Author Archives: Dustin Dopirak

About Dustin Dopirak

Dustin Dopirak has been covering Tennessee football since August of 2014. Prior to that he spent five years covering Indiana basketball, football and baseball at the Bloomington (Ind.) Herald-Times. Before arriving at Indiana, he covered James Madison basketball among other beats at the Daily News-Record in Harrisonburg, Va., from 2004-09. He graduated from Penn State in 2004 after serving as sports editor and covering football and men’s basketball among other sports at the Daily Collegian. He grew up in North Huntingdon, Pa., a suburb of Pittsburgh, graduating from Norwin High School in 2000.

Dave Serrano on returning for 2017

Dave Serrano met with the media on Thursday after Dave Hart announced that Serrano would be retained for the 2017 season. A transcript of Serrano’s comments follows.

SERRANO: It goes without saying, today is a great day. I’m very grateful. There’s times in your life that you feel good when people trust in you, they believe in you, they listen to you, they understand what you’re trying to do. Dave and I have had two very lengthy and very informative,  with much dialogue, meetings in the past week. I was able to admit some mistakes that I think I’ve made over the five years and how I can resolve them. Him putting his faith into me and how he feels as a baseball coach that I am. More importantly what made me feel good is his comments about me as a person and how I’ve led this program. No, we haven’t won enough that satisfies me for sure, but the direction that I’m trying to take this program and how I’m trying to lead these young men, the winning is going to happen and I’m very confident about that. I’m happy for obviously my self and my family. I’m happy for my coaches and my staff and their families, and our players. Our players, they were on pins and needles after the last out as much all of us. Not sure exactly what direction everything was going to go. Since Dave went on, my phone has blown up with numerous texts from players that I’m very grateful for. Because the one thing I’ll say, for anyone that watched the Georgia games or watched the LSU game, those guys never quit. They never quit. They played their tails off and I’m very proud of them for that. If that’s a small part of me being retained with the confidence from Dave Hart, then I’m very appreciative of our players on how they handled that situation. Continue reading

Dave Hart on his decision to retain Dave Serrano

The transcript from Dave Hart’s press conference on Thursday announcing the retention of Dave Serrano as UT baseball coach. His comments on other sports and issues are omitted

HART: Obviously today, I want to center this discussion on our baseball program and specifically address the status of our head baseball coach. Dave Serrano will head into his sixth season this coming year as the head baseball coach at the University of Tennessee. I met with Dave before the team departed for Georgia. We spent about an hour and a half together not talking any about the ultimate decision but rather just talking about where we were as a program, where we wanted to go as a program, how the season had unfolded, etc., again, no discussion at all relative to whether Dave would be back for that sixth season, which I just told you, he will be. You will hear from Dave when we are finished with this segment of the media availability.

Very simply stated, I still believe in Dave Serrano. I still think there is hope for us to turn the corner with our baseball program. This struggle was not confined to the Dave Serrano era as you know full well. We have struggled to get baseball where we all want it for many years, about a dozen years. I’m not happy. Dave Serrano is not happy with the results after Year Five, and we had that conversation again this morning. But I’ve observed and I’ve had the opportunity to observe up close and personal as we’ve gone through what was the fifth and final season in Dave’s existing contract. Never once did I see Dave Serrano cut a corner. That deserves some thought on your part because human nature might dictate that is what people would gravitate to. He did not. I never saw our team quit. Those are signs that the hope might be gone, but those signs never reared their heads. We had deficiencies. Many of you are baseball people. You know what they are, we all know what they were. But our team continued to battle right to the end of the season. I told Dave in that hour and a half discussion prior to the team departing for the Georgia series, because he asked me, that making the SEC tournament would be a non-factor in the decision. Making the SEC tournament when 12 of 14 teams go to the tournament is not what we aspire to. It’s not what Dave aspires to. It’s not what the players or our fans aspire to. Our goals are to be in the NCAA regional, to find a path in the regional that would lead us to Omaha. Those are our goals, and we haven’t even approached those goals for many, many years. Continue reading

LSU ends Tennessee’s season with walk-off win in Hoover

WHAT HAPPENED: LSU junior shortstop lined a bases-loaded single down the left field line to give the Tigers a 5-4 walk-off win over Tennessee in a game the Vols had led 4-0 Tuesday night in the first round of the SEC tournament in Hoover, Ala.

