In his first season at Alabama, for example, Nick Saban beat Tennessee 41-17. That followed up Saban's dismantling of Alabama, Tennessee, and Ole Miss in his first season at LSU, when he took the Bayou Bengals from 3-8 to 8-4. Urban Meyer beat all three of Florida's fiercest rivals, Florida State, Georgia, and Tennessee, in his first year in Gainesville. Georgia's Mark Richt beat Tennessee in Knoxville, the famous hobnailed boot game that convinced Bulldog fans that better days were at last ahead. And there was Les Miles at LSU, beating Auburn, Alabama, and Ole Miss in his first season.
On Saturday Lane Kiffin and Tennessee gave Georgia a 45-19 woodshed beating that wasn't as close as the final score indicated. Time will tell whether Kiffin will ever hoist SEC Championship hardware like the other coaches listed above, but for the time being Kiffin got his own signature victory in front of a delirious Vol crowd that wants desperately to believe there are many more victories to come.
Kiffin's victory came in no small part because Jonathan Crompton played the game of his career, leading me to wonder whether I ought to call for Crompton's benching every week. For one week, at least, crow has never tasted better. Coming into Saturday's game, the best performance of Crompton's SEC career came in the final game of the disastrous 2008 season. In that awful, rainy game against Kentucky, Crompton went 6-of-8 for 101 yards. That was the only SEC start he'd ever completed a pass in and won. (In one of the truly odd stats of football, Crompton won the game against Vanderbilt last year despite attempting only one pass, an interception.) Against Georgia Crompton finished 20-of-27 for 310 yards, four touchdowns, and an average of 11.48 yards per completion.
The conclusion? If Crompton could play against a Willie Martinez defense every week, he'd win the Heisman Trophy.
Here are 12 observations from Saturday's game.
1. Mark Richt is Phil Fulmer in 2005
Only Richt has never won a national championship. He has the two SEC titles, the extremely successful start to his career, but he has also has the albatross of losing to a rival that hangs around his neck and infuriates the fan base.
What's more, as I've been saying for over a year, Willie Martinez is Richt's Randy Sanders.
In 2005, Fulmer was forced to replace Randy Sanders at offensive coordinator. He rebounded for two solid years, but eventually slipped when he hired Dave Clawson and suffered another losing season.
Eight years ago, in 2001, Mark Richt jogged onto the field at Neyland Stadium and beat a favored Tennessee team on a last-second touchdown. Georgia fans were ecstatic, convinced they'd found the man who would finally take them to the promised land. Every year since then, Richt has won more than eight games. This year, he's not going to win eight. And in that eight-year stretch, you can etch the coaching trajectory of a meteor coming to earth. Georgia fans are restless, their championship has not yet arrived and probably seems as far away today as it ever has been.
What's more, all four of their big rivals, Florida, Auburn, Georgia Tech, and Tennessee have hired new coaches since 2005, the last year Richt won an SEC title.
After this year, Richt is going to be forced to toss Martinez to the fans to keep his job. Either that or he's going to pursue a job somewhere else. I think Georgia and Richt are a couple headed for a divorce. I don't think anything's fundamentally wrong with either side, but I think it's becoming increasingly clear that they're both tired of one another.
And the end ain't going to be pretty.
2. Georgia's defensive coordinator Martinez is good for what ails your offense
I've been critical of Tennessee's coaching staff, but watching them go against Martinez and Georgia's defense was as big of a mismatch as tossing an SEC player Othello and having him read aloud.
Despite constant movement and changes of formations by Tennessee's offense, Georgia's defense never left its base formation. I didn't watch them constantly, but I don't remember seeing their defense make an audible adjustment all day. Clearly, that's because Martinez doesn't trust his guys to get into a better formation than the one he sends in from the sideline before he even sees the offense line up. Martinez is so gun shy he'd rather get beaten on every single snap than embarrassed on a couple.
How ominous is that if you're a Georgia fan?
Not as ominous as letting this year's Tennessee offense hang 45 on you. Tennessee took its foot off the pedal midway through the fourth or they might have scored more. Putting that into perspective, in 2008, Tennessee scored a total of 47 points against Florida, Auburn, Alabama, and South Carolina. So far this year, they'd scored 35 total points against Florida and Auburn.
The offense put up 45 on Georgia.
3. Georgia fans will be seeing the naked bootleg in its dreams
I understand that you might fall for the naked bootleg once or twice. But on consecutive plays? Constantly throughout the game? Is Tennessee's rushing attack really so dominant that you've got to bite on this every single time? Crompton didn't have just one open receiver on every play, he often had two or three. What were the defenders doing?
Give Tennessee credit for continually getting Crompton outside the pocket and limiting the field so he could make easier reads. But, man, how can Georgia not defend the same play on consecutive attempts? And how did they look so clueless even after halftime?
