5-at-10: Monster mailbag with Tennessee football ponderings, SEC 2017 hotseats, and more | Chattanooga Times Free Press (2023)

Before we get to the mailbag, we want to say thanks to all of you.

To the regulars, thanks for playing along as always. You guys make this fun and worthwhile.

To the newcomers, pull up a chair and feel free to play along in the comments section. It's the post-5-at-10 discussion that makes this truly as good as it can be.

To the occasional passers-by, well, we want to thank you guys too.

The other thing that is pretty cool is the amount of overlap we are starting to see and hear about from you 5-at-10 readers and Press Row listeners. And please know, the appreciation, the heckling, the disagreements, the discussion and the jokes are all part of the fun.

Thank you for being a true bright spot in a pretty dark 2016 for a lot of reasons.

Well our sketchy luck in the bowl season continues. We fell to 5-8 in the postseason Thursday. We had the over-60 in the Arkansas-Va. Tech game, and after scoring 24 points in about 20 minutes, the Fighting Bielemas went stone dead silent on the way to a 35-24 loss. (Auburn math tells me that's 59 and Auburn graduate math tells me that's under 60. Stupid Bielemas.)

This leads us to the first question, in two parts.

Tennessee's Derek Barnett (right) and Justin Martin (left) team up for a sack of South Carolina quarterback Jake Bentley in the first half of their college football game. The Gamecocks beat the Vols 24-21 at Williams-Brice Stadium on Oct. 29, 2016.

From Mark

Watching this SC game and how in the name of Zeus did Tenn. lose to these chumps?? Tuuurible.


From John

A couple other things....Last nights Ark/VT game was horrible from an announcing standpoint...got so tired of hearing the announcers point of view on the rules that ended up they didn't know.

You said on yesterdays show that Sumlin was going to be on the hot seat....I think Bielema maybe before him....
I do not watch the SEC network mid game analysis because I can not stand the name of Booger McFarland...now he is on the Bowl game analysis....maybe a question or a rushmore of worst nicknames that are used as the common first name.....Booger and Digger are the only two that I can think of that are horrible...wonder if his wife calls him Booger...

Mark, John and the rest of the gospel authors -

We'll start with the first part. Yes, it's puzzling how UT lost to that South Carolina team.

But now that they are all finished, it's completely fair to ponder the UT shortcomings this year - insert Butch's fair and warranted injury lament here - and sum them up accordingly:

In the most anticipated season since Phil Fulmer was the most hated man in the SEC this side of Steve Spurrier, UT lost to 6-7 South Carolina with an 18-year-old at quarterback, a 6-7 Vandy and an 8-5 (again) Texas A&M which likely starts 2017 with its coach on the hottest seat in the league.

Read that one again.

Now, Mark, the other side of that conundrum is just as intriguing. Sure we can ask how the Vols lost to South Carolina, but all things considered and trying to viewing things with a half-full mentality, we seriously ponder: What was Tennessee's best win?

Yes, Florida, because of the end of more than a decade of frustration is the quick response, but is it the only one? That biggest win quite possibly in retrospect, considering Florida's offensive limitations, will be viewed as Virginia Tech, which put a 35-0 second-half whitewashing on the Hogs. And before we get to John's specifics, we believe this: Virginia Tech will be a preseason top-10 team heading into 2017.

(If there are no early defections to the NFL - especially by quarterback Jerod Evans - the Hokies, who went 10-4 after whipping the Hogs in the final 30 minutes, would return nine offensive starters and all their skill-position guys and seven defensive starters. Yes, all three of the defensive line in Bud Foster's 3-4 are seniors, but that's a serious amount of playmakers coming back and one of the top five QBs in the country.)

As for John's point, buckets, does Ed Cunningham get paid by the word.

Ed was so mesmerized by the muff punt call and review that he hashed and rehashed it over the final three minutes of the first half and then opened the second half debating it even more.

And man there was a time when Mike Patrick was one of our favorites - remember dude was the play-by-play guy for ESPN's Sunday night NFL broadcasts - but he was brutal last night as well.

(Side question: Are TV announcers just way worse today than before or are we just way more critical because we now are more informed viewers than ever before? Discuss. And while we are here, side question II: There is nothing worse than the former ref/rules expert they bring on to review the review and then said-expert misses the call. Maybe they need to just do away with that dude because let's face it, it looks bad for the broadcast team - because you always get the play-by-play guy saying, "Well, that one certainly could have gone either way" when no, not really - and it looks bad for the refs.)

As for SEC hot seat coaches, we think Bielema and Kevin Sumlin are both right there.

