Thursday, April 9

On Suspensions, Expulsions, Dismissals, and Other Things That Involve Blowing It

A bit of background: in the last week, Tennessee's dismissed Demetrice Morley and Donald Langley from the team. Now, most people reading this haven't heard of either of them - truth be told, I hadn't heard of Langley until today. Morley, on the other hand, was a starter last year - his story is already summed up here. These things taken on their own don't mean a whole lot, but in concert I'm a bit concerned.

I don't know the entire story behind either dismissal, nor do I expect to. Are these moves good for the Tennessee football team? I'd imagine so; you want to foster a culture of the team being above the individual. Those who can't play by the rules get summarily taken care of. However, what happens to the now ex-player? They do have the freedom to transfer; if they transfer and pick up a scholarship somewhere else, then good for them. What concerns me is what happens if they don't transfer and can't afford to stay in school otherwise (let's be honest: almost none of these guys could pick up academic scholarships, and a fair amount of them can't foot the bill to attend school without the scholarship). In essence, a scholarship cut amounts to "good luck in life", and that's not a message I want to send. This is the price of having a burgeoning college football factory.

I'd also say this is the difference between Fulmer and Kiffin. With Fulmer, there was always the element of humanity. Fulmer was committed to fielding and developing the best football team he could, but it would be hard for someone to say that he didn't care about either his current or former players. Fulmer pretty clearly put his heart into coaching the kids to be the best players and people they could be (with a few exceptions - hi, Kelley Washington! How's that Future working out for you?). His problem was never the off-field component; the unwinding of Fulmer could probably be tied pretty directly to the fortunes of David Cutcliffe and the stagnation of the Tennessee offense in his absence. Fulmer's offensive philosophies could be summed up with "run, run, screen, punt", and he needed a guiding influence away from that.

Because of those on-field issues, Kiffin and the coaching crew were brought in to develop the best football program they could. What we don't know at this point is if they'll develop the best football team at the expense of developing the best people. They've already developed a pretty killer instinct with respect to getting talent in the door - and getting talent out the door. Of course, it's yet to be seen if the results show up on the field, but the talk is certainly there.

I'd be lying if I said I was completely comfortable with the shift; I'd love to have a relevant football team again, but the systematic purging of the football machine just feels a bit too impersonal. This churn makes sense at the professional level, but in the college ranks I don't know what to make of it yet. I'm reminded of the transition that Charlie Weis had to go through (god, I hate bringing him into this, but I need him here) when he went to Notre Dame: you can't yell at freshmen like you can rookies. I'm thinking the same rules apply here: you can't churn sophomores like you can two-year players. If you want to pull them off the team go for it, but be careful before leaving them to twist entirely in the breeze.