They made Crompton look like a cross between Jesus and Joe Montana.
I'm fairly certain he's actually neither.
4. Tennessee's point totals against Georgia in three of the past four years: 51, 35, and 45.
Their margins of victory in those years: 18, 21, and 26.
And this year was the worst beating of all, even worse than 2007 which up to this point had been the best beating Tennessee has put on a rival since Mike Shula was still patrolling the sideline for the Crimson Tide.
5. During halftime, the Georgia band spelled out Georgia. The Dawg fan sitting next to me said, "We all know how to spell Georgia. How about they spell defense instead?"
The mournful tone of his voice was the best part, I recognized it as the same tone Tennessee fans have been using to describe our offense for the past two years.
6. With Tennessee's defensive talent, Monte Kiffin is going to dominate pro-style offenses
Lost amid the shuffle of the past several games was the fact that Tennessee played three consecutive spread offenses: Florida, Ohio, and Auburn. You got the sense watching this game that Monte Kiffin was rubbing his hands all week and grinning at his good fortune to draw an offense that he'd been going up against for decades in the NFL.
How dominant was Tennessee defensively? Georgia's only points came on a 52-yard field goal. Otherwise Georgia scored on a kick return, an interception return, and a blocked punt. In fact, Georgia didn't even get inside Tennessee's 30-yard line all game. I don't know that I've ever seen a game where that didn't happen before. Have you?
Lane Kiffin said after the game that Monte used a similar gameplan to neutralize A.J. Green that the Tampa Bay Bucs had successfully used against the Carolina Panthers' Steve Smith.
Is that even fair?
Meanwhile, not to be outdone, Willie Martinez said that his defensive gameplan was the same one that the Marietta Middle School Rebels trotted out to stop the highly talented Jamie Smith of the Duluth Panthers.
7. Did anyone else notice when A.J. Green lined up in the slot and Eric Berry lined up across from him?
I elbowed my friend and said, "That's $40 million in guaranteed money within that tiny circle."
If you're an NFL fan you want both of these guys on your team.
At least Georgia fans know that Green can't leave after this year. He's a true stud. But how unfair is it that he has to stay in college when he'd be a top 10 pick if he left? Anyway, credit to Georgia on offense and to A.J. Green for being capable of playing every wide receiver position on the field. Georgia lined him up in every wideout position during the game. The Bulldogs didn't have great success with him, but they kept Tennessee from using the same defensive formation to neutralize him throughout.
8. For at least one game, Crompton was special
Give credit where credit is due, this is the kind of game that Tennessee fans have been expecting of Crompton for five years -- ever since he signed as one of the most heralded quarterback recruits in the nation.
Most impressive plays of the entire game? Crompton's return to the field after he threw an interception that sliced Tennessee's lead to 24-19. In past games one bad play led to several. I'd be lying if I said I didn't cringe when Crompton dropped back for his next pass. But Crompton completed his next four on the following drive, including two third down conversions.
Tennessee scored on a 39-yard run from Montario Hardesty, but Crompton bounced back from the interception and put them in position to score the final 21 points of the game after Georgia cut the lead to 24-19.
My only quibble with the quarterbacking today? I thought Kiffin should have brought Crompton in for one of the final series, allowed him to hand off, and then brought him out of the game so he could receive a justified round of applause.
9. The only flaw all day? Tennessee jumped the gun on announcing Eric Berry breaking the NCAA interception return yardage record
Berry actually returned a fumble instead of picking off a pass. As usual it was a breathtaking return that brought the crowd to fits of pandemonium, but it wasn't a new record.
Not yet, anyway.
10. It's a shame Georgia can't use its special teams more frequently
I'm halfway expecting for Martinez to debut the punt coverage defensive formation for Vanderbilt's opening snap next week.
In typical Georgia fashion, they scored on a touchdown and a blocked punt. And they drilled a 52-yarder that would have been good from 60.
Also, Willie Martinez might want to point out that his defense scored more points than Georgia's offense on Saturday.
11. Josh McNeil played center for Tennessee today late in the fourth quarter
If you haven't read this story, read it now. Josh McNeil is a warrior. I don't know if anyone mentioned him being on the field, but it deserves to be noted.
12. Tennessee doused Lane Kiffin in Gatorade.
Papa Smirk looked upset that his team dunked him. I think he expected to win this game and didn't think the dousing was necessary. As he and Richt met at midfield to shake hands, beneath the gray skies of an autumn afternoon, the moment had the feel of two programs passing one another. I'm not sure where Kiffin is headed, but he's got his signature win in 2009. As for Richt, in 2001, he brought a hobnailed boot with him to Neyland Stadium. In 2009, he brought Willie Martinez.
And that made all the difference.