Oklahoma quarterback Austin Kendall (10) throws behind running back Abdul Adams (23) during an NCAA college football game between Louisiana Monroe and Oklahoma in Norman, Okla., Saturday, Sept. 10, 2016. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

We think if Oklahoma plows Auburn, Gus will start 2017 with a warm seat and a ton of pressure because the junior college QB coming in and Kam Pettway coming back will give Auburn and its fan base some lofty expectations, rightly or wrongly. (And buckets, if the Tigers find a way to topple the Sooners, expect Auburn to be preseason top-six-or-seven - before early-NFL defections, Auburn will return eight offensive starters and seven on defense, and that includes junior Carl Lawson leaving - with Jarret Stidham and Pettway part of the mix in '17.)

And if Nebraska topples Tennessee in a de facto home game in Nashville, the level of heat on Butch will be very interesting.

We will update this after the run of the bowl season because wins and losses mean a bunch - think how much sway it would have for a McElwain, Jones or Malzahn - in this case, but here's our way-too-early-2017-SEC-coaches-hotseat chart:

1. Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M. (He was 11-2 with Johnny Football's Heisman year in '12 and since he's 9-4, 8-5, 8-5 and, you guessed it, 8-5. Plus, he's 15-17 in the SEC over the last four years. That's not good enough for a dude who is the second-highest paid coach in the league.)

2. Bret Bielema, Arkansas. (He's 25-26 in four years with the Hogs. Yes, year one taking over after the Petrino fallout and John Smith disaster was a 3-9 nightmare. Still, if you take out that first season in Fayetteville, Bielema is 22-17 and 10-14 in the SEC. Again, not good enough.)

3. Barry Odum, Missouri. (The only school not named Ole Miss who did not qualify for a bowl game. Yes, it's year two, but Missouri needs a lift - football in particular, the school in general, and languishing in football is not a good look.)

4-6. (depending on bowl outcomes and such) - McElwain, Jones, Malzahn

7. Hugh Freeze, Ole Miss. He's only here because if the NCAA stuff comes back worse than we expect, then maybe that changes some stuff. Otherwise, Freeze has earned a mulligan or two.

(From there is a significant drop in temperature in our view and the rankings are not really important because barring scandal)

8. Ed Orgeron, LSU. Why is Coach O, who is entering his first season without the interim tag, this high? Because of his track record as a coach in the SEC - his time at Ole Miss was awful - and while everyone in the Pelican State loves his accents, start 2-6 and listen to the whispers grow.

Georgia first-year football coach Kirby Smart said he tried to stay positive with his players this season, especially when things weren't going well.

9. Kirby Smart, Georgia. Any temperature on his seat after a sluggish 7-5 debut season has been cooled by a torrid stretch on the recruiting trail. Seriously, though, if you are a Georgia fan, aren't you about tired of dominating in February and underwhelming in the fall? (Well other than vs. Auburn, because Georgia has owned Auburn over the last decade. In fact for a lot of AU folks we know, that may be Malzahn's most important game next year.)

10-13. Stoops, Mason, Mullen. Stoops' finish was stellar. Mason calmed all the noise by getting Vandy to a bowl game. And Mullen, dude Mullen will be in Starkville until he decides to do something else.

128. Saban. Well, you know.

As for Booger, well, it's our understanding that he got that nickname because he was kind of a punk growing up and his mother started calling him that.
We'll start that Rushmore of Announcers with strange nicknames that stuck with Booger and add Snapper Jones, Digger Phelps and Jaws.



From SteelerFan

No disrespect, but have our unending eulogies for dead and retiring sports broadcasters gotten a little excessive? If you didn't know better, you'd think the late Stuart Scott of ESPN and merely retiring (from football) Vern Lundquist of CBS are/were more important sports figures than Muhammad Ali. It came to a head for me with Vern's long, tearful goodbye speech at the end the Army-Navy game, draining emotion from an historic contest. This followed a tribute at every SEC venue he visited this year. My goodness, indeed!

SteelerFan -

We could not agree more, the Verne farewell tour last almost three years. (And if he had tried to describe it to viewers he would have said, "The Vance good-bye thing has been going on for three to six years. My Goodness.)

Part of that is simply nature of the beast.

Sadly, a lot of times we cover or discuss or write about the things most important to us. For the folks at ESPN or TBS or CBS that was saying the ultimate good-bye to Scott or Craig Sager and a farewell to someone like Verne, who by all accounts is s super nice dude. All three of them in fact have sterling reputations as people, and that makes others want to pay tribute.

Now, that said, the interesting point here is that the stars of sports media are becoming more than the storytellers. They are opinion shapers - good and bad - and becoming stars in their own right.

That's part of the modern, 24/7 cycle, but it's also part of the ubiquitous nature of ESPN.

Did you know that Gruden makes more now than he ever did as an NFL head coach? Or that Mike Greenberg is making close to Saban money?
That's where we are because of how much sports we consume and how the names and people who attract audiences have become that valuable.

Crazy, right?

