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Lane Kiffin has made up his mind.
The Tennessee coach cut ties with two of the three players accused of attempted armed robbery, dismissing freshmen Nu’Keese Richardson and Mike Edwards from the team Monday after a four-day investigation. But a final verdict still hasn’t been made on the status of Janzen Jackson, though he continues to be barred from team activities heading into UT’s game Saturday with Vanderbilt (TV: ESPNU, 7 p.m.).
“After extensive and thorough research of the situation over the last four days and considering various disciplinary options, I’ve decided it’s in the best interest of our program to remove Nu’Keese and Mike,” Kiffin said. “As I’ve said many times before, we hold our student-athletes to an extremely high standard on and off the field. Our student-athletes must be responsible members of society, and this type of conduct will not be tolerated.
“We want a positive culture for our student-athletes that allows them to succeed in the classroom, on the field, and in life after college. My hope is that these two young men will learn from their terrible decision. Clearly, their actions have no place in our program.”
They also provided an unwelcome distraction for the Vols (5-5, 2-4 SEC) heading into a critical stretch of games that will decide their postseason fate.
It’s partially cleared up with Richardson and Edwards off the team, though UT declined to comment on whether the players will remain in school citing privacy of academic records. Athletic director Mike Hamilton also refused to address the situation, and until something definitive is announced on Jackson, it’s not totally over yet.
Kiffin and the Vols have insisted repeatedly the arrests weren’t an issue in the blowout loss to Ole Miss over the weekend, at least not mentally, but the attention won’t likely die down with a possible freshman All-America safety in limbo.
“I think if this was a distraction issue, if this was they weren’t ready, I think it would have showed and the first quarter would have been the fourth quarter,” Kiffin said Sunday. “We would have come out and all of a sudden it would have been 21-0 and we weren’t playing well. That wasn’t the case.
“We’re part-way through the third quarter and going down to take the lead, then obviously we fall apart at the end of the third and the fourth quarter. I think they were ready to play, definitely.”
The loss of the three players clearly hurt from a physical standpoint, particularly on defense.
The Vols have been decimated by injuries at linebacker, were playing without two players in the secondary because of injury and were missing both Edwards and Jackson because of their legal issues. UT might not have been able to slow down Dexter McCluster anyway, but the absences certainly didn’t help as the running back raced for 282 yards and four touchdowns.
“It goes back to when they talk about, ‘How many games are you going to win in your first year?’ ” Kiffin said. “Obviously there are too many variables to know, just like this. You never know what’s going to happen, so that’s why we never talk about how many games we’re going to win, how well we’re going to play, because you don’t know what’s going to happen.
“We’ll have to try to continue to develop the guys that we have, but obviously our secondary suffers from that, not having those two guys in there.”
Two of them are gone for good and the jury is still out on the other.