I had several ideas for column topics this week, but when midnight Wednesday rolled around, I knew I had to abandon those options and focus on the painfully obvious: the coaching search at UT.
That’s because at just past midnight Wednesday morning, yet another seemingly unbelievable rumor surfaced, this time being reported by a Memphis TV station.
Twitter exploded. Tweet after tweet echoed the outrageous claim:
This report alleged UT had offered Jon Gruden the head coaching job, and that part of the offer would give Gruden “a piece of the NFL’s Cleveland Browns, who were recently bought by Jimmy Haslam III, one of UT’s biggest boosters.”
But despite a denial, the rumors continued to swirl; in fact, they swelled.
We posted a story on knoxnews.com about that rumor and the denials, but regardless, that story became our most popular story. In fact, it became the most popular story on all of the Scripps newspaper sites around the country for a solid 6 hours.
It was a non-story, but it trumped actual newsworthy articles. It was more read than the story about the Powerball increase to $550 million — which online producer Dave Goddard found surprising.
"It’s like people care more about Tennessee football than $550 million," he said.
(Photo by Amy Smotherman-Burgess/KNS)
But why SO MUCH hype?
OK, listen. As I say in my column, which I realize is bound to offend at least some people, I wish I could stage an intervention. With Tennessee fans.
The continuous hype and never-ending rumors have gotten to me, and to many others, I’m sure. Frankly, I just don’t understand it.
As if the bogus Memphis report wasn’t bad enough, here are some of the other “Grumors” circulating:
Trying to understand the mania
My reasoning is that no matter what fans say or do, or know or don’t know, it’s not going to change the decision making. Dave Hart will decide what and when he wants — and then we’ll all know. So what’s the obsession really about?
Granted, I’m not a Knoxville native. I’ve lived here for just shy of 2 years, so I’ve got a lot to learn. So, in an effort to understand this mania, I reached out to a couple of colleagues and a good friend to help.
(Jon Gruden in 2002. AP photo)
A very real downside
Well, some might ask, what’s wrong with a little hysteria? It may be annoying, but is it really hurting anyone?
The truth is, the hype really could come with some consequences.
Strange and Wright both made the same point: By continuing to make such a huge deal, especially surrounding Gruden, fans are setting themselves up for a monumental disappointment if he doesn’t come.
"The coaching announcement is going to come like a surprise hammer to the face if it isn’t Jon Gruden, because it reads like one more loss. Even if we get a Jimbo Fisher or Charlie Strong or some other totally capable and exciting coach,” Wright said.
My plea to Tennessee (fans)
Passion is great, but this obsession is a bit much. I wish we would all do a few things.
Social media as a game changer
As my friend Wil Wright put it, “This is our second coaching change in the golden age of social media, and it changes the conversation entirely.”
Now, with Twitter and Facebook as ubiquitous as they are, the rumors spread father, wider and much faster. Instead of the rumor mill being mostly contained to message boards, which are frequented by the usual suspects, the ceaseless speculation is open for all to see. And see. And see.
But so often, the speculation is nothing but completely fabricated wishes. I can’t even begin to count how many times I’ve seen random people tweet about Coach So-and-So and UT a “done deal.” “It’s official.” “Will be announced today.”
No. It won’t. Because it’s not true.
And even if something might have a shred of truth to it, you would never know because it’s drowned out by myriad falsehoods.
“It’s never been easier to perpetuate rumors. Because for every credible information leak there are 50 believable but totally fabricated rumors and they all look the same on a cell phone,” Wright said.
Want to weigh in? I’d love to hear from you. You can reach me at WiseR at knoxnews dot com or on Twitter @rkwise.