Tennessee’s first-year coaching staff doesn’t make a big deal out of injuries. It laments them but it doesn’t belabor them.
One player’s injury is another player’s opportunity. One guy goes down, the next guy steps up: That’s how it has to work in the competitive world of college athletics.
So, if you want to put a positive spin on one of the dumbest crimes in the history of UT football’s criminal activities, you can look at the opportunity created by the early-morning attempted armed robbery allegedly perpetrated by three freshman football players — Nu’Keese Richardson, Mike Edwards and Janzen Jackson.
By “opportunity,” I’m not referring to the players who will move up the depth chart in their place. The crime has created a greater opportunity for the head coach.
Lane Kiffin has been all about discipline ever since he was hired in December. He has demanded it of his players and hasn’t been shy about saying so.
He has emphasized his team’s arrest-free record, repeatedly stated his belief that lack of discipline off the field is reflected on the field as well, and even taken a shot at Florida coach Urban Meyer for suspending All-American middle linebacker Brandon Spikes for only a half after Spikes’ eye-gouging incident against Georgia.
Now, Kiffin has the opportunity to practice what he has preached. He can kick the players off the team and send a message to the rest of his team as well as the general populace of college football.
The message: He means what he says.
The skill-level of the players enhances Kiffin’s opportunity. He wouldn’t be cutting loose borderline players who might never make a meaningful contribution to UT football. He would be booting three promising players — including, in Jackson, a starter and potential freshman All-American.
But it’s not a hard choice. This wasn’t a drunk player fallen asleep at a McDonald’s drive-thru. It wasn’t an “error in judgment.” It wasn’t “hanging out with the wrong crowd.”
It was a premeditated crime. With a gun.
If proved guilty, the three Vols wouldn’t have just broken the law. They would have broken a trust with their teammates and coaches.
This team has worked extremely hard to change the program’s image, on and off the field. It already has won as many games as last year, overcome a series of injuries to key players, and positioned itself for a strong finish that could put it in a New Year’s Day bowl and the Top 25.
The rest of the team didn’t deserve this. I feel sorry for them, rather than the knuckleheads who couldn’t resist the temptation of hitting up convenience-store patrons for spare change.
I’m only guessing the victims had spare change since the police report states their wallets were empty.
The three stooges really cased the joint, didn’t they? Based on all the thought that went into the crime, guess they didn’t know Pilot is owned by Jim Haslam, one of the university’s and football program’s greatest supporters. That’s “Haslam” as in Haslam Field, where the team practices daily.
The practice field shouldn’t be any different without those three players. Neither should game day.
I’m not dismissing Jackson’s talent or contributions. But this team has proved again and again it can overcome adversity.
It lost three-year starting center Josh McNeil to injury before the season even started. It lost middle linebacker Nick Reveiz to a season-ending knee injury in the middle of the season. It suffered a devastating last-second loss to unbeaten Alabama, then bounced back the next week to defeat nationally ranked South Carolina by 18 points.
Now, it gets another chance to prove how resilient it is. And its coach gets an opportunity to prove he can walk the walk.
Sports editor John Adams may be reached at 865-342-6284 or firstname.lastname@example.org.