ETSU’s Inferiority Complex to the University of Tennessee

Marky Billson, Host of Tri-Cities Sports NOW

Two years ago when ETSU hosted Tennessee I became appalled at how many local sports fans started referring to the Bucs as “Little Brother.”

Yes, ETSU is in the Southern Conference and Tennessee is in the Southeast. But there is a feeling of inferiority that comes to the entire metropolitan area when one uses that moniker and it’s unhealthy.

I mention this because Billy Williford of allfortennessee.com wrote a piece, that I talked about with Caleb Calhoun yesterday on Tri-Cities Sports NOW, about ETSU head men’s basketball coach Steve Forbes becoming the Vols’ hoops coach in waiting.

The ETSU inferiority complex strikes again.

My belief is Forbes is going to be the ETSU head coach for some time. It’s not that he’s not good enough to coach in a major conference, but the numbers’ game is working against him.

The reaction ETSU basketball coach Steve Forbes gave the UTEP Miners when they came calling for his services last March.

He’s 53 years old. A young 53 but 53 nevertheless. Throw in the show cause penalty he rightly or wrongly had to take on for being a former assistant under Bruce Pearl and a $650,000 annual salary that will keep all the other mid-majors away and I think the odds are better that he’ll stay at ETSU for the long haul rather than leave.

But there’s the mentality that somehow ETSU is a farm club of sorts for Tennessee. It probably is all the more enhanced that Forbes as well as ETSU football coach Randy Sanders and athletic director Scott Carter all cut their teeth as assistants of sorts in Knoxville, but still, it’s a damning mindset: “Why would anyone want to coach at ETSU when they could coach at Tennessee if they could coach at Tennessee?”

More money and exposure? Sure. But isn’t there also an inferiority complex that extends beyond 23 more football scholarships and at large berths to the NCAA Tournament?

Sort of a “Knoxville is better than the Tri-Cities” mentality, let alone a “my degree is better than yours.”

Really? Who has the racetrack? Who won two of the three baseball games the two universities played last season? What metropolitan area has more wide open spaces and is easier to get around in?

ETSU fans put a bit of this on themselves. There is a gauge of success Buccaneers fans give their coaches if and when they are pursued by other schools. And a majority of ETSU fans just accept Tennessee to be the more glamorous program and pull for the Vols as well.

Perhaps, then, ETSU will never really arrive until that mentality is stopped and the Bucs can defeat major opponents with a degree of regularity.

A pipe dream? There’s that inferiority complex again.

For whatever it is worth, the ETSU men’s basketball program has knocked off seven Atlantic Coast Conference opponents in their history.

What if ETSU beats Tennessee in football on September 8? Is it beyond the realm of possibility? The Vols are coming off their worst season in more than 100 years and are a major rebuilding project for new head coach Jeremy Pruitt.

The Vols could take their perceived “farm club” lightly. Trying to find the best players following a blowout defeat to West Virginia, Pruitt uses the ETSU game to put in freshmen early with the new rules allowing him to do without fear of losing their eligibility.

But these freshmen make mistakes. The new offense and defense packages clunk along. Keller Chryst proves to be more of a 55 percent passer than an ex-Stanford starting quarterback, Jared Guarantano continues to think run first and pass second when he takes the snaps, and, turned to in desperation, Will McBride plays like he did against Missouri.

Meanwhile ETSU signal caller Austin Herick finds the bright lights to his liking. He finds the Tennessee defense to give him room underneath and consistently keeps possession of the ball with a short passing game. Tyree Robinson intercepts a Hail Mary pass at the end of the first half and runs it back for a touchdown. J.J. Jerman kicks a 50-yard field goal as time expires. Final score: ETSU 17, Tennessee 14.

How fast would the collective mindset of east Tennessee, from Knoxville to Bristol, be “Vols shoulda hired Randy Sanders instead of Jeremy Pruitt?”

How fast would Tennessee athletic director Phil Fulmer hire Sanders, his former assistant, to replace Pruitt?

Even in victory, the ETSU inferiority complex would strike again.

A former member of the Buccaneer Football Foundation and Friends that helped revive ETSU football, Marky Billson also hosts Tri-Cities Sports NOW 12–2 p.m. ET weekdays on 1420 NBC Sports Radio Tri-Cities. His show can be seen live and archived here and here.

Innovative sports media personality.