Tennessee sophomore tight end Brendan Downs was arrested for underage consumption of alcohol and public intoxication outside a Knoxville bar early Sunday morning, an inauspicious beginning to what is a pivotal offseason for the struggling football program.
Offensive coordinator Jim Chaney, who was given interim head coaching duties when Derek Dooley was fired a week ago, is directing the program until a permanent coach is hired. That means keeping players focused on academics until the end of the semester, trying to hold together Tennessee’s fragile recruiting class and dealing with off-field issues.
Police say Downs, 19, was removed from the Whiskey Dix nightclub at 1912 Cumberland Avenue by a manager. Once outside, Downs “created a disturbance by becoming loud and using profane language.” A Knoxville police officer who was working an extra job in the bar’s parking lot placed Downs under arrest at about 1 a.m., according to Knoxville Police Department Sgt. R. Eastridge.
“We are aware of the situation and are gathering facts,” Tennessee spokesperson Jimmy Stanton said.
Stanton said the matter would be handled internally.
Downs, a native of Bristol returned quickly from a serious knee injury suffered in August and played in nine games as a backup to senior starter Mychal Rivera. Downs caught three passes for 39 yards, including a 6-yard touchdown against Akron on Sept. 22.
The arrest occurred only a few hours after the Vols celebrated a season-ending 37-17 victory over Kentucky at Neyland Stadium.
The win helped ease the gloom of a disappointing season that ended in a 5-7 record and a search for a new head coach.
Tennessee athletic director Dave Hart said last week that he wanted a proven head coach to replace Dooley, who was only 15-21 in his three seasons at Tennessee.
In the meantime, the current staff is dusting off resumes and doing what they can.
“I’ll continue to do whatever Mr. Hart would like me to do in this role,” Chaney said.
The first order of business is academics. Classes end Dec. 4, so today starts the last full week of classes this semester.
“We’ll continue to help these young men (in) whatever they need as far as going to class,” Chaney said. “That’s the key thing right now. Football is over and now we have to finish up strong in finals. Coach Dooley was big on that and we’ll continue to fight his wishes all the way to the end. These young men will finish strong academically if it’s the last thing we do. We want that.”
Recruiting is understandably difficult during a coaching transition, but Chaney and his staff can at least tell signees to hold tight for a few weeks until a new coach is brought in.
“We’ll have a number of coaches out on the road being visible with our Tennessee orange to the recruits,” Chaney said.
Evan Woodbery covers Tennessee football. Follow him at www.Twitter.com/TennesseeBeat.