KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee coach Butch Jones canceled his normal Monday media day duties, so that left defensive coordinator Bob Shoop to speak on behalf of the program.
Shoop appeared at the Knoxville Quarterback Club as scheduled, taking accountability after Saturday’s 49-10 defeat to Alabama.
“Disappointed with our performance but not discouraged,” was how Shoop described the mood in the Tennessee football building after the loss to the Crimson Tide.
“To be 5-2 and have all of our dreams goals and aspirations ahead of us is exciting,” Shoop said.
It was no doubt a difficult appearance for Shoop — a first-year assistant on the staff. He was well aware the crowd of more than 100 was upset and disappointed with the Vols’ loss and wanted answers.
Shoop, who has a Yale education, began his speech by paying tribute to the success Tennessee coaching icon Gen. Robert Neyland had against the Tide, noting the irony.
Neyland’s son spoke before Shoop at the Knoxville Quarterback Club on Monday, the audience warming to stories about his legendary father, for whom Tennessee’s stadium is named.
When it came Shoop’s turn to speak, he detailed how proud he was of the Vols for their come-from-behind victories this season.
“It’s a clean slate,” Shoop said. “We’re 5-2 and we’re gonna go 1-0 every week from here on in. All of our games are winnable.
“We were 3-4 at this point last year. We just lost to two of the top 5 teams in the country …. We have a chance to win the East (Division), and we have a chance to play one of those guys again.”
Shoop said he showed his defense the tape of a speech delivered by USA Olympic gold-medal winning hockey coach Herb Brooks.
Shoop said he told the Vols the story of how Team USA lost an exhibition game to an overpowering U.S.S.R. team by a 10-3 count before the 1980 Olympics, only to come back and get a pivotal 4-2 victory en route to the gold medal.
It was a U.S.S.R. team every bit as dominant as Alabama football seems, as it had won four consecutive Olympic gold medals, and it had not lost an Olympic hockey game in 22 years.
Shoop conceded the Vols have more injuries than he has seen since he got into coaching in 1990, and he credited linebacker Colton Jumper and cornerback Baylen Buchanan for stepping up from reserve to starting spots on defense.
Shoop also said he’s “never seen a player go through a three- or four-game streak like Derek Barnett has done these last three or four games,” adding the Tennessee defensive end deserves to be on every award and All-American watch list.
“I’m one of the most optimistic people you’ll meet,” Shoop said. “I say we never lose, we just learn. That was a great barometer. Our expectations are to build a championship team.
“We found out Saturday we’re not quite there yet.”