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UT’s Dooley Defends Signing iPhone Bandit

When Derek Dooley arrived at Tennessee one of his main talking points regarded character.  Perhaps it was a reaction to the “we’re not looking for angels” comment former Lane Kiffin assistant Ed Orgeron said months earlier.  Perhaps it was a reaction to the number of Kiffin and Orgeron recruits who landed in trouble soon after landing in Knoxville.  Whatever the reason, one of Dooley’s main recruiting points — a point he made on the stump with Vol fans during his early meet-and-greets — was character-first.

Fast-forward to signing day 2012.  Dooley and his Vols inked four-star cornerback Deion Bonner.  Bonner, you may recall, was arrested and charged with theft after he stole a number of iPods and iPhones from Georgia’s locker room during a UGA football camp last April.  Bonner entered pre-trial intervention and had the misdemeanor charge dismissed.  Still, a number of programs backed off of the player.  Character-first Tennessee wasn’t one of those that backed away.

Dooley recently defended his decision to sign Bonner in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

 

“We do a lot of diligence when we recruit, and we certainly recognize that there are no perfect players and we all make mistakes as young people. But what I saw was a player who had a clean record prior to the event [at Georgia], and a player who was very honest and forthright with what happened.

He’s a player who paid the piper about as hard as any high school player could ever pay for what he did … getting the suspensions that he did, the absolute public humiliation that he went through, the fact that everybody stopped recruiting him, and the community service hours … he did a heck of a lot of restitution for what he did, and still came out playing great football down the stretch.

He kept a great attitude and a great outlook, and I saw someone who made a bad mistake and appears willing to learn from it and to let it make him a better person. So we were willing to take a chance on Deion. Part of character is not saying ‘I only want perfect people.’ We’re all flawed and we all make mistakes. The question is: Do you have the character to learn from it and get it right?”

 

Sounds good.  And if you’ve read this site for the past 3-4 years you know that we often come down on the side of second- and third- and fourth- and fifth-chances when it comes to non-violent crimes.  This writer has had failings.  We all have.  So here’s hoping Bonner makes the most of his second-chance.

That said, we find it odd that of all the schools to provide him that second-chance, it’s Dooley’s that’s being so open-minded.  The coach beat the “character counts” drum too loudly to then go out and ink a player who stole iPhones and iPods from players who at that point could have wound up being his teammates.  (It’s no wonder Georgia backed off of Bonner.  Can you imagine the welcome he’d have received from UGA players had he signed with the Dawgs?)

Again, we take no issue with Bonner.  Good luck to him.  But Dooley shouldn’t have made such a case for his program being one of upstanding citizens if he had no intention of living up to the high standard he spent so much time promoting.  And, to be honest, this isn’t a first time thing.  Dooley allowed former safety Janzen Jackson about 15 chances before finally dismissing him from the Vol roster last year.  A third-string linebacker would have been booted months prior to Jackson’s final heave-ho.

Like most coaches, Dooley clearly feels great talent can earn a player more opportunities.  Unlike most coaches, Dooley went out of his way to make “character counts” a pillar of his program, a key recruiting point.  We feel he’d have been better off not trumpeting character as much as he did.  Had he not, we would not now be pointing out the irony of his program signing a player with Bonner’s record.

 


13 comments
larrydjr
larrydjr

You missed it John, MR.clean is not the best product to keep Ncaa athletics clean, Lysol works the best, already proven. Oh this was discovered in a scientific test on the  board of the Ncaa. They have been found to be dirty too. We all have dirt on us. D.

90vol
90vol

This is crap John and you know it. Why don't you do a little investigative reporting before posting this misleading non-sense? Coach Dooley has said repeatedly that high character guys are a priority but it's one part of the equation used when evaluating players and not the only thing. There will be times where players, albeit talented ones, are taken with the caveat that they have gotten into trouble before. If a coach feels like he can trust the kid to turn things around and do right,  then why not take a chance on him. I've listened to most of Dooley's comments on this subject and he has always stated that character is a very important piece of the equation when evaluating a recruit but not the only thing.  

Spawn
Spawn

Dooley has done a great job with Character at UT. I have no problem with him taking a chance on Bonner and continuing to use character as a pilar at UT. From what I am seeing, he is living up to it.

BDV
BDV

Who cares?  Dooley did what every coach does when they're hired: He said what his fanbase needed to hear.  And for the most part, he's lived up to what he said.  Certainly moreso than his two predecessors.  But ultimately, that doesn't matter either.  Dooley could be running a program full of class A felons and it wouldn't matter as long as he was winning.  6-7 and 5-7 are going to have a much larger bearing on Dooley's future than anything he said when he was hired.  Urban Meyer talked loudly about the "top 1% of 1%" when he was hired.  30+ arrests later, his job was still safer than anyone else's in America, and he left UF on his own terms.  Why?  Two BCS titles, that's why.  It's all about the bottom line.

chrismd
chrismd

A few points:

 

1) As you point out, EVERY coach brings up character when he gets to a new school. 2) As you point out, Dooley was coming into a dreadful, sustained, conduct situation which his two predecessors allowed to go on for quite some time. He had to make character a huge talking point...

