Vols' legal woes in 2008
11 - Knoxville police cited freshmen wide receivers Gerald Jones and Ahmad Paige for possession of marijuana following a traffic stop near campus while the two hosted a recruit from Oklahoma on his official visit. Freshman offensive lineman William Brimfield who was with Paige and Jones at the time was not charged by police, but was disciplined by Fulmer nonetheless.
21 - UT police arrested freshman tailback Daryl Vereen for public intoxication and underage consumption after responding to a call of a fight in progress outside Gibbs Hall, an on-campus residence hall located across the street from the Neyland-Thompson Sports Center.
26 - Knoxville police arrested junior All-SEC lineman Anthony Parker for disorderly conduct at an off-campus apartment complex.
2 - walk-on defensive back Vince Faison was arrested for DUI after UT police found the 27-year-old former professional baseball player passed out behind the wheel of his truck in the parking lot of an on-campus fast-food restaurant with the engine running and his foot on the brake pedal with the vehicle in gear.
13 - Fulmer dismissed sophomores Dorian Davis and Antonio Wardlow for an undisclosed violation of team rules. Both players had been arrested within the last 18 months.
17 - Knoxville police arrested Colquitt for DUI and leaving the scene of an accident, after the punter struck a parked car near the Old City, causing more than $400 in damages.
The University of Tennessee football program desperately needs new leadership. And I’m not suggesting that the next quarterback needs to be more vocal or the team captains need to be more demonstrative.
UT’s leadership problem is at the top.
Maybe you’re way ahead of me on this. Maybe you realized as much after Florida beat the Vols by 39 points last September, and a mediocre Alabama team beat them by 24 in October.
Memphis Commercial Appeal sports columnist Ron Higgins didn’t need to see the Alabama game. After the Florida game, he wrote that longtime UT football coach Phillip Fulmer should be fired.
Was his assessment premature? Maybe.
Was it wrong? No.
I reached the same conclusion Sunday night for a different reason. It’s not just about the won-loss record. It’s about the arrest record.
More significantly, it’s about how Fulmer has responded to the arrests of his players.
In the last six weeks, eight UT players have either been arrested or disciplined for breaking team rules. The most recent crime involved punter Britton Colquitt, who allegedly hit a parked car while driving under the influence. To make matters worse, police also say he left the scene of the accident.
Fulmer’s response was swift and soft. He suspended Colquitt for the first five games of the 2008 season.
Keep in mind this wasn’t Colquitt’s first brush with the law. Or second. Or third.
How could Fulmer not dismiss Colquitt from the team after what could be fifth alcohol-related offense?
Answer: Colquitt is a starter.
Remember a couple of years ago when three UT players were arrested following a disturbance at a local bar? The two backup players got one- and two-game suspensions. Arian Foster, the starting tailback, was suspended for half a game.
Fulmer’s explanation: Foster served as a peacemaker. But that’s not what the police report said.
What kind of message does that send? It sends the same message that Fulmer sent with his disciplining of Colquitt: “It’s what you do on the field that matters.”
Fulmer can’t stop his players from breaking the law. But he can stop them from doing it more than once.
After an incredible run of arrests in a six-week span, Fulmer could have said the next player found guilty of a crime — no matter what it is — is off the team. Ah, but that wouldn’t be fair to the guilty player, would it?
Forget the player. Think about the program.
Fulmer’s program is out of control. Again.
There’s a Web site called fulmercup.com, which keeps a running score of off-the-field transgressions of college football players. Schools are awarded points for each offense; the greater offense, the more points. At the end of the year, the points are totaled up and the winner is awarded the Fulmer Cup in honor of you know who.
That’s the perception of UT football under Fulmer. It’s “Rocky Top,” the checkered end zone and “one more for the road.” Make that “a double.”
Two years ago, USA Today did an in-depth story on the off-the-field problems of UT football players in 2005. But the same story would have been as relevant in the mid-1990s.
It would be just as relevant today.
Bottom line: UT has surpassed Miami as the poster team for bad behavior in college football. It’s the college equivalent of the Cincinnati Bengals.
And when some of the bad Vols leave, they move on to bigger and badder things, carrying their UT affiliation right along with them.
In the last 10 years, two former prominent UT football players have killed people. How sobering is that?
Dwayne Goodrich, who starred in UT’s national championship game victory over Florida State, is in prison for criminally negligent homicide after running over two people on a Dallas freeway in 2003. Police estimated his car was going 110 miles per hour when he struck and killed two motorists who were trying to rescue a man from a burning car.
Leonard Little, another former UT player, capped off a drunken birthday bash in 1998 by crashing into and killing another motorist. He served only 90 days in jail.
Former UT players don’t have to kill anyone to make national headlines.
Jamal Lewis, an NFL star and former UT running back, served time in federal prison for his involvement in a drug deal. Travis Henry, another former UT and current NFL running back, has distinguished himself by fathering nine children by nine different women. Former UT player Albert Haynesworth was the talk of the NFL in 2006 when he stomped on a Dallas player’s face during a game.
You can’t blame Fulmer for the crimes committed by his players and former players. But he is responsible for disciplining players while they’re on his team.
And he has failed miserably at that.
Two different people have e-mailed me in the last week and wrote that they will no longer donate money to the program because of the succession of embarrassing off-the-field incidents. Maybe they’re serious; maybe they were just venting.
But it’s just a matter of time before a major contributor decides he has had enough and refuses to throw good money after bad players.
When a football program is winning big, virtually everything is forgiven. This just in: UT isn’t winning big. It hasn’t won an SEC championship since 1998. It hasn’t been to a BCS bowl since 1999. It hasn’t finished in the top 10 since 2001.
Combine that with what’s happening off the field, and it’s apparent UT needs to make a change. Athletic director Mike Hamilton and Fulmer should work out a deal by which the coach resigns after the 2008 season.
Fulmer has had a good run. He has won a national championship and two conference titles. In 15 seasons, he has won fewer than eight games only once.
But when you weigh what he’s done against what’s going on now, the conclusion is obvious. UT football has a serious image problem, which will affect fundraising and recruiting. If you want to change that image, you need to change the coach.
Many UT fans get squeamish at the thought of hiring a new coach. They’ve seen other successful programs drop off significantly after changing coaches. They’re afraid they might get the wrong guy.
In fact, they already have the wrong guy.
Sports editor John Adams may be reached at 865-342-6284 or firstname.lastname@example.org.