UT shut out of NFL draft for first time in more than half a century

The 2015 NFL Draft offered a stark illustration of just how far the University of Tennessee football program fell under former coach Derek Dooley.

For the first time since 1963, the Volunteers did not have a player selected. There were 256 total selections over the seven rounds and not one of them came from UT.

Thus ended the sixth-longest active streak in college football. Michigan and Southern California (76 years), Michigan State (75), Florida (63) and Nebraska (52) were the only programs that consistently had sent players to the NFL for a longer period.

Cornerback Justin Coleman was considered draft-worthy by most analysts but settled for a free agent offer from Minnesota.

This year’s group of draft-eligible players primarily were recruited by Dooley and his staff.

Even without any contributions from the Volunteers, the Southeastern Conference had the most players drafted for the ninth consecutive year.

From the Chattanooga Times Free Press:

During the 51-year streak, only twice have the Vols had just one player selected, but both of those instances came recently. Defensive end Robert Ayers, who went 18th overall to Denver, was the lone pick in 2009. In 2012, Malik Jackson was taken in the fifth round (137th overall) by the Broncos.

The Vols had nine first-round picks in five drafts from 1998 through 2002, but have had just nine first-round selections in the 13 drafts since that impressive run.

Entering the 2015 draft, Tennessee had 337 players drafted, the most in the SEC and the seventh-most among college football behind USC (487), Notre Dame (485), Ohio State (413), Oklahoma (367), Nebraska (350) and Michigan (345).

May 4, 2015 5:10 AM

Cheek maintains support for rebranding of UT's women's athletics programs

University of Tennessee chancellor Jimmy Cheek continues to stand behind the November decision to rebrand the university’s athletics program, except the women’s basketball team, under a single nickname and logo.

In a letter to the Knoxville News Sentinel, published Thursday morning, he classified the move as the continuation of a process that began nearly a decade ago and as part of a broader strategy to “be a top tier institution.”

From the letter:

“With these strategies came the opportunity to use a single mark or brand – the Power T – to connect all aspects of the university and to clearly state our One Tennessee message.

“The Power T is the brand of the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. I know there have been differences of opinion with the choice to use the Power T for all of our athletic teams except women’s basketball.

“… The Lady Vols are a significant part of the traditions at our university. That will not end or change with the Power T. The continued contributions of our female athletes and our male athletes, as well as our students, faculty, staff and alumni, showcase the strength and pride that is the University of Tennessee.”

Criticism of the move was swift and has endured. The outcry has come from former athletes as well as others throughout the community and state.

UT administrators have been consistent and confident in their attempts to ease the dissatisfaction but seemingly have made little headway.

The move, of course, was not an act of whimsy on the part of Cheek or anyone else. It coincides with the university’s switch to Nike from adidas for its apparel and equipment sponsorship deal – and the kind of money involved with that sort of deal always wins, regardless of public opinion.

Apr 29, 2015 1:53 PM

UT wide receiver Von Pearson accused of rape, suspended

Von Pearson, the led the University of Tennessee with five touchdown receptions last season, was suspended indefinitely from all football activities Friday after a female student accused him of rape.

Two other members of the football team, wide receiver Alton “Pig” Howard and defensive end Dimarya Mixon, were among six witnesses named in the police report, according to the Knoxville News Sentinel.

It is the fifth time in two years a member of the football program has faced allegations of sexual misconduct.

From the News Sentinel:

Former linebacker A.J. Johnson and current cornerback Michael Williams await an August trial on aggravated rape charges stemming from an allegation in November. Both were suspended indefinitely after the allegations surfaced. Johnson has graduated and Williams remains suspended.

Former cornerback Riyahd Jones was named as a suspect in a rape investigation in February. The investigation was closed and no charges were filed after the accuser told authorities she did not wish to prosecute, according to KPD. Jones had left the team after last season and was considering a transfer.

An unidentified walk-on football player was accused of sexual assault in September. The accuser in that case pursued university student conduct charges but not criminal charges. The university eventually dropped the student conduct charges because it didn’t believe it could meet the burden of proof. The player, who was suspended during the investigation, is still on the team.

Former running back Marlin Lane was accused of rape in April of 2013 after an incident that involved an 18-year-old female high school student and former defensive back Geraldo Orta. Lane was never charged and returned to the team after a suspension.

