Tennessee Vols’ Smokey X tenure, marked by tumult, ends with stability

Smokey runs on the field during an SEC football game between Tennessee and Kentucky at Kroger Field in Lexington, Ky. on Saturday, Nov. 6, 2021.Kns Tennessee Kentucky Football
Smokey runs on the field during an SEC football game between Tennessee and Kentucky at Kroger Field in Lexington, Ky. on Saturday, Nov. 6, 2021.Kns Tennessee Kentucky Football /

When Smokey X took the reins from Smokey IX in 2013, the hope was the Tennessee Vols would have stability. Smokey IX’s final five years involved with Tennessee football replacing three head coaches, Tennessee basketball firing Bruce Pearl, Tennessee Lady Vols head coach Pat Summitt being forced into early retirement and Dave Hart replacing Mike Hamilton as athletic director.

That was craziness was expected to finally end in 2013. Unfortunately for the 10th Bluetick Coonhound dog in the mascot’s lineage dating back to 1953, it didn’t work out that way. The tumult that began under Smokey IX, thanks to incompetence from horrible leaders and boosters like failed businessman Jimmy Haslam, only got worse.

Now, as the torch is once again passed, the hope is that his successor will see a program in much better shape overall. After nine years on the job, Smokey X will be replaced this fall by Smokey XI. The Tennessee Vols athletic program revealed the change with a video on Twitter Friday.

Smokey X’s first season, 2013-2014, involved lots of signs for a bright future. Butch Jones signed a top five recruiting class after his first year as head coach. Cuonzo Martin led the basketball program to the Sweet Sixteen. Holly Warlick won her second straight SEC Championship with the women’s basketball program.

Heck, even Dave Serrano still had promise with the baseball program, and the softball program was going strong with Ralph and Karen Weekly. Add in the transition from Adidas to Nike set to happen, and all signs were pointing upward for the Tennessee Vols under Hart as they entered the Smokey X era.

Things got rocky early, though, with the controversy surrounding fans wanting Martin fired just before he led the program to the Sweet Sixteen. Amidst that controversy, he bolted at the end of the year. Hart then added to the controversy by hiring Donnie Tyndall. He had to fire Tyndall a year later due to NCAA violations with the Southern Miss Eagles.

One year after the Tyndall disaster, the university was forced to settle a sexual assault lawsuit that embarrassed everybody. Then came Hart’s forced retirement and Serrano’s resignation while John Currie took over in 2017 as AD.

Just as that happened, Jones’ tenure unraveled, and Currie fired him in 2017. He was then forced out a month later after the disastrous coaching search when he tried to sneak in Greg Schiano. Phillip Fulmer, in what seemed like a coup, took over the position and hired Jeremy Pruitt.

By this point, just five years into his tenure, Smokey X’s era included three men’s basketball coaches, two football coaches and two embarrassing moments for the athletic program as a whole. Two years later, it was made worse was when Fulmer was forced to fire Warlick.

A year after firing Warlick, though, more controversy hit, and it wasn’t just about COVID. The Tennessee Vols were forced to send Fulmer into early retirement and fire Pruitt because of an NCAA investigation into alleged cheating by the football program under Pruitt. Simply put, what started off as promising turned into a tumultuous era for Smokey X.

However, Smokey X’s final year with the Tennessee Vols appears to have Rocky Top in the same situation it expected to be in way back in 2013. Amidst all these issues, moves were made across the way to help the program stumble into stability.

Rick Barnes being hired by Hart was the first right move back in 2015, and he still has the men’s basketball program rolling. Currie took the baseball program to new heights by replacing Serrano with Tony Vitello. Fulmer seems to have made the right move in hiring Kellie Harper.

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Finally, Danny White coming in as AD and hiring Josh Heupel looks good for the Tennessee Vols so far. All of these coaches seem here for the long haul, and when Smokey XI takes over, the hope for all fans is that he’s walking into a good situation. Smokey IX and Smokey X suffered through too much. The university owes its dogs so much more. It’s time they deliver.