Ever since fictional sports agent Jerry Maguire wrote his heartfelt and unfortunate mission statement “Things We Think and Don’t Say” for the agency he worked for, the so-called mission statement – no matter how lightly followed -it – has become a must-have item for schools and businesses large and small.
It would therefore be irresponsible of me not to respond to the press release from the University of Tennessee Athletic Department late last week detailing its five-year strategic plan for UT athletics.
Cleverly titled “Rise Glorious” – an inspiring nod to the first verse of the school’s alma mater song which proclaims “Upon a sacred hill in Tennessee / Like a beacon shining brightly / The majestic walls of the ‘former UT / Rise glorious to the sight’. — it aims to clearly define the objectives of the Vols in terms of student-athlete success, culture, core values, etc.
Or as athletic director Danny White said in a prepared statement: “Rise Glorious serves as a very clear roadmap to accomplishing Tennessee Athletics’ mission to lead the way in college sports. This plan explains why Tennessee Athletics exists and how we must approach each day in order to achieve all of our specific goals for the next five years. It sets standards for all of us – staff, coaches, student-athletes, campus community and fans – as we restore Tennessee Athletics leading the pack.”
It would be folly to take this lightly. White has done wonders in the roughly 18 months since leaving a similar position in Central Florida.
Not only did he almost instantly hire offensive wizard Josh Heupel away from UCF to lead the football program after Jeremy Pruitt was let go for allegedly monstrous NCAA violations, but during the 2021-22 school year recently completed, the Vols won their first SEC. All Sports Championship. Additionally, the school finished 13th nationally in the Learfield Director’s Cup standings, its highest ranking since 2007.
A UT baseball program that won both regular season and SEC tournament titles while spending most of the year as the nation’s top-ranked team, and a men’s basketball that won the school’s first SEC Tournament crown since 1979 helped improve that ranking. , a duration of 43 years.
With a football program that could be favored to win 10 of its 12 games this fall, such overall success for the Athletic Department could be even more impressive in a season.
Moreover, to White’s goal for Tennessee to lead the way in college sports, his vision already seems to chart a course of cohesion and camaraderie across sports that is too rarely seen.
“We are only scratching the surface of what we can accomplish here together,” Heupel said in the statement. “The passion, competitiveness and camaraderie at all levels in all sports is unmatched. It’s truly a family. Our staff and student-athletes love attending events in all sports. We don’t just want to achieve our goals in the overall mission of Tennessee Athletics, but we also want to be part of the environment at other venues.We all encourage each other to be the best, department-wide.
In truth, some of them sound like the kind of high-minded gibberish that seems important but really doesn’t guarantee anything.
For example, under the subheading “Student-Athlete Success” it says:
“We will maximize the transformative power of the student-athlete experience by leveraging the impact of sport to holistically develop our student-athletes and empower each of them to succeed in educational endeavors and competitive while preparing them for life beyond athletics.”
Ah, leveraging and holistically. Very 21st century. Plus, just so you know the buzzwords don’t stop there, “Rise Glorious” also has sections on culture and branding. If actor Tom Cruise ever manages to reprise his role in a Jerry Maguire remake – and why wouldn’t he after the crushing financial success of Top Gun: Maverick? — he might consider calling it “Rise Glorious,” with him returning as the Power Five Conference AD with the intention of taking college athletics back to its purer, less commercial roots.
And if that’s not enough New Age verbiage for you, who could forget The Matrix, as in, according to the Rise Glorious version: the school will use the Action Steps Matrix, which defines staff responsibility, keys, resource requirements and timeline for completion. The Action Steps Matrix will track progress and overall success.
It all sounds inspiring, culture-changing, and holistically perfect. And if that ultimately does nothing more than convince recruits and their parents that UT cares about the student-athlete far more than what that young man or woman can produce on the athletic field or on the short, it will have been worth every man and woman hour of work that has gone into it over the past year.
Ultimately, of course, the perceived success or failure of Rise Glorious among the citizens of Big Orange Nation will hinge on whether the Vols win on the fields and courts of the Southeastern Conference. And if those coaches and athletes were to run out, those fans would be only too happy to say what they think.
It should also be noted that Maguire’s mission statement led to his dismissal.
But some of that statement bears repeating to both those in the UT athletic department and those who support the Big Orange nationwide.
“Our work actually has an effect on people,” Maguire wrote. “In a cynical world, we make people happy. We let them know that an athlete can make a difference.”
And, if White’s “Rise Glorious” succeeds, an athletic department.
Contact Mark Wiedmer at firstname.lastname@example.org.