It takes time to take a program and change it to fit the needs of a new coach. Many times, this can take several years to complete, depending on what condition the program was in when inherited. You won’t often see too many 360 degree turnarounds regardless of the sport. But man, it seems like Tony Vitello has just about done it.
Tennessee Baseball was in a very stagnant state up until Vitello was hired. The program was stuck between being either decent, or not very exciting under the direction of Dave Serrano. Sure, there were some decent seasons and surprising wins. But the lack of a clear upward trend was pretty alarming, especially since Serrano had been here from 2012-2017. The program needed a spark, and John Currie (shockingly) made the right hire at the right time.
It was becoming evident that someone was going to hire Tony Vitello, and sooner rather than later. The former Arkansas assistant coach/recruiting coordinator had been around a program that is still considered one of the best in the SEC and the country. With the top talent that he was helping bring in, and the development that he displayed with those players, it showed that he had the tools to not only lead a program, but also help turn one around.
In his first season leading the Vols, those tools were put on full display. Tennessee finished with 29 wins, which was the most by a first-year coach in the history of the program. They had the most conference wins at home since 2005. And they also had hope. Vitello took a talented – but young, team and made them believe that they could do big things in this league.
This year, the Vols showed the conference that their belief was founded, and became one of the top teams in the SEC East. They finished with 41 wins, an appearance in the NCAA tournament, and had a winning streak of 15 consecutive games to open the season. They had an outstanding season in just about every category. And here’s the scary part – they can still improve substantially.
Athletic Director/Papa Phil Fulmer took notice of this as well. This offseason, Fulmer opened up the checkbook and made sure that Vitello would be leading this program until at least the 2024 season. And if Vitello can show this much improvement in only two seasons, just imagine what he could do with another 5-6 seasons under his belt. Sure, the Vols had some key pieces drafted this past year. But after bringing in the country’s #8 recruiting class this past cycle, I wouldn’t expect a big drop-off. After all, we’ve already seen what Vitello can do with a young, hungry team.
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