Archive for the 'Coach Taylor' Category

Tennessee to self-report NCAA violation

Monday, August 14th, 2006

GoVolsXtra is reporting that Tennessee will be self-reporting a minor NCAA violation involving wide receivers coach Trooper Taylor, who apparently “spoke to a group of alumni without following UT’s formal process of approval,” in violation of bylaw 11.3.2.2, which I’m guessing provides as follows:

No scholarship player, coach, or any spouse, child, parent, sibling, cousin, in-law, or neighbor thereof, shall, intentionally or inadvertently, solicit, accept, or suggest the solicitation or acceptance of, any compensation in the form of cash, donations, wages, tips, Chuck E. Cheese tokens, or custom colored crayons, in return for any act or omission directly or indirectly related to his or her relationship with any university, college, trade school, tech school, or day care. Notwithstanding anything herein to the contrary, NCAA officials and employees shall be entitled to whatever the market demands.

Okay, then.

By the way, freshman Blake Garretson has been dismissed for an unspecified violation of team rules.

Catastrophic Change and the Season of Which We Do Not Speak

Sunday, August 13th, 2006

Last week, I capped off two weeks’ worth of discretionary time re-examining the cadaver of the 2005 Tennessee Volunteer football season. Two full weeks of pessimism, criticism, and general negativity.

What was I thinking?

Well, I did it to show why I’m optimistic about the upcoming season. The full explanation is further down the page, but here’s a teaser:

Before I reveal what was going on in the dark recesses of my bothered mind, let’s recap:

A complete and utter flame-out.

What happened? What exactly was the root cause of the disappointing 2005 season? Here’s the lineup of suspects:

Lack of or improper focus

  • Lack of character and/or discipline. From a player using his cell phone during half time of a bowl game several years ago to the rash of arrests and court appearances leading up to the 2005 season, individual and team discipline has declined.
  • Me first. Many UT fans wondered whether running back Jamal Lewis gave the team his all during his last season or whether he was saving himself for the NFL. Receiver Kelley Washington pretty much came right out and said as much by declaring himself “The Future” while still a Tennessee Volunteer.
  • Penalties and errors. Blocked punts, muffed punts, botched fake punts, missed field goals, poor kick and punt coverage, interceptions in end zones, fumbles at critical times, and the list goes on and on.

Conventional wisdom coaching philosophies

  • Tall, fast, and chiseled guys are necessarily good receivers.
  • Rotating eight or nine receivers keeps them fresh, which must be a good thing.
  • Save it for the games. Avoid getting players hurt at all costs by utilizing a plethora of green, no-contact jerseys and by practicing at less than game speed.
  • Bigger is always better on the offensive line.
  • Two QB System? No worries.
  • Special teams, oh yeah, we ought to work on those, too.

Context

  • Embracing the hype. The normally stoic Phillip Fulmer openly embraced the pre-season No. 3 ranking in 2005, wanting to ensure that when they did get through the SEC slate unscathed they would not be denied an opportunity to play for the national championship.
  • The Spotlight Effect. UT, both individually and collectively, generally under perform when expectations are high and over perform when expectations are low.
  • Strength of schedule. Nearly half of Tennessee’s 2005 opponents were ranked in the top five at the time they played them.
  • The demise of home-field advantage.
  • Season-ending injuries to key players.

The Cause: One of the Above

So which of the above factors caused the losing season?

If you said all of the above, you’d be mostly right, but I think there’s an even better answer:

One of the above.

In his book The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference, Malcolm Gladwell attempts to explain “social epidemics,” or sudden changes from one state to another. In Gladwell’s own words:

The best way to understand the dramatic transformation of unknown books into bestsellers, or the rise of teenage smoking, or the phenomena of word of mouth or any number of the other mysterious changes that mark everyday life is to think of them as epidemics. Ideas and products and messages and behaviors spread just like viruses do.

Think, for a moment, about an epidemic of measles in a kindergarten class. One child brings in the virus. It spreads to every other child in the class in a matter of days. And then, within a week or so, it completely dies out and none of the children will ever get measles again. That’s typical behavior for epidemics: they can blow up and then die out really quickly, and even the smallest change — like one child with a virus — can get them started. My argument is that it is also the way that change often happens in the rest of the world. Things can happen all at once, and little changes can make a huge difference.

Okay, so boiled down, the basic premise of the Tipping Point is this: (1) ideas can be as contagious as viruses; (2) like viruses, little things can grow in geometric progressions into big things; and (3) all these little things can lead to a tipping point at which one more little thing causes a great, noticeable change.

Application to the 2005 Season

The Tennessee Volunteer 2005 football season was the culmination of a lot of little things thrown into the cauldron until one more little thing tipped the whole blasted thing over, ending in catastrophe and scattering football helmets all over the end zone.

Sure, a player checking his cell phone for messages during half time of a bowl game is a bit troubling, but it’s just a little thing, right? Or was it a symptom of a social epidemic infecting the football team with the idea that there really wasn’t much of a consequence for a lack of focus? Did such an attitude spread exponentially and lead to a rash of arrests, a passel of players more concerned about the NFL than their current college team, and a host of penalties, fumbles, interceptions, and other errors on the field?

Could a catastrophic change come from a notion so mundane that you can’t even identify its origin? Exactly when did we start thinking that big, tall, fast guys necessarily made excellent receivers or that rotating eight or nine of them during a game in order to wear out the defenders was a good idea? Exactly when did we start thinking that two quarterbacks were better than one or that practicing at less than game speed and dressing key players in green, no-contact jerseys sufficiently prepared the team for actual games? Just when did having the heaviest offensive line in the SEC become the goal?

By 2005, those seemingly small ideas were epidemic within the Tennessee Volunteer football program. And it was not a good time to be sick. The plague-ridden 2005 Volunteers embraced their No. 3 ranking, mostly ignoring the daunting schedule, the recent demise of UT’s home-field advantage, and the team’s vulnerability to the Spotlight Effect. Season-ending injuries to players Jason Allen and Gerald Riggs didn’t help, either.

The 2005 team lost one game due to a special teams debacle. They lost another because of a penalty-plagued field position nightmare. They lost two more by a total of 4 points due to three fumbles inside the ten yard line. Another loss was by 4 points due in part to a failure to convert on 4th and inches within three yards of the goal line.

Little things can lead to catastrophic change.

Especially in a game of inches.

Application to the 2006 Season

So what was I thinking when I decided to poke and prod at the corpse of the 2005 season? I was thinking that if the red plastic Don’t-Spill-the-Beans cauldron can tip one way, it can also tip the other.

Coach Fulmer was ridiculed when he characterized the season as the Perfect Storm. Some media and fans interpreted this statement as an excuse, but I took it more as an explanation, and I never got the feeling that Fulmer was denying responsibility for the outcome.

No, I think Fulmer was reading the Tipping Point. Once 2005 had breathed its last, Fulmer and company were talking about the little things. If you’ve been keeping up with fall practice, reading the articles and listening to interviews, you’re hearing coaches and players talk about “the little things” all of the time. Here’s just a sampling of the little things they’re trying to reclaim:

  • Character/Discipline. This off-season was quiet, relatively speaking anyway, when it came to off the field incidents. When two players got into trouble within days of each other for the first time this summer, Fulmer reportedly went ballistic. He dismissed the player who’d used up his second chances and suspended the other who’d gotten in trouble for the first time in five years with the program. Fulmer later kicked promising young freshman tight end Lee Smith off the team after Smith made the non-sports page twice in one week. He suspended another pending investigation of a stupid incident involving a toy gun on the highway. While it appears the team still has some ground to cover on this front, it does appear to have improved. The coaching staff, at least, is responding differently, and that’s a good sign.
  • Good receivers make good receivers. After having rejuvenated an under-achieving stable of running backs, Trooper Taylor has been assigned to repeat the feat with the receiving corps this year. The receivers are catching 100 balls a day. Footballs, tennis balls, and even some bricks. Yes, bricks. They are not wearing green jerseys. The rotation this year will consist of five receivers instead of eight or nine so that they can better develop chemistry with the quarterback. They are digging batteries out of buckets full of rice to develop grip strength. Word is, it’s all beginning to pay off.
  • Practice. The spring story line earlier this year was that the Vols were re-learning how to practice. Essentially, that meant that they were practicing with tempo at game speed. This theme continues in the fall. Players receive a tongue-lashing if they simply walk the last couple of steps to the next practice drill. Even the quarterbacks have gone live without green jerseys in at least one scrimmage so far this fall practice. The offense is dictating tempo, and special teams is getting the attention it deserves.
  • Big is good, but speed is better on the offensive line. The offensive linemen have lost weight. Lots of it. Chris Scott is the poster boy for the Vols’ weight loss campaign, having lost 60 pounds since last season. All of them have lost at least fifteen pounds. The goal is to better prepare them to get out quickly and block on screens, and the reports are that they are indeed quicker this fall.
  • Fear the Two QB System. Erik Ainge is the starting quarterback. He is getting all of the practice reps with the first team. Even with promising QB Jonathon Crompton pushing him, the coaches are downplaying any hint of a controversy.

The 2006 Volunteers, led by coach Fulmer and the rest of the coaching staff are in the process of focusing on and correcting a myriad of little things. Maybe, just maybe, they can re-infect the team and create an epidemic of positive ideas. If successful, perhaps they can reach another tipping point this season, this time in a positive direction.

Packing it up

And now that the corpse of 2005 has been exhumed, dissected, poked, prodded, and otherwise fully examined, we can now officially slide it into the morgue drawer and forget about it.

The 2005 season shall from this point forward be referred to only as The Season of Which We Do Not Speak.

Volunteer receivers coach Trooper Taylor a barrel full of laughs, wisdom

Monday, June 26th, 2006

Receivers coach Trooper Taylor — a character with character — is giving basketball coach Bruce Pearl a run for his money as the best interview on Rocky Top. Speaking with Dave Hooker and the guys from SportsAnimal99.com’s Sports Page last Friday, coach Taylor offered his thoughts on:

Coach Taylor’s mother once made her 15 kids clean up a beach they had been visiting before they went home. Nothing special about that except that they didn’t make the mess they had to clean up. Taylor still remembers his mother’s words to the kids when they finished:

“The Taylors always leave a place better than the way they found it.”

Coach Taylor’s been living that lesson since he arrived at Tennessee. The running backs are better than they were when he arrived, and this season he brings his infectious enthusiasm, wit, and wisdom to an underachieving receiver corps.

Here’s to hoping Taylor’s mother’s words ring true this fall.

Oh, almost forgot. Coach Taylor’s son’s little league team is involved in a contest to get their team on ESPN. Help ‘em out by heading over to KFC.com and voting for the Knoxville Fire 10-year-old team.

Two-Minute Drill: Orson has way, Erik Ainge on Heisman watch list

Monday, May 29th, 2006

Pretty quiet over the last several days.  On the blogging front, don’t miss EDSBS’ excellent piece on why we love football.  Orson has way.  Also, have a look at DawgSportslink-rich, exhaustive post on the matter of blogger disclosure.

College Football News completed its series on the Top 100 Heisman contenders.  Not only is UT tailback Arian Foster on the list, so is Reanimation Project Erik Ainge (at No. 36), who in the words of Inside Tennessee’s Randy Moore “had the mother of all sophomore jinxes in 2005.”  Uh, yeah.  Like he said.

VolQuest.com takes a closer look at incoming safety Justin Garrett. Unlike most junior college transfers, Garrett wasn’t on campus for spring practice, and he won’t arrive until this fall.  Fortunately, the Vols’ secondary is supposedly one of the strongest on the team, so Garrett will have time to acclimate.  An interesting bit in one of his answers to the interview question is this: <blockquote> “I was already expecting to like [his visit to Tennessee] a lot because of the way the coaches at the other schools were acting about me going up there.  None of them wanted me to take that visit, they were all kind of badmouthing the trip or whatever.  They were all so worried about me going up there that really, they got my expectations up and made my decision for me almost.”</blockquote>  It’s nice to know (1) that opposing coaches are still worried about Tennessee’s ability to recruit, and (2) that badmouthing UT sometimes has the opposite effect of that intended.

