KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — If it seems like being a Tennessee Vols sports fan is more frustrating than ever before, it’s because it is, and the numbers bear it out.
The Vols’ athletic programs have collectively never been worse, sinking to an all-time low of No. 46 in the Learfield Director’s Cup all-sports trophy standings this past academic calendar year.
“This is a place that’s taken great pride in being among the leaders in intercollegiate athletics in different points in our history,” new Tennessee athletic director John Currie said in an interview with the USA Today Network earlier this week.
“By the numbers right now, we’re not. To be 12th or 13th out of 14 in the Southeastern Conference in the Director’s Cup is not who we are.”
Tennessee’s athletic program has been struggling since Joe DiPietro became the University of Tennessee system president in January 2011 and Dave Hart was hired as athletic director that September.
Prior to Hart assuming the athletic director position, the Vols hadn’t finished worst than 27th in the 18 years of the all-sports standings’ history.
But after the addition of DiPietro and Hart, Tennessee couldn’t manage a higher finish than 33rd — and that was in 2011-12.
To be fair, the Vols’ athletic department was previously overseen (2009-16) by a chancellor who had virtually no practical experience as an athletics administrator, Jimmy Cheek.
Cheek and Hart, despite sound fiscal management and the hiring of Butch Jones, carry a mostly negative legacy where Tennessee sports are concerned.
Cheek and Hart will be remembered for stripping women’s athletics of the globally branded “Lady Vols” nickname that the late Pat Summitt made famous — an issue Currie has curiously ignored during his first 100 days in office.
The good news for Tennessee fans is that DiPietro wisely added first-ballot College Football Hall of Fame coach Phillip Fulmer as a special advisor to the school last month.
With Fulmer and Currie working in concert, Tennessee athletics can quickly move up in the all-sports standings.
Fulmer has opened his door to all of the Vols coaches for advice and guidance, and Currie has met with the UT sports coaches and made sure they got the message.
“We had a meeting with the coaches two or three weeks ago, [and] first we showed our APR and Graduation Success Rates and those numbers are the right trajectory, best they’ve ever been across the board,” Currie said.
“Then we showed a slide of where we fit in the Directors’ Cup, both nationally and in the Southeastern Conference,” he said. “I think there was a collective acceptance that that’s not us, that’s not who we are at Tennessee.”
Indeed, Tennessee averaged a 14.92 finish in the all-sports trophy during Currie’s first tenure working under athletic directors Doug Dickey (1985-2002) and Mike Hamilton (2003-2011).
Hamilton, it should be noted, led the Vols to an average all-sports trophy finish of 15.0 during his eight years at Tennessee.
So which sports scored highest for Tennessee?
(women’s sports in italics)
- Men’s outdoor track & field: 7th, 71.25 points
- Softball: 9th, 64 points
- Men’s indoor track & field: 10th, 66.75 points
- Women’s tennis: 17th, 50 points
- Women’s basketball: 17th, 50 points
- Men’s swimming: 20th 54 points
- Women’s swimming: 22nd, 52 points
- Football: 24th, 50 points
- Women’s golf: 29th, for 43.5 points
- Women’s outdoor track & field: 62nd, 7.5 points
That leaves 10 sports that got completely shut out, and Currie has already fired two of those coaches, men’s tennis coach Sam Winterbotham and baseball coach Dave Serrano.
Here are the 10 Tennessee sports that got shut out of points:
- • Men’s basketball
- • Baseball
- • Men’s tennis
- • Volleyball
- • Soccer
- • Rowing
- • Men’s Golf
- • Men’s cross country
- • Women’s cross country
- • Women’s indoor track & field
Here’s a year-by-year look at how Tennessee has fared in the all-sports trophy standings since the Learfield Director Cup inception in 1993-94:
Tennessee sports finishes
- 1993-94: No. 13
- 1994-95: No. 11
- 1995-96: No. 13
- 1996-97: No. 17
- 1997-98: No. 19
- 1998-99: No. 17
- 1999-2000: No. 20
- 2000-01: No. 21
- 2001-02: No. 12
- 2002-03: No. 27
- 2003-04: No. 14
- 2004-05: No. 8
- 2005-06: No. 14
- 2006-07: No. 7
- 2007-08: No. 16
- 2008-09: No. 23
- 2009-10: No. 16
- 2010-11: No. 22
- 2011-12: No. 33
- 2012-13: No. 37
- 2013-14: No. 40
- 2014-15: No. 38
- 2015-16: No. 34
- 2016-17: No. 46