Tennessee basketball coach Rick Barnes had success while at Texas against North Carolina, the Vols' opponent Sunday.


From Titantic

This may be too late for this weeks mailbag but here goes,

How about the job Rick Barnes is doing. This rag-tag bunch he is coaching is a far cry from the team that opened the season against the Mocs. They certainly aren't threatening the tournament yet, but their improvement is kind of noteworthy don't you think. Nice win on the road vs T A&M.

Titantic -

Just in time.

We think if Barnes wants to stay for a decade or more, he'll have arguably the most consistent and successful run the Vols have seen in the modern era.

He's an excellent coach, and his team responds to him.

Two of the excellent dudes on the UT beat - 247sports.com ace Wes Rucker and TFP UT beat ace Patrick Brown - have nothing but praise for Barnes.

Full disclosure, we were not super jazzed by the hire at first. Full disclosure about the full disclosure, we were wrong.

But this looks like a perfect fit.

Here's a question for UT fans: Are you prepared for a major program to be settled and competitive with the best and controversy free for a few years? Or would that be too much of a shock to the day-to-day normal that has become UT athletics?

FILE - In this Dec. 29, 2015, file photo, LSU running back Leonard Fournette (7) hurdles tight end Colin Jeter (81) as he rushes against Texas Tech during the first half of the Texas Bowl NCAA college football game in Houston. Fournette will sit out the 19th-ranked Tigers’ match-up with No. 15 Louisville in the Citrus Bowl, a decision that ends Fournette’s highlight-filled college career. (AP Photo/Bob Levey, File)


From Paxton

How you feel about Garrett playing and gonna be a top5 pick and saying Fournettes been trying to leave since his sophomore year?

Paxton -

We are all for Myles Garrett doing what he thinks is best for him, his family, his team and his goals.

That said, the comparison between Garrett and Leonard Fournette is not apples to apples.

First, Garrett still needs some proof on film that he deserves to be a top-five pick. He's going to crush the combine and likely will be a top-five pick on measurable alone. But his numbers are pretty pedestrian. He had 8.5 sacks this year and 4.5 of those came against UTSA.

In fact, there's a pretty fair argument that Garrett's indifferent showing in the bowl loss to Kansas State actually adds more negative parts to his resume. He played the whole game and had one assisted tackle. Yes, he may have helped his team by demanding double teams and whatnot. But if we had a top-five pick and we saw a guy with that much talent - and who played on a defensive line with at least two other future NFL players - who totaled 11 solo tackles and four sacks in the nine games against opponents not named UTSA, well we'd have questions and want to see him do stuff in the bowl.

We have no such questions about Fournette.

Plus, there's the health concerns and training for the combine that seem to get lost in this discussion and how much more those things mean for a running back than a defensive lineman.

Fournette got a four-week jump on training for the shuttle, the sprints and agility drills and a four-week jump on resting his squeaky ankle.

For Fournette, the difference between a 4.42 and a 4.58 in Indy in February is millions of dollars. For Garrett, as long as he's under a 4.7, he's going to be a hot commodity.

And if Fournette can't run because of an ankle injury it becomes a black flag; if Garrett can't it's not really that big of a deal.

Hey, we hope this does not become a trend and we understand those folks who are upset because of the player making a personal decision that does not conform with the team's interests.

But there's no way we're going to condemn a kid for trying to protect an eight-figure lottery ticket as he walks to the payment window for the Belk Bowl, or whatever.

And if the NFL shows any angst to Fournette's decision then it is even more hypocritical than we even thought.

Remember, this is the same NFL that includes the Buffalo Bills, who are sitting Tyrod Taylor for this meaningless final game of the season because Taylor is set to make more than $20 million next year and if he is injured in the final game, the Bills are on the hook for that money.

How is that any different?

It's the business of football, and that business has to be factored in for the employees as well as the employers, gang.

Miami Marlins hitting coach Barry Bonds gestures while standing in the dugout during the fourth inning of the team's baseball game against the Washington Nationals, Friday, May 20, 2016, in Miami. Bonds spent more than half an hour with slumping slugger Giancarlo Stanton before the game. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)


From the Commish

Check out this article from USA TODAY: Say it ain't so: Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens nearing Hall of Fame threshold


Mailbag question, do known cheaters deserve to be in Cooperstown? What about those who appeared to have cheated, but were never caught and never admitted to it? What about a new wing depicting the steroid era players?

Thx Jay.

Commish -

I did see that article. It was pretty interesting on a couple of fronts and you framed them quite well in the phrasing of your question.

We are OK with folks who are against nown cheaters - guys who failed tests like Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz and Raffy Palmeiro or guys who admitted to using like Mark McGwire and Andy Pettitte - being forever on the outside looking in. They cheated and were caught or admitted to it.

And even though Ramirez in his prime was the best right-hander hitter since likely Aaron, that seems OK.

