any league should take if that school wants to come aboard,” wrote Staples of his list.
Staples included Tennessee in his list of 24 programs, along with Alabama, Auburn, Florida, Georgia, LSU, Notre Dame, and Ohio State, among others (you can find his full list here).
This is why the Vols have a legitimate shot to return to the national title picture. The program has been mediocre at best over the last 10-15 years, yet the Vols are still must-see television. The Tennessee brand is still strong.
Think about it this way — there are other programs that have been more successful over the last 10-15 years than Tennessee that weren’t on Staples’ list. Schools like Oklahoma State and Stanford were absent from the list. Those programs have been top 10 programs at various times over the last decade. But the Vols are still more of a draw on the national stage (it’s also notable that other SEC programs with similar records to Tennessee — Missouri, Ole Miss, South Carolina — were also absent from Staples’ list).
Tennessee has something that a lot of other programs don’t have — a rich tradition, combined with an immensely recognizable brand. No matter how far the program falls, the Vols will always be a couple of years away from being a contender because of their brand.
(Butch Jones proved that in 2013-2015 when he took the Vols from a program that was blown out by top competition in 2013 to one of the most talented teams in the nation in 2015.)
The Vols have a lot of work to do under Josh Heupel in the coming years. But Tennessee is just a couple of good recruiting classes away from having a shot at being a top 10 team again.
Featured image via Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports