KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — During a couple different moments this season, defensive coordinator Bob Shoop has joked about writing a book on Tennessee’s rollercoaster year.
The injuries. The comebacks. The 5-0 start. The upset at South Carolina.
The season has been chalked with storylines thus far. And then star tailback Jalen Hurd abruptly transferred from the program Monday.
“If you look at the 2016 season — I’ve been coaching for a long time — if this was a chapter of a book, I’m not sure what I’d title this chapter,” Shoop said Monday.
“But there’s been so many rewarding things.”
Truly, but the turmoil at Tennessee over the last 72 hours certainly hasn’t been gratifying for coaches, players or fans.
The Volunteers have lost three straight games, dropping out of the Top 25 and squandering a legitimate chance to get back to the SEC Championship.
While Atlanta remains a plausible possibility, the perception is Tennessee is at a crossroads.
Fair or not, coach Butch Jones’ feet are being held to the fire for the team’s recent regression and Monday’s stunning transfer.
“Winning minimizes the problems. Losing magnifies the problems,” Shoop said.
“They’re always there.”
The Volunteers first-year defensive coordinator was asked if this is what he signed up for when he took the job January. He paused, collected his thoughts and said, “No, it’s not the way you picture things certainly, but you deal with things as they arise.”
A month ago, Tennessee was riding high after the ‘Hail Mary Between the Hedges.’ Now, the Volunteers are dealing with swirling negativity and rumors about instability and discontentment.
Both Jones and Shoop preached the message of “ignoring the noise” on Monday, but that’s much easier said than done with a rabid fan base and a medium like social media.
“It’s a challenge,” Shoop acknowledged.
“It’s a challenge at the professional level. It’s a challenge at the college level. It’s even a challenge at the high school level with all these guys. You’re exactly right, with social media, Twitter. Heck I had more people texting me this morning, ‘Is this player or that player transferring from your team?’ I’m just trying to watch the 1st-and-10 film on Tennessee Tech. I can only imagine if I’m going through that, what our players are going through right now.”
Tennessee is trying to move on from the Hurd news.
The optics are certainly bad, but Jones believes Tennessee will be better moving forward.
He touted John Kelly’s abilities, and didn’t hesitate to mention an improvement in team chemistry. He also made sure to note that the Volunteers were once again on the cusp of bowl eligibility.
“I think this puts things in perspective, you talk about the negativity that’s out there, when we gain our next victory, it will be three straight years that we become bowl eligible,” Jones said.
“That will be the first time that’s happened since 2002. Everyone wants to points toward negativity and chaos. The sky is falling.
“But if my math serves me right, that’s over 10 years. We still have a lot to play for.”
The Volunteers do have plenty to play for, but Hurd leaving wasn’t some cure-all for the rest of their problems. They still must address their slow starts, sloppiness, turnovers and a shaky passing game.
“I think the most important thing for us is to get back into Neyland Stadium and play a game,” Shoop said.
“Our players need to ignore the noise, do their job and have a great week of practice. It’s important we go 1-0 this week. Get our 6th win and get bowl eligible and sort things out from there.”