Most Nashville Predators fans have fallen on hard times lately thanks to their local football teams. Hockey can supply some much needed solace to fans.
Full disclosure: I’m not from Tennessee. Even so, my time as a Nashville Predators fan has introduced me to some great folks from the Volunteer State. Much like me, they have their favorite football teams. For most of them, it’s the NFL’s Tennessee Titans & the University of Tennessee Volunteers.
It’s been a rough sports weekend in Tennessee.
The Vols got obliterated by the hated Georgia Bulldogs 41-0 on Saturday. Just when Vols fans started to recover from that misery, the Titans got owned by DeShaun Watson & the Houston Texans 57-14 on Sunday. The Titans were a trendy pick in the offseason to win the AFC South. The Vols were considered a serious contender to take the SEC East. Two teams that carried great expectations heading into 2017 are on the verge of rolling into the gutter of despair.
As you know, the Titans & Vols aren’t the only sports teams in Tennessee carrying high expectations on their backs. The Nashville Predators have been declared the next great hockey dynasty by some. I prefer to call what Nashville is building an Empire, since Roman Josi is the captain now. Nevertheless, the Predators are considered by most hockey experts to be among the favorites to win the Central Division & the Western Conference in 2017-18.
Can the Predators avoid the fate that has befallen their Volunteer State colleagues? Is Tennessee being set up for more disappointment?
I’ve always felt that UT fans have an over-inflated opinion of their football program. Hey, I respect their history. Rocky Top is an awesome song. You can’t say enough about the legacy left by the likes of Robert Neyland, Johnny Majors & Phillip Fulmer, Peyton Manning, and Reggie White. The names go on and on. They won 10 games more often than not through the 1990s and 2000s.
In recent years, Tennessee football hasn’t been the same. The last years of Fulmer weren’t great. Lane Kiffin was a disaster. Derek Dooley wasn’t any better. Butch Jones went under .500 his first season and has been over since then. He seems stuck on nine wins, but how many schools would be happy with nine wins?
I know the answer from Vols fans is that UT should be above that. Sure, UT can get to that level again. It’s just unrealistic to expect Butch Jones to be contending for national championships right after six years of the Vols winning 5-7 games per year. Jones, or anybody else, needs some time.
Just because you won 10 games per year once upon a time doesn’t mean you always will. Ask Notre Dame.
The Titans don’t have the rich tradition of Volunteer football. This makes the level of expectation surrounding them more difficult to explain. They’ve won 10+ games six out of their twenty seasons in Tennessee. They combined for five wins in 2014 & 2015 before jumping up to nine in 2016.
All of a sudden they’re supposed to be kings of the AFC South. Sure, a lot of that is due to the fact that the AFC South isn’t a highly regarded division. But it seems to me that there is a disconnect between what has been proven and what should be expected when it comes to the Titans. Most people were throwing out best-case scenarios, with nothing prepared for the other side of the coin.
I hope this isn’t the fate that meets the Nashville Predators. Many have Nashville among the top contenders in the Western Conference. Yes, the Predators won the conference last season, but they were also the eight seed going in. The Nashville Predators finished fourth in the Central Division. They got hot at the right time, but it doesn’t mean they’re automatically the favorites going into 2017-18.
Hopefully, fans remember the full season and not just the playoffs. I’ll be perfectly happy if they repeat the whole “eight seed & Western Conference Champion” thing this season. Honestly, I’ll take that over “Central Division Champion & out in first round”. But it is scary to think they may be a bubble team again.
It seems like most problems teams face are due to injuries. The Predators already have pretty awful injury news for the upcoming season. Associate Captain Ryan Ellis isn’t expected to play until January. And Nick Bonino, the projected second line center, didn’t play in the preseason due to a leg injury. We’re hoping that doesn’t mean anything. If he’s not out there on opening night it might be time to sound the alarm bells.
The Vols’ 2017 has been hampered by injuries. Jauan Jennings, their #1 wide receiver, is out for the season. Two offensive linemen are out for the year due to knee issues. Three linebackers have missed serious time. Even deep rosters like Tennessee’s can only be strectched so thin.
The Titans, like most NFL teams, also have a crowded injury report. Marcus Mariota added his name to the list this week with a hamstring injury. If he’s hurt, that’s a huge setback for a Titans offense that appeared to find its way in recent weeks. Matt Cassel was a solid QB replacement nine years ago. Not so much now.
Every team has to deal with injuries, so I never like using them as an excuse. It’s about how you respond to the adversity that defines your season.
It’s all about the coaching
The biggest difference between the Predators and the football teams has to be the competency of their coaching staff.
No one has ever claimed that Mike Mularkey is a top tier head coach. He was 14-18 in two seasons with the Buffalo Bills, 2-14 in one year with the Jacksonville Jaguars, and sits at 13-16 after 29 games with the Titans. He was promoted when Ken Wisenhunt was fired in 2015 and retained in spite of a 2-7 finish to the season. The Titans went 9-7 last season and almost made the playoffs, and had a pretty big win in Week 3 this season over the Seattle Seahawks. Obviously that big win went to their heads just a bit. A well-coached team wouldn’t let that happen.
I became familiar with Butch Jones during his time at the University of Cincinnati. He wasn’t as good as Brian Kelly or Mark Dantonio, but he was decent enough. He’s a great recruiter, as Vols fans have found out over the past few years. The problem is that his teams’ ranking at the end of the season doesn’t match the recruiting rankings. Top 5 recruiting classes in 2014 & 2015 haven’t had Top 5 results. Tennessee fans want more than nine wins & second place in the SEC East.
Nashville Predators fans don’t have many complaints about Peter Laviolette. Maybe he fiddles with the lines too much. But his level of success is hard to argue with. He’s posted a winning everywhere he’s coached. He won a Stanley Cup with the Carolina Hurricanes & made it to the Final with the Preds & the Philadelphia Flyers.
Mularkey has never coached an important game. Jones finds new & interesting ways to lose big games all the time. Laviolette gets the most out of his players in the biggest situations.
If Predators fans don’t expect too much & trust the coaching staff to do their thing, the next several months will be much less stressful on the ice than on the gridiron. Let Peter Laviolette & the Nashville Predators take your minds off that football mess. Don’t worry too much if there are some bumps on the road early in the season.
Unlike football, you can lose early on and not be out of the chase for the championship. That will be important to keep in mind during October & November.