SportsAnimal99.com interviewed UT receivers coach Trooper Taylor.  Taylor’s a great interview.  You almost want to chest bump him after some of his responses.

Finally, Sports Illustrated compiled a list of the Top 15 Plays in College Football History.  Prothro’s catch is my favorite.  Hope to see him back in full form this season.  Hat Tip to Heisman Pundit.

Tennessee Volunteer Tidbits

Thursday, October 20th, 2005

A few random news items on the Tennessee Volunteers as they prepare for a trip to Tuscaloosa to take on the Alabama Crimson Tide:

  • Running backs coach Trooper Taylor plans to use more tailbacks to make sure star back Gerald Riggs is fresh for the fourth quarter.
  • Fullback Corey Anderson’s lack of playing time is a direct result of him complaining about lack of playing time while slacking off in practice. He’s apparently corrected on both counts.
  • Defensive tackle Jesse Mahelona has been selected as one of 12 semifinalists for the Lombardi Award, given to the top defensive player in the NCAA. Another is Alabama linebacker DeMeco Ryans.
  • Recivers C.J. Fayton and Jayson Swain are recovering from their respective injuries and are expected to play Saturday.
  • Alabama is looking for revenge against the neighborhood bully. Wallace Gilberry:

    It’s one of those things that you carry in the back of your mind as you go to sleep. No matter what you do during the day, when that time comes you’re going to remember it. It’s like when you’re little and one guy keeps picking on you, you’re still going to remember him.

    But the dynamics have changed. It’s a new year. The weakling has grown over the summer, and the bully is looking vulnerable.

Tennessee Volunteer Football: John Pennington on Everything Orange

Tuesday, October 18th, 2005

John Pennington’s random thoughts for the day:

  • Is there a happy medium between a Johnny Majors-esque live-in-fear-for-your-job mentality with respect to assistant coaches and the Fulmer-ish we-are-all-a-family approach?
  • Ohio State fans handle disappointment better than Tennessee fans.
  • OSU is a mirror of UT in almost EVERY way this season. But their fans packed the stadium and were IN the game from start to finish. Even when Michigan State was capitalizing on OSU special teams fumbles… the fans would immediately re-charge their batteries and begin screaming again with the ensuing kickoff.

    That’s what Neyland Stadium USED to be. Personally, I think Vol fans grew spoiled during the Manning Era (and the immediate aftermath) and now they look at the game as they would a film or an opera. “Entertain me!” Sure that’s a fair assessment.

    But Vol fans used to look at the games as THEIR chance to get involved. They seemed to believe that they were as important a part of a Vol victory as the team was. And that’s a far cry from, “Entertain me!”

  • An outsider’s perspective on Neyland Stadium:
  • “The most uncomfortable stadium in America.” The seats are too small from side-to-side and there’s very little room front-to-back, either (according to [Pennington's friend]). If you’re not driving your knees into someone’s back, then somebody else has theirs in yours.

  • Volunteer bowl projections look disappointing.
  • You know any Kentucky football coach has his work cut out for him when the local media has pre-game coverage of a basketball practice during football season.
  • Calls to replace Randy Sanders with Trooper Taylor because Trooper offers a lot of excitement is like “choosing a doctor because he’s got good hair.”
  • Gerald Riggs is “Cedric Houston Part 2.” Good, but not great.
  • The guy who created firerandysanders.com (intentionally not a link) deserves the same treatment. Go read Pennington’s suggestions here.
  • Tennessee might have been able to beat Alabama last week, but now that the Crimson Tide has had their wake-up call, it’s much more difficult to call.

Pennington, as always, is full of insight. Today’s blog is lengthy, but worth the read.