What’s a better job: coaching Tennessee football or basketball?
Never mind that Tennessee always has been regarded as a football school. That doesn’t mean football is your best chance for success.
The past 20 years tell you that.
Starting with the 1999 season through the 2018 season, Tennessee won 58.6 percent of its football games and 48.7 percent of its SEC games.
Imagine that: a football school that hasn’t won half of its conference games over a 20-year period.
UT basketball has fared better. Starting with the 1998-99 basketball season through the 2017-18 season, the Vols won 62.4 percent of their games and 57.8 percent of their SEC games.
Moreover, the basketball Vols never have plummeted to the depths of the football program in the past 20 years.
UT went 0-8 in the 2017 SEC football season. It also went 1-7 in 2011 and 2012.
The worst the basketball program has done in conference play has been 6-12 in 2015-16. It went 7-11 in 2014-15.
There’s no arguing that Tennessee fans care more about football. But they also like basketball – way more than most SEC fans. That has been evident almost every time the program has experienced success.
You saw that from 2006 through 2011 when coach Bruce Pearl led the Vols to six consecutive winning seasons. You are seeing it again under coach Rick Barnes, whose team will enter the SEC tournament Friday in Nashville with a 27-4 record, still in contention for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.
In each case, UT fans packed one of the largest arenas in the country. And they don’t just go to the games in large numbers. They invest their emotion.
Barnes has done just what Pearl did. He has raised the expectations for the program.
Tennessee basketball seniors take part in the pregame dunk tradition before taking on Mississippi State Tuesday, March 6, 2019.
Mike Wilson, USA TODAY NETWORK – Tennessee
The expectations for football were raised higher than ever in the mid-1990s. Many fans still look back on the glory years from 1995 through 1998 – when UT won 45 of 50 games – as what should be the norm.
But the past 20 years prove that’s anything but the norm.
From 1995 through 1998, UT won 11 or more games three times. In the past 20 years, UT has won 11 or more games only once (11-2 in 2001).
Here are highlights from the first Tennessee Vols spring practice of 2019.
Blake Toppmeyer, USA TODAY Network – Tennessee
Want more evidence? Check the 20 seasons prior to 1995. Tennessee won 11 games only once from 1975 through 1994. The Vols went 11-1 and won the SEC championship in 1989 under coach Johnny Majors.
First-year UT coach Jeremy Pruitt went 5-7 and finished last in the SEC East in 2018. His next team should be better; his third team better still. But can you envision an 11-win season anytime soon?
Former coach Butch Jones improved his team’s record from 5-7 (2013) to 7-6 to 9-4 in his first three season. He posted another 9-4 record in 2016 before the team plummeted to 4-8 in 2017 and cost Jones his job.
The Vols will have to get better fast if Pruitt hopes to have two nine-win seasons in his first four years at Tennessee.
Turnarounds come quicker in basketball. A few good players can make all the difference. So can a good coach.
Barnes’ third team tied for the SEC regular-season championship in 2017-18. His fourth was ranked No. 1 in the country for four weeks and is very much in the running for a national title.
That’s just one reason why it’s better to be the Tennessee basketball coach than a Tennessee football coach. But UT’s football coach does have one obvious advantage.
He can count on getting more money when he’s fired.
John Adams is a senior columnist. He may be reached at 865-342-6284 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at: twitter.com/johnadamskns.
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