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Tennessee baseball coach Tony Vitello defends Vols; calls out recruits

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While the internet was abound of rumors that Tony Vitello’s tenure at Tennessee could be coming to a close, the Vols’ beloved coach simply managed his team to a College World Series berth. Then, he seemed orange through and through during his press conference on Sunday.

Attendees of the media event quickly realized that Vitello had some things to say when he took the microphone following the Vols’ 12-1 victory over Evansville.

“So you guys made the mistake of giving me the mic,” Vitello joked, likely unaware that Texas fans were pining online for Vitello to be their next coach. However, it wasn’t coaching rumors that got Vitello going.

The Tennessee coach began with a message for any prospects looking for a quick NIL payday as the Vols hosted a handful of visitors for the Super Regional weekend, which was held in Lindsey Nelson Stadium.

“Anybody that’s thinking about visiting our place that we’re recruiting and you think this is a place you can come and have your hand out and see how much money we can give you, don’t waste our time and don’t waste your time either,” Vitello said in a matter-of-fact tone. 

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That certainly doesn’t sound like a coach looking to make a move. That sounds like a coach that takes pride in his program. The pride soapbox continued when Vitello addressed whether or not the Vols’ season would have been a disaster had they lost the weekend series. 

“Blake Burke wasn’t too happy about it,” Vitello said concerning the sentiment that the Vols’ season would have been a failure had the Vols lost to the Purple Aces. “Blake Burke’s got a lot invested in this particular program.

Vitello was quick to point out that the Vols have not been ranked No. 1 all year as had been asserted by some in the media, that Tennessee had to scrap and fight to become a true national championship contender and SEC regular season champions.

“That’s an incorrect statement,” Vitello said of anyone claiming that the Vols have been No. 1 in the nation all season. “It’s not a fact. I don’t know who was No. 1 (in) preseason because I don’t look at it. It’s a very difficult sport to predict what’s going to happen. Nobody predicted Evansville to be here, but they were.”

While there’s no reason to believe Vitello is looking elsewhere, there’s reason for Tennessee athletic director Danny White to be at the ready. If someone makes a run at Vitello, White had better have a quick retort in hand. In many ways, Vitello and the Vols’ baseball program embody what White does so well, which is raise money and build facilities, such as the renovations to Lindsey Nelson Stadium. Vitello certainly takes pride in what he and Tennessee have built to this point, but he could certainly do the same thing elsewhere.

“I work for people here, but I’m my own boss when I come here,” Vitello said. “And for me, success is part group. When our group has success – I consider myself a teammate – to these guys, it means I had a level of success.”

As Vitello continues to have success, it would be wise to keep him on the team in orange.

Tennessee will always be a football-first school, but there’s no reason the Vols can’t have an all-around, successful athletic department and baseball should be a big part of that. College baseball may still be a niche sport, but it’s growing quickly and, with some minor changes, could be on the verge of a popularity explosion. In fact, one could argue that Tennessee baseball is the second-most popular sport on campus now that college basketball is mostly a tournament sport.

As great as White’s tenure has been at Tennessee, he simply cannot lose Vitello and expect to avoid some strong backlash. Vitello is the most popular coach at Tennessee since former Lady Vol coach Pat Summitt. 

Would it have been a failure had the Vols lost to Evansville? I’ll let Vitello have his say on that. However, if Tennessee loses Vitello to another school, that would be one massive personnel failure that would be much more difficult to explain than a Super Regional loss.

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