The No. 12 seed Vols ended their season with a 29-28 record. The No. 5 seed Tigers improved to 40-17 and advance to play No. 4 seed Florida in the double-elimination phase of the tournament Wednesday night.  Continue reading

The Larry Simcox effect: The difference between Tennessee’s 2015 and 2016 offenses at regular-season’s end

The fate of the Tennessee baseball coaching staff is very much up in the air as the Vols head into the SEC tournament beginning Tuesday. Coach Dave Serrano is in the fifth and final year of his contract, and has never had a team place better than 11th in the 14-team conference. Serrano would need a contract extension to still be coaching the team in the 2017 season, and athletic director Dave Hart has given no indication whatsoever of his plans.

But if there is an argument that Serrano can make as to why he should be retained, it’s that he learned from his initial mistake –trying to play West Coast baseball in the SEC — and that his difficult decision to change course before this season made an impact. Though the Vols still finished 9-21 in the SEC, there was a clear difference in offensive production from last season with Greg Bergeron working as hitting coach and Larry Simcox at the helm of the offense this season.

Bergeron played for Serrano at Cerritos College, then worked as his hitting coach at UC Irvine and Cal State Fullerton. West Coast baseball tends to employ the bunt, steal and other small-ball tactics more than the Southeast, and Bergeron’s “Pressure Offense” was more effective than just about any other team employing the strategy. Fullerton and Irvine’s pitching staffs were also tremendous, and the strategy led to two turns in the College World Series.

But it never quite came together for Bergeron working for the Vols in the SEC, a league that tends to swing away. Last season with one first-round pick In Christin Stewart, a first-round pick-to-be in Nick Senzel and two other top-15 round picks in Andrew Lee and A.J. Simcox in the lineup, the Vols finished last in the SEC and 244th nationally in runs with 229.

Serrano and Bergeron parted ways last offseason and Serrano went with Larry Simcox, father of A.J., long-time Tennessee assistant under Rod Delmonico and coach at the Diamond Baseball School in the Farragut area. It was evident at the beginning of the season that his change in style made a difference, and remains evident with the regular season over comparing the Vols’ 2015 stats and conference/national rankings with their 2016 figures. 

The Vols finished last season 11th in the SEC and 212th nationally with a batting average of .263. That figure is up to .289 this season, which ranks sixth in the SEC and 73rd nationally. The Vols were last in the SEC with 229 runs, 4.6 per game. The total was 244th nationally and the average was 236th. The Vols finished this regular season with 343 runs (seventh in the SEC, 63rd in Division I), an average of 6.1 per game (eighth in the SEC, 85th in Division I).

The Vols made the scoring leap despite hitting significantly fewer home runs. With Stewart and Lee combining for 24, Tennessee finished with 35 home runs in 2015. In 2016, they hit 21 total with Nick Senzel and Vincent Jackson hitting eight each, Jordan Rodgers hitting four, and Benito Santiago hitting the other — an inside-the-park home run that came about because the right fielder ran into the wall on the play and did not get back up until it was over. The Vols were actually 95th nationally in home runs last season and fell to 212th this year.

The Vols made up for the dip in raw middle-of-the-order power with more hits and in particular, more doubles. In 2015, Tennessee was last in the SEC and 247th nationally with 424 hits, 13th in the SEC and 270th nationally with 66 doubles. This season, they increased their hits by more than 100, finishing with 548 to rank fifth in the SEC and 55th nationally. They nearly doubled their doubles total, finishing with 110 to rank second in the SEC and 39th in Division I.

