Basketball: 26-9 (13-5)
*SEC Regular Season Co-Champions; NCAA Tournament 2nd Round
Football: 4-8 (0-8)
An SEC championship in basketball and the worst season in school history in football meant that of course this would be one of the top seasons on this list. And the crazy part is while both were a surprise to media experts, those on Rocky Top saw it coming.
Football, for instance, began the year in the top 25. Butch Jones had enjoyed back to back 9-4 seasons and top 25 finishes, which were the only two the Tennessee Vols had seen as a program since 2007. So to the national media, they deserved respect despite losing Joshua Dobbs, Derek Barnett, Alvin Kamara and Josh Malone.
However, UT fans had seen too many mistakes made by Jones to have faith in him. And the offensive coordinator change to Larry Scott combined with all the other staff changes and loss of Dobbs proved disastrous. Jones’s ineptitude was finally put on display when he coached away a game the Vols’ should have won at the Florida Gators.
Following that came a series of losses and a horrendous offense, behind Quinten Dormady and then Jarrett Guarantano, that saw the Vols go three straight games without an offensive touchdown. In the end, Jones was fired after a 4-6 season. Brady Hoke took over and lost the last two for the Vols to finish 4-8 and 0-8 in the SEC.
Enter men’s basketball. The day before Jones was fired, Rick Barnes began his third season on Rocky Top with a win over Presbyterian. Coming off a .500 season and the loss of their leading scorer, Robert Hubbs III, national media picked the Vols to finish next to last in the SEC. But again, fans on Rocky Top knew about the other guys Barnes had brought in.
As a result, it came as no surprise when the Tennessee Vols jumped out to a 3-0 start. That was highlighted by an upset win over the Purdue Boilermakers the week leading up to UT’s loss to the Vanderbilt Commodores to end the season in football. A loss to the Villanova Wildcats and win over the N.C. State Wolfpack also came before that.
But after UT had the worst finish ever in football, chaos would put basketball on the back burner. The period from Nov. 26 to about Dec. 5 all revolved around football and the botched Greg Schiano hire, the coup by Phillip Fulmer to replace John Currie, and the hire of Jeremy Pruitt as head coach.
Then came the first early signing period and Pruitt returning to the Alabama Crimson Tide to coach the College Football Playoff before taking over fully. In that time, men’s basketball had solid road wins over the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets and Wake Forest Demon Deacons and heartbreaking losses to the North Carolina Tar Heels, Arkansas Razorbacks and Auburn Tigers.
But as Pruitt finally ended his time with Alabama for good, UT began to take off in basketball for good, starting with an upset over the No. 17 ranked Kentucky Wildcats. The Vols continue that success throughout the season, and at the end of the year they had gone 23-7 and 13-5 in the SEC to share a league title.
In the postseason, UT made it to the SEC Championship game before losing to the Kentucky Wildcats despite sweeping them in the regular season. They then lost in the second round of the NCAA Tournament to Loyola-Chicago, who eventually made the Final Four.
However, that loss still meant an SEC title, top 25 finish and advancing in the NCAA Tournament. Those things are a pretty big disparity from the worst team in Tennessee football history, which is why this year is No. 2 on the list for the Tennessee Vols.