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Ex-UT WR Arnett To Michigan State By Next Week

It didn’t take long for DeAnthony Arnett to make up his mind after Tennessee cleared him to transfer anywhere he liked.  The sophomore-to-be receiver — the #12 prospect in America at his position last year — will transfer to Michigan State where he expects to start classes next week. 

He will apply for a hardship waiver from the NCAA in an attempt to play for the Spartans next season.

As everyone knows by now, Arnett planned to transfer from Tennessee in order to get closer to home, closer to family.  His father’s health has been in sharp decline in recent months.  MSU is just about an hour from his hometown.

Derek Dooley, however, initially gave Arnett a waiver that nixed Michigan and Michigan State as potential landing spots.  More than likely he felt there had been some contact between those programs and a player still on his roster and coaches don’t respond well to tampering.  But whether tampering was involved or not, there was no way Dooley could win this particular PR battle.  Two words would always trump him: sick father.

So Dooley backtracked this week and told Arnett he was free to move about the country.  It didn’t the player long to make his decision.  And that likely validates any suspicions Dooley might have had about contact between Sparty and Arnett.

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Despite Mood Swings Around Them, UGA Players Are Upbeat About 2012

As we mentioned yesterday, nothing causes a mood swing in a fanbase like a bowl game.  Just look at what’s being said and written at Florida and Georgia as an example.

In Gainesville, suddenly the outlook seems pretty good after a 24-17 win over a 6-7 Ohio State team.  The messageboards are filled with optimism.  The press is writing stories about positives, rather than negatives.  The Gators suddenly have… momentum.

Ah, but in Athens, it’s a different tune.  The Bulldogs lost 33-30 in overtime to an 11-3 Michigan State squad.  Now some folks are asking questions about Mark Richt and his program all over again.

Florida (7-6) beats a bad Ohio State team and things are looking up.  Georgia (10-4) loses to a good Michigan State team and things are no longer so rosy.

Mood swings.

But one place the mood hasn’t swung is in the Georgia locker room:

“I think the whole Dawg nation is very excited.  I know as a team we’re pretty excited about the future of this team and the direction we’re heading right now.  We have to use this (loss) as motivation.” — quarterback Aaron Murray

“We’ve got a whole lot coming back.  I’m really looking forward to the offseason and the season coming up.  We’re definitely going to be better We definitely are going to be bigger, stronger, faster.” – linebacker Jarvis Jones

The Georgia team feels good about the future and it should.  UGA will probably be picked to finish on top of the SEC East again next year. 

But Georgia will have more pressure to deal with moving forward, too.  The schedule will raise expectations.  And the mood swing mentioned up top will have many Dawg fans pointing all summer long to 2012 being yet another “prove it” year for Richt.

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Ex-UT WR Arnett Praises “Compassionate And Empathetic” Dooley

Derek Dooley suggested during a press conference today that former Tennessee receiver DeAnthony Arnett would be granted a transfer to Michigan or Michigan State after all.  The coach took heat last week when Arnett let the press know that the Vols’ head coach was barring him from playing for the Spartans.  Arnett said he wanted to be closer to his family as his father’s medical condition had worsened in the time since the player signed with UT last February.

In an email to media members today, Arnett verifies Dooley’s reversal of field:

“My decision to leave the University of Tennessee has nothing to do with football, coaches, players or anything related to the school.  It is an will always remain solely based off of the importance of me keeping my beliefs and family first…

(Dooley’s) decision to release me unconditionally comes as a sign of a compassionate and empathetic coach.  I will never be able to express fully my appreciations and gratitude for his decision.

All good things take time and work.  UT has always surpassed the rest and I believe in due time they will be back to the No. 1 program in the SEC.  If I did not have issues within my family, you could guarantee that I would continue to be a VOL.”

Dooley — feeling quite a bit of heat from the press and likely on the recruiting trail — has retreated.  That’s a wise choice.  For as we wrote last week, this was a PR battle that he could not win at a time when he did not need any more losses… or battles, for that matter.

Agree with the coach’s decision or not — and the vast majority do think it’s better to let the player go — this move should take an arrow from the quiver of rival SEC recruiters: “You don’t want to play for that heartless guy, do you?”

Now Dooley’s “compassionate and empathetic.”  That’s a lot easier sell in recruits’ living rooms.

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Panic On Rocky Top; Dooley Responds

So much for out with everything-that’s-bad-in-2011 and in with promising-hopes-for-2012.  At Tennessee, the departures of defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox and linebackers coach Peter Sirmon to Washington — lateral moves at best — have left many in the Vol Nation wringing their hands as if they’d never rung in a new year at all.  Many — including some in the press — are barking for a coaching change at the top.  Like, now.

Dooley hasn’t been seen or heard by the Vol fanbase since UT’s season-ending loss to Kentucky.  That changed today with a press conference on Tennessee’s campus.

But before we get into what the coach said, let’s look at what he’s dealing with on Rocky Top at the moment:

1.  His second team had a disappointing 5-7 record, missed a bowl game, and lost to Kentucky to snap the nation’s longest team-over-team winning streak at 26, raising the dander of many a Big Orange supporter.