“It’s not an illustration of our football program,” coach Butch Jones said. “We have tremendous, tremendous kids in our football program. I’m disappointed, but we have to move forward. We have a lot of great kids, and a lot of great things going on here. I know people try to use that against us. But we have great kids. I think that’s been proven, with our community service, with our academic excellence, and we will continue to move forward. But there are consequences for actions.”

Apr 27, 2015 5:15 AM

Barnes' recruiting reach extends beyond national borders

Some of Rick Barnes’ recruiting trips require a passport.

The Knoxville News Sentinel reported Thursday that the new University of Tennessee men’s basketball coach intends to continue a Canadian connection he forged in his last job.

At the University of Texas, Barnes recruited two Canadian players who ultimately made it to the NBA and he intends to do the same with the Volunteers.

From the News Sentinel:

Canadian forward Kyle Alexander and his parents boarded a plane Thursday for his official visit to UT this weekend. The 6-foot-10 1/2, 200-pound prospect at Orangeville (Ontario) Prep said he received a scholarship offer from UT about two weeks before Barnes and associate head coach Rob Lanier visited him and his parents on Monday.

… Providing more proof Barnes is trying to move his Canadian connections to Knoxville, Alexander will join fellow Canadian Ray Kasongo, a College of Southern Idaho junior college forward originally from Toronto, who is also scheduled for a weekend visit.

Tristan Thompson and Cory Joseph were Canadians who played high school basketball in Nevada. After one season at Texas (2010-11) Thompson was the fourth overall pick and Joseph went 29th in the 2011 NBA draft. The next year he signed Canadian Myck Kabongo from a New Jersey high school and two years later Kabongo turned professional.


Apr 24, 2015 10:55 AM

Long removed from coaching rivalry, Fulmer takes opportunity to zing Spurrier

Apparently there is not statute of limitations on responding to insults.

It has been seven years since Phil Fulmer was football coach at the University of Tennessee but apparently he still feels the need to return fire to South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier, who as Florida’s coach had a lot of fun at Fulmer’s expense.

“I would say this to Steve,” Fulmer said Thursday during an address to the Chattanooga Rotary Club, according to WDEF-TV (Ch. 12). “In fact I have said it in front of him. Steve is a really good guy until you put a microphone in front of him. Then he becomes a jerk.”

Since he became coach at South Carolina, Spurrier has aimed his venom more often toward Georgia and Clemson, but at the start of his team’s spring practice last month set his sights on Tennessee once again. He called the fact that his team went 7-6 last season “decent” but then noted that “In Knoxville, they’re still doing cartwheels because they went 7-6 and won a bowl game.”

Some of his best stuff, though, came when Fulmer was the man in charge. To wit:

• "You can't spell Citrus [Bowl] without U-T."

• "I know why Peyton came back for his senior year. He wanted to be a three-time star of the Citrus Bowl."

• More recently was this one: “[This] will be the 14th time I’ve coached in Neyland Stadium. … I’ve coached there more than some of their head coaches.”

Apr 23, 2015 8:23 PM

Former Ensworth football star charged with UT campus theft

The University of Tennessee police department has issued a warrant for Michael Sawyers, a former Ensworth High School star who played four games for the Volunteers last season as a true freshman.

Coach Butch Jones dismissed Sawyers from the team in February for a violation of team rules.

Sawyers, from Antioch, was charged with theft, possibly in connection to an incident that involved UT offensive lineman Coleman Thomas, who was charged felonious theft. That charge was dismissed last week.

From The Tennessean:

After Thomas’ initial arrest, UTPD continued its investigation into the theft of a video-game system and several games from an on-campus dormitory and determined there was insufficient evidence that Thomas knew the items had been stolen at the time he sold them to a GameStop store.

[Cedric] Roach, the UTPD spokesman, did not confirm that Sawyers is being charged in connection to the case in which Thomas was previously arrested, though the police investigation into the theft continued after the dismissal of the charge against Thomas.

The newspaper reported that, as of Tuesday afternoon, Sawyers had not been arrested.

Apr 21, 2015 8:37 PM

Jones' assistants reap financial rewards for winning season

Winning – even modestly – is not necessarily its own reward for the University of Tennessee football coaches. There’s some extra money too.

Butch Jones’ assistants will make a combined $275,000 more in 2015 than they did last year. Their contracts were amended and extended through the 2016 season after the Volunteers went 7-6 and won the TaxSlayer Bowl last fall.

