Despite what Tennessee says and does, its football job is still an attractive one. The problem -- among many right now at the school -- is that the Volunteers keep trying mightily to prove the contrary.
Mostly, Tennessee has been burning its football program to the ground with its own matches, a sort of self-inflicted arson.
Tennessee chancellor Donde Plowman's proclamations Monday were the latest examples. In firing coach Jeremy Pruitt, she painted a picture of a dystopian future for a program that has become really good at painting dark, distressing pictures.
This time, Pruitt got the Big Haircut for alleged NCAA recruiting violations. Eight other staffers were also cut loose. These are Level I allegations, some involving impermissible benefits. "Significant," Plowman called them. And remember, Tennessee hasn't even gotten a notice of allegations yet from the NCAA.
So along with needing a new coach and athletic director (Phil Fulmer is set to retire for apparent unrelated reasons once a replacement is found), Tennessee must wait in a painful limbo for two years or so while the case wraps up. Two years? That might be charitable. NCAA enforcement is shorthanded at the moment, not to mention busy with the ongoing basketball scandal.
Tennessee fired Pruitt for cause. The coach has reportedly lawyered up. See everyone in court, I guess. That's another tragic chapter because it's now been a generation of fans and recruits who didn't experience the 1998 national championship. There are scores more who are wondering today how the hell that championship happened in the first place.
Tennessee keeps chasing what it used to be in embarrassing, awkward and ineffective ways: bat-spit crazy fans running Greg Schiano out of town, Fulmer pulling a power play to oust John Currie and install himself. Fulmer then hired Pruitt, and here we are with the Vols set to field their third full-time coach in five seasons.
Tennessee is embroiled in a massive cheating scandal basically because of those bat-spit crazy fans and an AD out over his skis for too long. Fulmer, 70, retired Monday. That label was probably semantics. Fulmer couldn't be trusted to hire the next coach. Pruitt may be looking at an NCAA show-cause penalty that could render him unhirable again by a Power Five school.
Should we have seen it coming? Pruitt was the fifth consecutive Tennessee coach without prior Power Five head coaching experience. The man who was once the hottest assistant in the SEC now has the third-worst record (16-19) of any Tennessee coach since World War I.
Asked about Pruitt's accomplishments, Fulmer said, "Certainly the recruiting has been good."
Might want to run that one by the NCAA.
Please excuse Schiano and Currie today if they are thinking, "Karma."
This is a reckoning for Tennessee. Before Kirby Smart went to Georgia, there was no bigger pair of major programs who got covered so much for achieving so little. Now it's Tennessee atop the podium. It has the nation's fifth-biggest stadium. It leads the nation in dysfunction.
A turnaround could happen next year or Tennessee could wander in the desert for years longer. It took Alabama a quarter century to figure things out after Bear Bryant died.
Vols everywhere certainly deserve better.
Tennessee will go forward with acting coach Kevin Steele, the just-hired defensive coordinator. Perhaps Steele gets a season to prove himself. He started the month as Auburn's interim coach after Gus Malzahn was fired. Eighteen days later, he's in the same role at Tennessee.
Somehow, in Tennessee World, that makes total sense.
"As dark as this day is, there is a light," Fulmer said.
The last one out of the football facility, please turn it out.