 

HOWEVER, as you fail to point out, Dooley has done an INCREDIBLE job of cleaning UT up. Other than one player punching another student at a bar(Austin Johnson), which happens in college from time to time-maybe not to journalism majors, Dooley's 85 players have had virtually zero off the field incidents over the last two years, even Vanderbilt can't say that.

 

Additionally, Dooley had no qualms about kicking Janzen Jackson off the team when he couldn't perform conduct wise last year (and oh, how much of a difference he would have made against UF and UGA). Dooley clearly bit the bullet there, painfully. You sure Saban or Spurrier would have?

 

I would argue that there isn't a coach in the country who has made more "character" progress in his program, than Dooley has, over the last 2 years... He is "walking the walk."

 

Why don't you wait until you see how Bonner behaves and progresses IN Dooley's program before you start forming opinions ABOUT Dooley's program. If every college football recruiting class was forced to kick out every kid who had stolen something in his life (whether they are caught or not...remember it's about character here, according to you) I think ALL school's classes would be a little smaller than they otherwise are. These are generally relatively poor 16-year old kids. It happens.

John at MrSEC
John at MrSEC moderator

chrismd...

 

Not every coach makes as big a deal about character as Dooley did.  Dooley repeatedly hammered home character as one of his main recruiting points.  

 

It's one thing to answer questions about character, it's another to bring up the topic on your own time and time again.  That's why it caught our attention at the time and why we wrote that eventually it would come back to bite him... because all coaches value talent over character when it's possible.

 

As for Dooley having no qualms about booting Jackson, he allowed Jackson to skip an entire month of bowl practice then return and start in the game and collect his bowl gifts.  He then allowed Jackson to leave school completely for an entire semester before giving him yet another chance.  Jackson blew his umpteenth chance before Dooley acted.  No non-star would have gotten such special treatment... treatment that, by the way, has been brought up as being part of the reason so many on this year's Tennessee team felt their coach had a double-standard when it came to discipline and playing time.

 

Sadly, you seem to have read the initial post as an attack on Dooley when in fact it was simply a "told ya so."  He's no better or worse than any other coach when it comes to giving multiple chances to troubled players.  But by initially stating so many times that he was going to be character-first, he set himself up for scrutiny.  Which is exactly what he's gotten since signing Bonner.  And that's exactly what we'd said would happen all along.

 

John

SG
SG

 @John at MrSEC Nice job not addressing the quality points that ChrisMD & others made about Dooley's team being very clean with off-the-field issues over the past two years. I dare you to compare the arrest records of every team in the SEC since Dooley took over because I'm sure you'll find that UT is one of the cleanest during that time. For you to expect Dooley to have a roster full of angels is asinine. You cannot have a roster of 120 young men playing college football and not have a few troubled youths. A good number of the kids come from rough backgrounds, and it's quite amazing the growing up they do in four years under a quality coaching staff.

 

Also, great job making accusations about the Jackson situation when you cannot possibly know every detail since you do not work for UT Athletics.

 

 

chrismd
chrismd

 @John at MrSEC No, what I read the post as is another journalist trying to create an issue or make a point because he/she needs a story. Not because an issue actually exists.... par for the course these days. I like this site, but rarely agree with the editorial  opinions on it.

 

And Dooley absolutely is better than ALL the other SEC coaches when it comes to one thing...off the field issues....you like research so much, find a team in the SEC with fewer off the filed discipline issues since Jan of 2010...I doubt we'll see that research done on here... 

Volguest
Volguest

It could be that Dooley did feel that way early in his tenure but backed off after seeing you can't win without elite players on your team.  4 and 5 star players aren't exactly beating down the door in Knoxville like they are in Alabama.  Dooley has had nice recruiting classes but nothing that he could just ignore players with character problems.  Or it could be that he was made to make a point about character early on after all the character issues that the school faced with Fulmer and Kiffin. 

John at MrSEC
John at MrSEC moderator

Volguest...

 

Agreed.  Point is -- he was walking a dangerous path by singing a louder tune about character than other SEC coaches. 

 

We actually wrote that on this site at the time.  If you're going to state that character is uber-important, you'd better know that people will hold you to it.  Knowing that no coach actually puts character above talent, we figured he was just setting himself up for scrutiny when he inked someone with a questionable background or allowed someone with talent to stay on his team post-trouble.  

 

Best bet for coaches -- say "we want fine young men" when asked about character but don't go out of your way to make character a key recruiting point.  For gosh sakes, don't bring it up on your own... as Dooley did numerous times.

 

Thanks for reading the site,

John

mborokyvol
mborokyvol

i have no problem with your article, john. dooley cant say one thing and do another. no part of your article was demeaning to ut or cdd. vol fans need to let this go and hope bonner keeps his nose clean. as a vol fan from m'bor,ky nobody hears it as much as i do when ut athletes get in trouble.

ice2cold
ice2cold

@John at MrSEC I still can't figure out why your dodging the real character issue. They keep telling you to check out the UT program compared to the rest of the SEC regarding off the field issues. Seems to me that Dooley is building great character when he gets the kids in his program. I think he owes you a "told ya so" because hardly any problems since he has been on the hill.



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