From the Chattanooga Times Free Press, which reviewed the contracts received through an open records request:

The eight returning coaches received $250,000 in raises, while the Volunteers are paying new offensive coordinator Mike DeBord $25,000 more than his predecessor

Receivers coach Zach Azzanni and running backs coach Robert Gillespie, who were awarded new titles as Tennessee shuffled their staff's roles after DeBord's hire, each received $50,000 raises and now make $350,000 each.

Gillespie is now UT’s recruiting and Azzani, the previous recruiting coordinator, is now the passing game coordinator.

Defensive coordinator John Jancek got the biggest bump, $40,000, and is the highest paid assistant at $515,000. DeBord’s salary is $500,000.

Jones received a pay increase of $650,000 (to $3.6 million) in December and negotiated the staff increases at that time.

Apr 15, 2015 5:53 AM

For new UT offensive coordinator, coaching in college about more than the game

For Mike DeBord, business as usual does not mean all business.

That is part of the appeal for the new University of Tennessee offensive coordinator, who returned to college coaching this spring for the first time since 2007. In between he spent five years as an NFL assistant in addition to the last two as a college athletics administrator.

“In the pros, it's all football, whereas in college you're working with them in every facet of their life," DeBord said, according to The Associated Press. "I actually missed that. I missed working with those kids like that.”

DeBord, 59, has not made dramatic changes to the Volunteers’ scheme and has not stuck strictly to Xs and Os in his interactions with players.

“He would ask us questions to just kind of find out how we grew up and things like that to kind of get to know us on a personal level," center Mack Crowder told The AP. "Because he did that, we're able to build that trust with him and take his coaching a little bit more.”

The kind of coaching he prefers.

DeBord said he remained close to the game the last two years by attending practices and meetings at Michigan but felt disconnected in his role sports administrator.

“When that's your passion, it's hard sometimes going to practice, watching and not being able to get involved in actually teaching and coaching,” DeBord said. “Now I've got that opportunity and I'm going to take advantage of it.”

Apr 13, 2015 3:10 PM

Barnes opts for familiarity in filling out UT coaching staff

Rick Barnes’ first staff at the University of Tennessee looks a lot like his last one at the University of Texas.

The new Volunteers coach named his three full-time assistants Tuesday, and two of them. Rob Lanier and Chris Ogden, were with him last season. Lanier was named associate head coach and Ogden was named assistant coach.

Desmond Oliver, who spent the last five seasons at Charlotte, also was named an assistant coach.

Lanier, who was associate head coach under Barnes for the last four years, was instrumental in the recruitment of some of Texas’ top players in recent years. He played a role in eight players who were high school All-Americans and 10 who eventually became NBA draft picks going to Texas.

He also worked under Barnes at Texas from 1999-2001. In between his two stints in Austin, he was an assistant at Florida, a head coach at Siena.

Ogden played for Barnes at Texas and was an assistant coach there for seven seasons. As a player, he was a team captain in 2002-03, a part of four NCAA Tournament teams and a part of 97 victories, which made him the winningest player in program history.

Oliver has been an NCAA Division I assistant for 19 seasons, including time with two current SEC programs, Texas A&M (1997-98) and Georgia (2004-09).

Apr 7, 2015 10:07 PM

Tennessee made money with TaxSlayer Bowl appearance

On top of the obvious benefits of game experience and extra practice time, the University of Tennessee football program actually made money with its appearance in the 2015 TaxSlayer Bowl.

The Knoxville News Sentinel reported details of the profitable trip Wednesday afternoon following a review of financial documents obtained through an open records request.

The bottom line was a net gain of $164,811.

UT’s share of the SEC bowl money was $1.275 million. That fund, which pools all the bowl money paid to conference programs and distributes it equally among the 14 members, included the $2.75 million TaxSlayer Bowl payout for the Volunteers’ participation.

The SEC also provided the team a $109,600 travel allowance and the athletics department earned another $34,280 in ticket fee income.

That adds up to $1,488,880 in revenues, which more than covered the $1,255,069 in expenses.

The cost of bowl participation included $290,792 for transportation, $204,864 in lodging and $200,268 in meals.

UT defeated Iowa 45-28 in the Jan. 2 contest at Jacksonville.

Apr 7, 2015 2:30 PM