AN OPPOSING VIEW
ATHENS — It seems like I’ve been doing Jimmy Hyams’ radio show on “The Sports Animal” in Knoxville for 100 years. But actually I knew him before he was a full-time radio and TV guy. I first met Jimmy when he was a sports hack like me, then working for the Knoxville News-Sentinel in the 1980s.
Turns out, Jimmy was writing about sports well before that. A native of Natchitoches, La., Hyams was the local paper’s sports editor at the tender age of 16. He also worked for the Shreveport Times and Baton Rouge Morning Advocate before going to work for the Knoxville News-Sentinel in 1985. He has covered the SEC since 1981 and Tennessee football and basketball since 1985.
In 1998, Hyams became sports director of The Sports Animal radio station in Knoxville. So he went to “the dark side,” as us reporters like to see. But he continues to write for websites, magazines and other periodicals on the wide.
Seeing how Jimmy is now in the Tennessee Sportswriters Hall of Fame and is the only person to be named Tennessee’s sportscaster of the year (twice) and sportswriter of the year (five times), it seemed only proper to turn to him to fill in DawgNation readers on the Tennessee Volunteers this week. He was nice enough to oblige.
Be sure to follow Jimmy Hyams on Twitter at, appropriately enough, @Jimmy Hyams
Now to the questions and answers:
The View: I never thought I’d see the day where Georgia was a 30-plus point favorite over Tennessee in football. We’ll see if that actually comes to pass, but what has happened to put the Vols in their current state?
Hyams: Instability — from top to bottom. Jeremy Pruitt is Tennessee’s fourth head coach (not counting two interims) since Phillip Fulmer was fired in 2008. UT has also had changes at athletic director, president and chancellor. And they’ve had about six strength and conditioning coaches in about six years. That doesn’t help.
I was told 10 years ago by a close friend that it would take 10 years for the Vols to recover from firing Fulmer. I disagreed, provided Tennessee hired the right coach. UT didn’t hire the right coach in 2009 or 2010 or 2013. Is Pruitt the right coach? I don’t know. Time will tell. But Pruitt inherited a mess from Butch Jones. Jones lacked discipline within his program, had five different offensive or defensive coordinators, fired his strength and conditioning coach because players complained and had a poor culture to the point where players quit last season down the stretch.
No way Tennessee can turn it around as quickly as Kirby Smart did at Georgia or Nick Saban at Alabama, in part because UT doesn’t have the talent either one of those programs had when Smart and Saban took over.
The View: What are your impressions of coach Jeremy Pruitt so far? What about for UT fans?
Hyams: Pruitt is a no-nonsense, hard-nosed football coach who doesn’t bring the Jones catch phrases that fans grew tired of. He tells it like it is. That’s refreshing. But he’s got to be careful not to downplay his current roster because that could cause players and parents to revolt. He’s trying to get players to play hard that weren’t always used to playing hard.
I think UT fans are more than willing to give him a chance, but patience is wearing thin after a decade of disappointment. Losing 47-21 to a Florida team that is also rebuilding was a tough pill to swallow. Attendance was good for the Florida game but I think actual attendance for Alabama and the rest of the opponents will be pretty low. That’s more of an indictment on the program, not Pruitt. But at some point, Pruitt has to give fans hope.
Right now, fans don’t have much hope and another winless SEC season is possible.
The View: What is one area of Saturday’s that you would say Tennessee has an advantage in?
Hyams: Maybe receiving depth. Maybe. UT has several quality receivers. So does Georgia. Right now, I think receiver is UT’s strongest position group. UT is also good at running back and inside linebacker, but certainly not better than Georgia.
The View: What’s the impression of the Georgia Bulldogs under Kirby Smart from up on Rocky Top?
Hyams: Uber talented. Smart has done a terrific job recruiting and he’s got NFL players littered across the roster. That was obvious last year when Georgia won 41-0 at Neyland Stadium. Tennessee had one player make the preseason three-deep media All-SEC team — left tackle Trey Smith — and Smith isn’t having a good year.
Georgia is an elite team that has legitimate national championship aspirations. Georgia is where Tennessee wants to be within the next 4-5 years.
The View: What did you think about Phillip Fulmer becoming AD and how well will be do in that role?
Hyams: I think Fulmer was the right choice at the right time. When John Currie made a mess of the football hiring search, Fulmer was brought aboard to make the hire. Fulmer narrowed it to three defensive coordinators from the SEC and picked Pruitt. I think the hire was welcomed by most UT fans because it was a football man hiring a football coach.
I also think Fulmer has done a nice job unifying people in the athletic department. Coaches and administrators know he has great passion for Tennessee and loves the University. I think he has been a stablizing force.
JIMMY HYAMS’ PREDICTION
Tennessee doesn’t have the personnel to compete with Georgia. There’s a theory that Smart might run up the score to send a message to recruits in the state of Georgia that have committed to the Vols. Maybe. Maybe not. Whatever the case. I see Georgia in a cakewalk, 41-7.