The increase in hits and gap-to-gap power came in part to the de-emphasizing of the sacrifice bunt. In 2015, Tennessee led the SEC with 53 sacrifice bunts, which ranked 31st nationally. In 2016, they were 10th in the conference in the category and 237th nationally with 22 bunts.

But while bunting less, they actually stole more. The Vols were ninth in the SEC with 57 stolen bases in 2015, but led the SEC and finished 18th nationally in 2016 with 89 stolen bases. Their on-base percentage jumped 20 points from .354 to .374, so there were more players on the bases to steal.

The added production only made so much of a difference in the win-loss column, in large part because Tennessee was significantly less successful in SEC games than non-league play, hitting .261 and averaging 4.5 runs per game against conference opponents while posting a 5.11 team earned run average in those games. Still, the first year of Larry Simcox’s return provides a decent template for what the Vols will need to do to be successful on offense in the future, whether they’re coached by Serrano or someone else.

Vols pound East Tennessee State 11-2 in home finale

WHAT HAPPENED: Tennessee scored four runs in the fourth inning and six in the sixth to blow out East Tennessee State 11-2 in front of 1,590 at Lindsey Nelson Stadium in the Vols’ final home game of the 2016 season.

Tennessee improved to 27-26. The Bucs fell to 23-28.

The Vols got on the board in the third with an RBI single by senior Vincent Jackson, then made it 2-0 in the fourth on a sacrifice fly by junior Max Bartlett.

With two outs in the inning and catcher Tyler Schultz on third, senior Chris Hall it a grounder to the right side that appeared ready to end the inning. However, Hall sprinted down the line, ETSU first baseman Kevin Phillips drifted toward second base to try to field the ball off the bat and didn’t get back to the bag when he received the throw. Schultz scored on the infield single to make it 3-0.  Continue reading

ETSU at Tennessee

Top 9th: Quint Robinson gave up two singles to start the ninth, but Christian Bailey grounded into a 6-4-3 double play and Jammer Strickland flew out to center to end it. Tennessee

Bottom 8th: Derek Lance singled to finish today 3-for-4 with two runs and an RBI, but Matt Waldren grounded to short to end the inning. 11-2.

Top 8th: Jeremy Taylor singled to start the eighth, moved to third on a double by Trey York and eventually scored on a single by pinch-hitter Danny Carrier. York over ran second base on the double and was thrown out. Tennessee leads 11-2.;

Bottom 7th: Brodie Leftridge reached on an error, but the UT side was otherwise retired in order. Tennessee leads 11-1.

Top 7th: Daniel Vasquez retired the ETSU side in order. Tennessee leads 11-1.

Bottom 6th: Max Bartlett reached on an error at first base to start the fifth, then scored when Brodie Leftridge flew a triple off the right field fence. Chris Hall grounded a single up the middle to score Leftridge. Nick Senzel followed with a single, and Vincent Jackson’s fly to left sent Hall to third. Benito Santiago drew a walk, then Derek Lance singled up the middle to bring in Hall, then Tyler Schultz singled in Senzel and Santiago. Bret Langhorne later singled to bring in Lance to make it 11-1 UT.

Top 6th: Hagen Owenby led off with a single, but UT retired the rest of the ETSU batters. 5-1 UT.

Bottom 5th: The Vols went down in order with two strikeouts. 5-1 UT.

Top 5th: ETSU’s Christian Bailey was hit by a pitch, moved to second on a single by Jammer Strickland, went to third on a sacrifice bunt and scored on a wild pitch. 5-1 UT.

Bottom 4th: Tennessee batted around and scored four runs in the fourth. Derek Lance led off with a single, moved to second on a balk, took third on a single by Tyler Schultz and scored on a sacrifice fly by Max Bartlett. Schultz moved to second on a bunt, then to third on a single to left by Brodie Leftridge and scored when Chris Hall beat out a ground ball to second base. Nick Senzel followed Hall’s hustle with a double into the right field corner to score Leftridge and Hall to make it 5-0 UT.

Top 4th: Alex Harper Cook allowed a baserunner to reach on an error but retired the next three to get out of the fourth. 1-0 UT.

