KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Al Wilson was breathing fire on Friday, and when the former Tennessee consensus All-American and 1998 national champion team captain speaks, people wearing Volunteer Orange listen.
“I look at those kids, and I see myself,” Wilson told SEC Country, “and right now, I’m not hearing enough about those kids, those players in the locker room that put on the orange.
“What are they thinking right now?”
Plenty has changed since Friday morning when the Vols’ living legend spoke, with Tennessee Hall of Fame coach Phillip Fulmer taking over for John Currie as athletic director.
Fulmer met with the players after an afternoon press conference and got the wheels turning in the direction that Wilson is essentially demanding they go.
“We have to have someone to bring the kids together and make them believe they can do it no matter what the people in the outside world believes,” Wilson said, “and if you believe that way, you will win more than you lose, so it’s all about the passion and will.”
Wilson was the epitome of greatness as Tennessee’s middle linebacker, setting the tone with great intensity on game days, and holding himself and teammates accountable in the locker room and during workouts.
Wilson’s 13 tackles and 3 forced fumbles led to a 20-17 overtime win over Florida in 1998 that propelled the Vols to an undefeated season and the national championship.
But Wilson says now he’s “just another big fan of the program who bleeds orange.”
Perhaps, but when Wilson endorsed his former teammate for the Tennessee head coaching job — Pac-12 championship offensive coordinator Tee Martin — it added momentum to what’s fast becoming a campaign in Vol Nation.
Sources have confirmed to SEC Country that Fulmer is indeed considering Martin, along with several other candidates to fill the position.
Wilson, who was a five-time NFL Pro Bowl selection during his career with the Denver Broncos, made it clear the sooner the job gets filled, the better off everyone will be.
“Them young men are sitting that locker room right now, and they don’t know what the hell is going on, and that’s what bothers me,” Wilson said earlier Friday during an appearance on The Swain Event radio show. “At the end of the day, they are student-athletes, and no one is talking about these student athletes. No one is making it known that these young men need to be led.”
Wilson said he gives credit to outgoing coach Butch Jones, but he sees the program needing to take the next step, and it will start with leadership that can better relate.
“I have to commend Butch Jones first and foremost for stabilizing the program and getting us back in the conversation and giving these young man a platform,” Wilson said on Knoxville’s 1180 AM.
“I think Butch took it as far as he could. I think Butch is a great football coach …. but three or four years into the program, you have to have some kind of connection to the program where young men understand you and believe in what you are saying.”
Wilson said he didn’t see enough of that from Jones’ staff.
“When I got a coach like John Chavis, that shows me he loves me and will do anything for me, and he’ll run through that wall for me, that means everything in the fourth quarter,” Wilson said. “If a guy isn’t feeling who is leading him, he’s not gonna dig down deep when it counts.
“Have somebody that can relate to them, have somebody that understands their struggle, and what they are thinking …. give these young men something they can believe in. When a young man believes in the coach, he will run through a wall for you.”