Tennessee coach Derek Dooley said he hadn't heard about a potential major violation committed by former coach Lane Kiffin and former assistant Willie Mack Garza long before a Monday night report from Yahoo! Sports, and he's hoping the lack of a connection between Garza and UT's current regime protects the program from potential penalties.
"You never want anything to come out on your program that somebody might perceive as negative. But you know what, I can't change what happened," Dooley said after Tuesday's practice. "All we can deal with is make sure everybody understands that this wasn't under our watch, and it wasn't involving a coach on our staff and it doesn't involve a player that's been in our program."
According to the report, the NCAA enforcement staff is taking another look at the recruiting practices during Kiffin's one-year stint as coach. Former scout Willie Lyles, whose relationship with schools such as LSU and Oregon recently came under major scrutiny with the NCAA, received $1,500 from Garza to fund airfare for an unofficial recruiting trip for then-highly touted high school prospect Lache Seastunk, according to the report.
"We are aware of the situation as is the conference office," Tennessee associate athletic director for communications Jimmy Stanton said in a university statement. "We've been verbally contacted by the NCAA enforcement staff regarding a recruiting issue in 2009 related to the former coaching staff and a student-athlete who never attended Tennessee."
Last month, the NCAA upheld UT's self-imposed sanctions in response to a 22-month investigation into the men's basketball and football programs. The athletic department is one month in to a self-imposed two years of probation.
The two major violations alleged against the football program did not stick. Instead, they were considered a collection of unrelated secondary violations committed by Kiffin, now the head coach at Southern Cal, and his assistants. The NCAA upheld the litany of self-imposed sanctions UT instituted and did not penalize the program any further.
"I'm hoping the NCAA is going to stay consistent with what they've done, which is 'Let's target the people that make these mistakes, not the programs.' " Dooley said.
Seastrunk, who eventually signed with Oregon but has since transferred to Baylor, visited Knoxville with his mother, Evelyn, from June 20-21, 2009. Garza followed Kiffin to Southern Cal in 2010, but abruptly resigned last month amid speculation of his involvement with a NCAA investigation.
Lyles told Yahoo! that he provided the NCAA with receipts for the plane tickets and a handwritten receipt from MoneyGram International, which allegedly proved that Garza wired him the money. A former employee of Florida-based Complete Scouting Services who went on to form the Houston-based Elite Scouting Services, Lyles has recently opened up about his links to potential major violations at Oregon, LSU and now UT.
UT spent more than $300,000 on scouting services in 2010, according to documents obtained by the News Sentinel in June.
"There's a lot of good legitimate scouting services out there," Dooley said. "I think it's like anything. There's some guys that probably don't provide a service as it relates to scouting. Those guys to me aren't considered scouting services.
"I can't speak in particular terms, but we do a lot of quality control on what goes out of our program to make sure what's coming in is within the rules and is giving us what we need from an evaluation standpoint."