Dan Fleser: UT Players Move On, But Vol Fans, Administration Still Mired In Past

Thursday, October 21, 2021 - by Dan Fleser

Lane Kiffin paid a visit to Neyland Stadium last Saturday as Ole Miss’ football coach. He left with a win and left behind quite a mess. Kiffin, Tennessee’s former coach, responded to debris-throwing fans as he left the field by tossing his visor into the stands.

Three days later, news surfaced of another former Vols coach seeking a different kind of victory. Jeremy Pruitt is intent on creating a different sort of mess to get the result.

Michael Lyons, the attorney for Pruitt, wrote a letter to the university earlier this month, urging the school to reach a monetary settlement with his client by Oct. 29 or face a lawsuit. The letter, which was obtained by the USA Today Network’s Blake Toppmeyer, threatened UT with the possibility of public embarrassment and “debilitating NCAA sanctions.” 

The same day, Vols defensive back Theo Jackson met with reporters. He played three seasons under Pruitt and noted the difference first-year head coach Josh Heupel has made.

“When Coach Heupel got here, his big thing was positivity,” Jackson said. “It’s more teaching, less yelling. Nobody wants to be cussed out all day.”

Tennessee’s defensive linemen, who are under assistant coach Rodney Garner’s fiery guidance, might hear things differently. However, Jackson made a point with his observation and has backed it with his play. He played all 101 snaps against Kiffin’s Rebels, recording nine tackles and a pass break-up.

Despite missing a game this season, Jackson is second on the team in tackles with 46 and second in tackles for loss (6.5). He also has 1.5 sacks. 

The one game Jackson missed was Oct. 9 against South Carolina. He spent the week watching film with Brandon Turnage, who was his replacement. Turnage responded with 14 tackles and received SEC defensive player of the week honors.

Jackson has moved on from the old coach and is thriving in the atmosphere being created by the new coach.

If only Tennessee’s fans and the university’s administration could make the same sort of transition in the same constructive manner.

The Kiffin effect is bewildering for its longevity. He was UT’s coach for one season and it was 12 years ago. After all those years, he still was able to play a puckish part in bringing out the best and worst of Tennessee’s fan base on Saturday. 

The Pruitt saga, on the other hand, is just sad. He was a poor hire in the first place, the end product of a disastrous coaching search. Regardless of any lawsuit, UT still expects severe NCAA penalties and said so in its termination letters to Pruitt and other staff members. The school already has been embarrassed.

Sadder yet is how both situations impact the current coach.

Heupel had to choose his words carefully after Saturday’s game. He praised the fans for the turnout and the atmosphere they helped create. But he also had to acknowledge the actions of a few of them, which resulted in a $250,000 fine from the SEC.

Heupel doesn’t have to address the Pruitt saga. Still, it hangs like a dark cloud over the work he’s doing in rebuilding a diminished program and re-energizing players like Jackson.

A coach could easily cuss out such a predicament.
      
* * *

Dan Fleser is a 1980 graduate of the University of Missouri, who covered University of Tennessee athletics from 1988-2019. He can be reached at ddanfleser3@gmail.com.



Cleveland State Split Region Games With Walters State

PHOTOS: Lady Vols Defeat Tennessee Tech

Lee Soccer Staff Named United Coaches South Region Staff Of The Year


Perennial Community College powerhouse, Walters State invaded the "Q" on Wednesday night for a pair of key early season NJCAA/TCCAA Region VII matchups with Cleveland State. The Ladies contest ... (click for more)

After an undefeated 19-0-1 season and a No. 2 national ranking the Lee women's soccer staff has earned the United Soccer Coaches South Region Staff of the Year honor the organization announced ... (click for more)



Sports

Cleveland State Split Region Games With Walters State

Perennial Community College powerhouse, Walters State invaded the "Q" on Wednesday night for a pair of key early season NJCAA/TCCAA Region VII matchups with Cleveland State. The Ladies contest saw a pair of undefeated (in conference play) teams knock heads from start to finish. After a seesaw battle all night long, the Lady Senators finally came out on top by a final score of 69-61. ... (click for more)

PHOTOS: Lady Vols Defeat Tennessee Tech

Breaking News

Hamilton County Has 1 More COVID Death And 81 New Cases; County Death Toll Rises From 680 To 702 Due To "Reporting Issue"; Tennessee Has 100 More Deaths

The Hamilton County Health Department reported one more coronavirus death on Thursday and 107 new positive cases, up from 81 on Wednesday. The total number of cases in the county now stands at 65,721. The death total is now at 702. It was reported at 680 on Wednesday, but due to a reporting issue with an area hospital, there has been a delay in reporting COVID deaths. Twenty-one ... (click for more)

Governor Exonerates Adam Braseel Of Grundy County On Murder Charge

Governor Bill Lee announced executive clemency decisions for 17 offenders who have demonstrated a successful path to rehabilitation and established a new process for individuals seeking clemency for drug-free school zone convictions. Those include an exoneration for Adam Braseel of Grundy County, who spent 12 years of a 51-year sentence for a murder it is now believed he did ... (click for more)

Opinion

In Praise Of EV - And Response (2)

Roy, sometimes I think I envy your uncanny ability to compartmentalize, draw bright lines and to simply conclude that thing one is good and thing two is bad. No electric vehicle for you. In Roy’s universe: Batteries are bad. Gasoline is good. My 30+ years of practicing environmental law and addressing legacy environmental impacts have proved otherwise. As the Eagles ... (click for more)

Roy Exum: The Winter Blues

Doctors call it Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and scientists are convinced about 10 million Americans suffer from what is commonly known as ‘The Winter Blues.’ Now about the last thing I want to write about is SAD and I know some people will not warm to the subject. But those who know me best know that I’ve had a problem with depression for years. I dutifully take two pills ... (click for more)