We have a huge problem with the perception ban, even on guys that defied logic like Bonds and Clemens. Nevermind the physical changes, it's simple logic that Bonds' best years of his career came from 34-38 and that's not just possible. As for Clemens, the rumors and innuendo have been there for a while, as well as the physical changes and reports from Canseco and Co.

But is that enough? Should that be enough?

How many of those names on the Mitchell Report did we never hear about arena the Hall? We'd bet at least a few and some of them would surprise a lot of us.

If you told me Player X used steroids during the 1995-2005 window, there's not a single name that would surprise me with the possible exceptions of Greg Maddux and Derek Jeter.

Everything else has to be tainted.

Sadly, that cloud of doubt has been used to uphold grudges and flex power from far too many voters, and that's the problem we have.

Mike Piazza was the greatest offensive catcher ever and he had to wait five years because he had back acne. Craig Biggio and Jeff Bagwell are a couple of other dudes that come to mind as well.

Did they? Didn't they? Did Bonds, who has forever denied it and despite tens of millions spent by Federal authorities and the MLB never been proven to have used? Or Clemens?

And that doesn't even bring in the discussion about which cheating is important in baseball.

Gaylord Perry was the biggest cheater of his generation - and he admitted to doctoring the ball - but he won 300 games and was grandfatherly (and great to writers, let's not forget) and we all let it pass.

There are reports that the Giants stole the Dodgers' sign on one of the greatest moments in baseball history when Bobby Thompson hit a shot heard 'round the world.

There are rumors that Bucky Dent had a corked bat to homer to win the 1978 playoff game against Boston.

Baseball in a lot of ways has embraced cheating, but steroids - which if we had to guess were being used by up to 80 percent of the league at their apex - cross the line?

That's each person's opinion, but making biased guess about players at least in part because they were jerks to the media, makes my head hurt.

And we have always contended two things when voting for the Hall of Fame:

a) if you have to pause before answering if so-and-so was a Hall of Famer, then the answer is now and forever no.

b) was so-and-so the best of his era.

As for a) well guys like Bonds and Clemens no doubt have the stats and moments and accomplishments.

As for b) well those guys were the best their era, and sadly, because baseball turned a blind eye to it for a decade, that era will forever be the steroid era.

Are we supposed to pretend it was not part of the game or its history.

This Thursday, April 28, 2016, photo shows bottles of Coca-Cola in Concord, N.H. Coca-Cola Co. reports financial results Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2016. (AP Photo/Jim Cole)


From Todd C.

Mailbag entry: What is the over/under on the number of CoColas that Jay will have between 5pm on 12/29/2016 and 9am on 01/02/2017? What type of and how many food items will be consumed during that span? How much of that food will be dinner out, take-out food, delivery, and microwaved burritos?

Todd C. -

Not sure why you gave us the hard cutoff of 9 a.m. on Monday.

There will be no Press Row on Monday (ESPN's bowl game broadcasts) and that is the newspaper's recognized New Year's Day, so we're clear for Tuesday's A2 column, as well.

Plus, Auburn plays that night, and, well, let's just say that there is a 50-50 chance that is a good game and a 50-50 chance that Oklahoma and Big Game Bob (who hates the SEC and loves women beaters) blows Auburn out because, well, that would be how 2016 would end.

So if we extend that to the end of the Sugar Bowl, we'll tentatively set the over/under at 24, and we'd take the over. (Along with a couple of Jack-ed H2Os - it is GameDay after all.)

As for the menu, well, we are blessed that among the great many attributes the Mrs. 5-at-10 has - she's beautiful, smart, and has excellent taste in picking a husband for starters - she also can really cook.

Let's go by day.

Friday: Dinner with Dad and final Christmas toast

Saturday: Depending on what is on the docket before the 3 p.m. kickoff for Alabama, we may do lunch amid our comings and goings. As for dinner, well, the plan is Prime Rib, potato puff (mashed potatoes with some extra stuff - it's boss), green beans and asparagus casserole.

Sunday: Big breakfast after church and then late lunch with Ham, black-eyed peas and grits-and-greens (a concoction the Mrs. 5-at-10 came up with those who do not like traditional greens straight up; it's thicker than normal grits - add some heavy whipping cream late in the process - with cooked greens stirred in late in the process Good times.)

Monday: GameDay for the Tigers, which must like will mean hamburgers and hot dogs on the grill with the Rose Bowl on the Porch TV (and presume Co-Cola in hand). We'll do the chips and dips and maybe some side nachos, too. Pizza for the tots, maybe.

Man, what a great way to start 2017, a year for which we have hopes and a simple and plain request:

C'mon, 2017, don't suck as bad as 2016.

Happy New Year everyone. (And if I go over the 24 Co-Colas this weekend, can I count that on my Fab 4 bowl record? Dude, we need a win.)

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