Roy Exum: Is Integrity Dead At UT?

Tuesday, November 13, 2012
Roy Exum
Roy Exum

Whatever happened to the days when a man’s word was his bond?  When did we reach the point where a contract is meaningless? Two of the South’s best colleges have football coaches with time remaining on their contracts but suddenly, in today’s win-at-all-costs society, the very students at Tennessee and Auburn are being taught the “The Art of the Buy-out” instead of the virtue and the integrity of keeping one’s pledge to another.

When Derek Dooley was hired, he and the University of Tennessee agreed on a four-year deal and yesterday, as the nameless sources twittered and tweeted he would be ceremoniously dumped after only three, I found myself wondering when it all went wrong in America? Dooley was hired for four years. There has been improvement this year – to be sure – but the rabble-rousers among us are screaming “time’s up.” Where is the integrity and the honor in that?

Granted, Dooley’s job at Tennessee was to win and, with two games remaining, the Vols have yet to win a conference game. It’s easy to see he’s embarrassed, that his defense is suspect and that the Vols student section is unhappy, but put me down as one who knew his task wouldn’t be easy. UT was in a deep and dirty hole when Derrick arrived, remember?

At Auburn, where the Tigers are enduring the worst drought in years, Gene Chizik’s headstone is already being cut, the conception among those who watched last week’s 38-0 slashing by Georgia that the eighth loss of the year was terminal. But Chizik, after winning the national championship just two years ago, is saying he can fix the problem in a league where five members are in the Top 10 of the current BCS poll this week. What’s there not to believe in that?

Conversely, both Dooley and Chizik have high school seniors who have verbally committed – given their word – they’ll sign binding scholarships and, par for the course, star athletes at both embattled schools are saying they will “de-commit,” or break their pledge, if either coach is dumped. Yet the NCAA demands a student-athlete honor his contract. Shouldn’t the same standards apply to the institutions when the going gets rough?

I listened to a national sports show on Monday and one guest quickly said Dooley and Chizik were admirable men “but this isn’t about personality – this is about business.” Oh? I can remember when a handshake was all it took in a good business deal. Would Chattanooga have gotten Volkswagen if a handshake hadn’t first cemented the deal?

And is it “good business” to pay off Dooley at $7.5 million, pay the next guy $3 million for just next year alone, while you are still paying off Phillip Fulmer, the cheater Bruce Pearl and the ousted athletic director Mike Hamilton? Do the math on that one and tell me how many seats you need to sell.

I solidly believe Derek Dooley has cleaned up the football image at Tennessee. I wish UT had beaten Missouri last Saturday but when you play four overtimes, that’s being competitive. And I believe if Lane Kiffin’s recruiting class hadn’t all gone south, Tennessee’s record this season would have been much different than the 4-8 overall mark we see today. Dooley deserves the contract he was promised, or else try to sign the next coach to a three-year deal and see how far you’ll get.

UT athletic director Dave Hart told Dooley on Sunday he had not reached a decision. He gave Derek his word and I don’t care what some radio caller like “Al in Dadeville” reports he heard from his barber, I believe Hart told Dooley the truth. The difference in Dave Hart and the radio callers is that Hart has to pay the buy-out – the “Legion of the Miracle” never picks up a tab.

Trust me, in the years I have watched a university bandwagon, it’s gotten so bad that now the fans all across the country jump on and off every week. A University of Alabama backer cried that Nick Saban was a fool for calling the pick pass in the end zone when, in fact, the Tide is now 9-1 and ranked fourth in the country. It’s idiotic and every team in the country is awash in negativity. What would that Alabama guy do if “Lord Saban” suddenly decided to break his contract? Don’t worry, the Capstone is keeping its side of the deal.

Idiots will tweet anything. Tim Burchett, elected as the county mayor of Knoxville, has a grandson who plays high school football and, over the weekend, the bonehead thought he was being hilarious when he tweeted, “"I need to get him some (tattoos) and a criminal record so UT will be interested."

Don’t you think that is funny,  most especially  right now? Burchett quickly apologized but not before every college recruiter in the country put that funny line in the file of every player they want who has also expressed an interest in the Vols. Boy, that really helps right now but it is no different from the talk shows, the very anonymous sources, and the many unfounded rumors that are rampant in Knoxville.

Personally, I think UT has a real chance of beating Vanderbilt in Nashville Saturday but – in the big scheme –  it is most important that Tennessee keep its word. You’re right, Dave Hart didn’t hire Dooley – that was Hamilton – but Dave Hart is employed by the University of Tennessee and it was the institution, not just Hamilton, that awarded Derek a four-year deal.

Does integrity not matter anymore? You must always keep your word.

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