Tennessee coach Tony Vitello addresses his team (Aaron Fitt)


Fall Report: Tennessee

Fall Report

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tony Vitello detected a heightened level of energy and focus from his players as he walked down from his office for the start of Tennessee’s fall world series opener last week. For six innings, both teams played with the energy and focus he wanted, as the team’s top two arms battled to a crisp scoreless draw through five innings. Then the orange team put up a five-spot in the seventh to take a 6-0 lead, and Vitello sensed the white team getting deflated.

“The tune kind of changed out of their dugout after the five-spot went up, which is what happens in most cases, but we’re not looking to be the average team,” Vitello said. “That’s one more issue that we talked about out in center field and brought to their attention, but that’s not an easy fix deal. That’s something that’s gotta be talked about consistently and worked at.”

Rebuilding a winning, competitive and confident culture is one of Vitello’s primary objectives during his first fall as Tennessee’s head coach, and it doesn’t happen overnight. Remarkably, Tennessee hasn’t been to a regional since its 2005 College World Series run. Vitello’s predecessor, Dave Serrano, had taken two different programs to Omaha as head coach at UC Irvine and Cal State Fullerton, but he couldn’t quite get the Vols over the hump in his six years in Knoxville, posting a 157-163 record in those years. Procuring high-end talent is half the battle; getting players to believe is the other half. But even then, it’s not easy to make headway in the rugged SEC. Serrano made progress, and now Vitello believes he can build upon that work and get this program back to being a regular contender, for the first time in a long time.

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