On December 20, 2012, I was sitting in Downtown Grille and Brewery with a group of my friends when the ticker on "SportsCenter" announced that Tyler Bray was going to forgo his senior season and enter the NFL draft.
Of the five people at the table, I was the only one who wasn't upset by the news. Two of my friends promised that Tennessee wouldn't make a bowl for the rest of the decade, while the other pair started haggling over how many wins the Vols would be able to scrape out of next year's schedule without the lanky 6-foot-6 gunslinger (they ended up settling on four).
As my friends were beginning to mourn the prophetic demise of the Vols, I couldn't help but be neutral. I, unlike many Vol fans, will not miss Tyler Bray.
For starters, head coach Butch Jones does not run a Tyler Bray-friendly system. Whereas Bray spent his career under center or in the shotgun, never straying far from the tackle box, Jones asked his previous two quarterbacks, Zach Collaros and Munchie Legaux, to run a spread-option system based off of short reads and their feet. Collaros and Legaux were truly duel-threat quarterbacks who could make plays on the run. Bray, on the other hand, has been known to be outstripped by passing butterflies in wind sprints at practice.
When people talk about Bray, they only seem to wax poetically about his positives. He has Peyton Manning's height, Brett Favre's arm and the passing statistics to back-up the first round draft grade many analysts gave him before the season. For those people, it's hard to argue with what they see. Bray does have the prototypical size and a rocket arm, and he also threw for over 7,000 yards and nearly 60 touchdowns. But to look solely at his positives doesn't tell the whole story.
When you look at Tyler Bray, from the head down, he seems to be everything anyone could want in a quarterback. But ultimately, for me, what Bray lacks will forever outweigh what he has. His numbers are great, but ultimately, what will forever define him is the number 13-11. That's Bray's win-loss record as Tennessee's starting quarterback. His three years will be defined by that 0.542 winning percentage, which includes a 0-1 record in bowl games. For comparisons sake, Manning won 39 games in his career, Erik Ainge won over 20 games and Heath Shuler went 19-5 in only two years as a starter. While Manning could never beat Florida, Bray could barely beat our rivals.
Is it unfair to blame those 11 losses on Bray? Or to make him the scapegoat for only 13 wins? Many, my friends included, feel like this is too much blame to put on one person. Manning, Shuler and even Ainge all benefited from better coaches, better position players surrounding them and better defenses. But ultimately, the quarterback is the player who touches the ball the most, and it was Peyton Manning who could never win the big game, not Leonard Little, Marcus Nash, or Terry Fair.
Bray had three receivers with first-round NFL talent, and an offensive line littered with a couple players who could have their names spoken on Sundays for a while, and yet all he could muster was 13 wins. Tee Martin matched his career total for wins in one season.
Tyler Bray is a controversial name on Rocky Top. In the immediate future, many Vol fans will lament the arm that could seemingly strike from any distance. But ultimately, Bray's positive impact on the team and the program has been minimal. As a writer, I will miss having an occasion to make beer-bottle-throwing and jet-ski chicken jokes, but as a fan, I'm excited for whatever Justin Worley and Nathan Peterman can do.
— Preston Peeden is a senior in history. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.