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Entering his third year at Tennessee, LaMarcus Coker has been in and out of coach Phillip Fulmer’s doghouse.
But the preseason second-team All-SEC tailback’s suspension from the team Tuesday for unspecified transgressions took teammates — and apparently Coker himself — by surprise.
Fulmer met with a “remorseful” Coker to inform him of his indefinite suspension.
“He was very hurt today, very remorseful, very regretful and everything,” Fulmer said. “A lot of tears, a lot of things like that.”
Coker has been through it before. At Tennessee’s preseason media day Saturday, Coker said he was out of Fulmer’s doghouse and that to stay out, he needed to “go to class” and “stay out of trouble.”
His stint on Fulmer’s bad side dates back to last December, when despite being healthy, he was held out of UT’s final five practices in Knoxville before the Outback Bowl.
Fulmer did not specify why Coker missed those practices, and the reasons were just as vague this time.
“He has been working diligently to work with a medical situation, and we’ve worked with him through it, but that doesn’t excuse where we are at this point and what brought us to this point,” Fulmer said after reading a prepared statement. “I can’t really tell you what it is.”
When asked if he could elaborate on Coker’s medical condition, Fulmer said: “It goes back a ways. It’s just part of the whole scenario. Because of the laws — and his privacy — I can’t really comment on it. There’s more to it.”
UT quarterback Erik Ainge didn’t go into details either, but he did say he thought Coker had turned a corner this summer.
“I really thought, especially in the month of July, that LaMarcus had come around and was doing the right things,” Ainge said following practice. “Obviously, I don’t know (what Coker did), and I’m not entitled to say everything. He just needs to take care of his business. Obviously, he wasn’t.
“When I heard it this morning, I was like, ‘Whoa.’ We didn’t see it coming, but we’ve got to go from here. We can’t look back.”
Ainge and Fulmer each said the team will approach Coker’s absence as if it was an injury. The Vols are used to that, too.
Coker missed a pair of games with a knee injury last season, but still led the Vols in rushing yards with 696 yards on 108 carries. His five rushing touchdowns led the team as well.
Despite being voted second-team All-SEC by league media, Coker entered fall camp behind Arian Foster on the depth chart.
Without Coker on the practice field Tuesday and third-teamer Montario Hardesty limited with a minor hamstring injury, the Vols worked several newcomers at tailback.
It’s too early to know which ones could see more repetitions with Coker’s absence, but Foster says none approach Coker’s speed.
“It’s hard to find people across the country to match his speed,” Foster said. “As far as the reps go, we’re just all getting back in the groove. There’s no depth chart. It’s kind of just open.”
So is the door for Coker.
In a prepared statement, Fulmer said Coker can return to the team only after fulfilling “obligations to the program and to me.”
“He’s got to go through the process here,” Fulmer said. “I can’t tell you whether it’s going to be a week, two weeks, a month. I’m really not going to talk about it until I know more about the whole scenario.”
Fulmer, as well as Ainge, said they’ll be pulling for Coker to return and that despite his mistakes, he’s not a bad person.
“More than anything, I feel bad for our team; I feel bad for LaMarcus,” Ainge said. “LaMarcus is a good kid. I have a lot of good things to say about LaMarcus. He just needs to take care of his business. Some guys just don’t take care of business sometimes.
“Coach Fulmer’s done all he can. He’s done a great job trying to handle him. LaMarcus just needs to handle himself.”
Drew Edwards covers University of Tennessee football. He may be reached at 865-342-6274.