Before Tennessee’s latest football team fades into history, I need to apologize. I overlooked something.
Since signing on with the News Sentinel in 1987, I’ve kept a football depth chart, which lists players at each position who were involved in off-the-field incidents during and after their time at UT.
It’s a long list.
But it’s not much longer at the end of coach Butch Jones’ first Tennessee season than it was when he was hired last December.
And since I’ve never hesitated from commenting on UT’s criminal activities, I would be remiss in not pointing out how well this team behaved itself.
The only incident wasn’t criminal. Defensive tackle Mo Couch lost his eligibility after accepting illicit payments.
That’s hardly worth mentioning when compared to the program’s criminal track record.
You can credit Jones and his staff, in part, for the team’s behavior. But the players — especially the seniors — deserve most of the credit.
While the team suffered embarrassing losses during a 5-7 season, it didn’t embarrass itself off the field; at times, it excelled.
It’s not easy playing on a losing team at a program whose fans are so accustomed to winning. But the adversity didn’t adversely affect how these players handled themselves.
When Jacques Smith signed with Tennessee, he was a much-heralded recruit. He played plenty of football, started at both outside linebacker and defensive end, but was never the star player many thought he might become at Tennessee.
But he represented the program well.
Smith was one of Tennessee’s player representatives at SEC football media days in Birmingham in July. He made a lasting impression on one of the SEC officials charged with ushering players from one media interview to another.
She told me that after Smith made his way down radio row, he asked if there was time for him to thank all the media-types who were nice enough to interview him.
Too bad there wasn’t time. Talk-show hosts would still be talking about the player who made two trips down radio row, including one just to say thanks.
Tennessee senior defensive linemen Daniel Hood also distinguished himself on radio.
When he was interviewed on Sports Talk a few weeks ago, he said how grateful he was to former coach Lane Kiffin for giving him a scholarship in 2009.
You don’t hear many college football players expressing gratitude for a scholarship at the end of their career. In fact, they’re more apt to talk about what they didn’t get in college.
And Hood’s expression of gratitude seemed more poignant in that it was directed at a coach who is generally loathed here.
Fellow senior Michael Palardy always has been a good interview — in good times and bad. The way he handled adversity made him a wonderful role model for Vols to come.
A high school All-American kicker, Palardy struggled as both a place-kicker and punter as a sophomore in 2011 when he went 9-for-14 on field goals and averaged only 36.8 yards on 14 punts.
Two years later, he became the team’s most valuable player and second-team All-SEC.
Palardy made 14 of 17 field-goal attempts and averaged 44.5 yards on 63 punts this season. He also had 19 punts of 50 yards or longer.
And in four years, he did nothing remotely worthy of my all-incident team.