Bottom 3rd: Chris Hall and Nick Senzel drew two-out walks, and left fielder Vincent Jackson lined to left to bring Hall home to make it 1-0 UT.

Top 3rd: Alex Harper Cook walked ETSU’s Tyler York, but picked him off to end the third. Scoreless.

Bottom 2nd: Benito Santiago reached on an error, but Ryan Simpler retired the next three hitters he faced to get through the second. Scoreless.

Top 2nd: Kevin Phillips singled up the middle and Blake Rowlett drew a walk, but Steven Kane retired the next three hitters to get out of the second unscathed. Scoreless.

Bottom 1st: Brodie Leftridge and Chris Hall reached with back-to-back singles to start the first, but Nick Senzel grounded into a 4-6-3 double play and Vincent Jackson lined out to center to end the inning. Scoreless after one.

Top 1st: ETSU catcher Hagen Owenby singled up the middle after two excellent defensive plays in right by UT’s Chris Hall. Scoreless after a half.  Continue reading

Thomas makes Rimington Award Watch List

Tennessee junior center Coleman Thomas was named to the Rimington Award Spring Watch List for the nation’s top center. Full release follows:

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -– Tennessee junior Coleman Thomas has been named to the 2016 Spring Watch List for the Rimington Trophy, as announced by the Rimington Trophy Committee on Tuesday.

The 2016 Rimington Trophy Spring Watch List includes top centers in Division I football. In order to create this list, the committee accepted nominations from programs across the country that submitted their current starting centers for consideration.

Thomas made 12 of his 13 starts in 2015 at center, helping to pave the way for a Vols offense that averaged 422.3 yards per game and 223.7 yards rushing (second in SEC) per game. Tennessee had 200-plus rushing yards in nine games and 500-plus yards of offense in three games. UT capped an incredible season on the ground, rushing for the second-most yards in program history (2,908). Only the 1951 National Champion Vols rushed for more yards (3,068) in a single season.

While more than a dozen All-America teams are selected annually, the Rimington Trophy committee used these three prestigious teams to determine a winner:

– Walter Camp Foundation (WCF)
– Sporting News (SN)
– Football Writers Association of America (FWAA)

Because the selectors of these three All-America teams can place centers in a “mix” of offensive linemen that includes guards and tackles, their 11- man first teams can often have two centers. The Rimington Trophy committee’s policy is to count all players that play primarily the center position for their respective teams as centers, even though they may be listed as guards or tackles on the All-America teams.

The center with the most first team votes will be determined the winner. If there is a tie with first team votes, then the center with the most second team votes will win. If there is still a tie, the winner will be determined by a majority vote from the Rimington Trophy committee. The winner will be recognized at the Rimington Trophy Presentation at the Rococo Theatre in Lincoln, Nebraska on Saturday, Jan. 14, 2017.

About the Rimington Trophy

The Rimington Trophy is presented annually to the Most Outstanding Center in NCAA Division I-A College Football. Since its inception, the Rimington Trophy has raised over $2.6 million for the cystic fibrosis community. The award is overseen by the Boomer Esiason Foundation, which is committed to finding a cure for cystic fibrosis and has raised over $120 million for the fight against cystic fibrosis.

Dave Rimington, the award’s namesake, was a consensus first-team All-America center at the University of Nebraska in 1981 and 1982, during which time he became the John Outland Trophy’s only double winner as the nation’s finest college interior lineman.

For more on the Rimington Trophy and a list of past recipients, visit

About the NCFAA

The Rimington Trophy is a member of the National College Football Awards Association (NCFAA), which encompasses the most prestigious awards in college football. Visit to learn more about its story.

Continue reading

Feldman, Athlon put Vols in Top 10

Preseason college football publications are about to hit the shelves, and early indications are that Tennessee will have a prominent spot in the projected Top 25s of those publications.

Athlon released its Top 25 yesterday, putting the Vols at No. 7 overall. 

Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports has the Vols at No. 8. His explanation follows.

The Vols enter 2016 with a lot of momentum. They won seven of their last eight including a 45-6 thrashing of Northwestern in the Outback Bowl, and that one defeat was a close one in Tuscaloosa. I know there’s still a lot of skepticism of this program. Here’s why I’m buying a top-10 year and an SEC East title.

— Josh Dobbs is an experienced, good quarterback who can beat teams with his feet;

— They have an excellent 1-2 running back punch in Jalen Hurd and Alvin Kamara to go with an improving O-line and some big, athletic receivers;

— On defense, they have talent at all three levels with sophomore middle linebacker Darrin Kirkland, a budding star and leaders in defensive end Derek Barnett, linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin and cornerback Cam Sutton;

— Better still, new defensive coordinator Bob Shoop is as good as there is, and he knows the SEC pretty well from his time at Vandy.

The non-conference slate is interesting: Tennessee gets an underrated Appalachian State team in the opener and then Virginia Tech at Bristol. I think the Vols will handle those, but we’ll find out much more about them in a four-week stretch: against Florida, at Georgia, at Texas A&M and then against Alabama. I think they split those four. If they win three out of the four, they’ll still be in the national title race. To me, this is a very good team, that could have a great year if Dobbs can take the next step as a passer and if the D-line blossoms around Barnett.

LSU uses four-run eighth to beat Vols 10-7, complete sweep

WHAT HAPPENED: Sophomore Greg Deichmann singled in a run and freshman Antoine Duplantis hit a three-run home run in a four-run eighth inning that led LSU to a 10-7 win over Tennessee in front of 2,393 at Lindsey Nelson Stadium on Sunday.

The No. 13 Tigers completed the three-game sweep to improve to 36-16, 17-10 in the SEC. The Vols fell to 26-26 and 7-20 in the SEC, staying in a tie for last place in the conference with Arkansas

LSU took a 3-0 lead in the second on a two-run triple by junior Cole Freeman and an RBI single by Duplantis. The Vols answered in the bottom half of the winning with an RBI single by junior Max Bartlett and an RBI groundout by senior Derek Lance to make it 3-2.

The Tigers expanded the lead in the third with an RBI single by sophomore Bryce Jordan that made it 4-2. In the sixth, Jordan crushed a solo home run over the left field wall and Deichmann drove in a run with an RBI triple off the center field wall to make it 6-2.  Continue reading

Serrano: “I’m confident I’m gonna get it right, but it’s not in my hands.”

Dave Serrano is in his final season of his five-year contract as Tennessee baseball coach, and his status for next season is uncertain. The Vols’ sweep at the hands of LSU on Sunday keeps them in last place in the SEC at 26-26 overall, 7-20 in the SEC, so that doesn’t help his cause.

He was asked Sunday if he has concerns that he has coached his final SEC series at Lindsey Nelson Stadium. His full response follows.

“I’m confident in what I am as a coach. I have a track record to speak for. I have not succeeded here as fast as I wanted to succeed. I have a lot of pride in wearing this uniform every day. I have a lot of pride in what I feel myself and my coaching staff have been able to do. I think this program, even though it hasn’t won at the highest level, it’s looked upon as with class and dignity now. What we’re doing off the field with our guys and graduation, hearing the senior celebration today and hearing some of the accolades that those young men have accomplished in their four years, some of them less than that. My relationship with Dave Hart, Dave has been very supportive of me. We’ll do what we always do at the end of the year. My hope is that I continue to run this program. I’m gonna get it right. I’m confident I’m gonna get it right, but it’s not in my hands. The support not just from Dave Hart but all of the administration has been fabulous. They want us to win. They want us to be successful. But again, it’s out of my hands now. I’m not living day to day in regards to whether my job is secure or not. Like I said, I’m pretty confident in my ability, I’ve done it before and I’ll do it again. I’m hoping it’s at the University of Tennessee because that’s why I came back here. I want to make this place a winner. That’s a goal that I want to complete eventually in my career.”