2.  The coach and his school are getting plenty of bad press for their handling of the DeAnthony Arnett situation.  The player wants to play at Michigan State to be closer to his ailing father.  UT pointed him toward MAC schools instead last week.

3.  There are now three slots to fill on the UT coaching staff.  And any new coach will want some assurances that he won’t be booted without a buyout should the head coach go belly-up in 2013.  So it might not be easy to find a replacement for Wilcox.  (Don’t be surprised if defensive line coach Lance Thompson is promoted.)

4.  But the three coaches who left — and that includes former special teams/tight ends coach Erik Russell — were rumored to have been upset with the fact that new AD Dave Hart isn’t big on handing out multi-year contracts to assistants.  Hart might have to if he wants to land a good defensive coordinator for Dooley.  And if he doesn’t, it might just show that Hart isn’t going to go overboard to help a coach that he didn’t hire in the first place.

5.  In addition, controversial wide receiver Da’rick Rogers took to Twitter last night and threw this bit of gas on the fire: “So many recruits lost today … wish I could tell you otherwise fellas .. but that’s whats goin on here …”

From that mess, Dooley emerged today to give an “all is well” speech.  At his press conference he said:

“The program is significantly better than it was 22 months ago, when we all got here. … I’ve never been more excited going into an offseason.  We’re returning 19 starters. … I understand why there’s a (negative) perception, but I’m more concerned with reality. … We’re on our way.  The worst is behind us.”

And Dooley is correct.  Tennessee’s roster is deeper and older now than it was when Lane Kiffin left, thanks to back-to-back Top 15 signing classes.  On paper, the Vols should be better moving forward.  And as the coach also pointed out during his presser, there have been coordinators leaving all over the SEC this offseason. 

The problem for Dooley is the perception, just as he said.  His coaches are leaving on top of a lot of other junk.  So it’s not just about the coaches.  It’s a quarterback who reportedly wasn’t interested in going to a minor bowl.  It’s a team that appeared to fracture at the end of last season.  It’s a coach who has rather poor public relations skills when it comes to sending a consistent, calming message through the media to his fanbase.  Even today, he opened his presser by admitting surprise over the size of the media throng packed into the UT football complex.  Kentucky fans might refer to this as Billy Gillispie Syndrome… a coach who doesn’t quite get just how important his each and every move is.

Dooley will need to do a better job of grasping the fact that at most SEC schools, fans hang on every word uttered from their head coach.  Dooley will also need to win and win fast. 

With a team lacking in confidence, next year’s opener with NC State at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta — a venue that has become a house of horrors for Tennessee since 2001 — will be enormously significant.  Win and things can start to calm in Knoxville.  Lose and the wheels could come off the Dooley bandwagon once and for all.  (And before someone tosses out Mark Richt’s 0-2 start this year, his players had a lot more reasons to have faith in their coach than Dooley’s would in him.)

A few other notes:

Dooley suggested that Arnett is not excluded from going to Michigan or Michigan State.  It would not surprise this writer if UT backtracks for the sake of PR and recruiting and allows Arnett to go wherever with the word leaked that he misunderstood Dooley’s initial ruling.  If that were true, of course, UT would have immediately put out a press release saying that he was free to go anywhere he chose when the bad publicity started pouring in last week.  The school didn’t. 

Next, Dooley said that Rogers — the tweeting receiver mentioned above — is still on the team despite numerous rumors to the contrary.

Also, the coach said he won’t rush coaching hires just for the sake of speed.  So UT fans can probably forget the rampant Randy Shannon speculation.  (This guy has been “hired” by about 15 different schools in the last two years.  He’s become the defensive coordinator equivalent of Jon Gruden, who’s rumored to have an interest in every college job in the country.)

Finally, just a sidenote for those folks who would like to see Dooley blown up after signing day, if you think the PR from the Arnett mess was bad, just try to lure in a whole signing class and then dump their head coach.  Tennessee’s new AD should probably focus on putting out the fires he inherited, not starting new ones.

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A Major Mood Swing At Georgia

Oh, what a missed field goal can bring.

Georgia’s fans watched in horror yesterday as the Bulldogs coaching staff went conservative with a 27-20 lead late in the Outback Bowl.  Mark Richt had been on the attack all season long with fourth-down gambles and Aaron Murray deep balls.  But with the game on the line, UGA’s braintrust puckered.  The offense went conservative.  The defense went into a prevent zone that allowed Michigan State to march 85 yards in less than two minutes.  Tie game.  27-27.  Overtime.

But in overtime, Georgia caught a break, picking off its third pass of the day from Spartan quarterback Kirk Cousins on MSU’s first possession.  Remarkably, the Dawgs went conservative again.  They appeared to be fine and dandy with a 42-yard field goal attempt from inconsistent kicker Blair Walsh.  Bad move.  He missed.

Overtime continued and you know the rest of the story — Michigan State 33, Georgia 30.

And everything has now changed in the Peach State as a result of that missed potential game-winner.

Up 16-0 at the half on a Top 5 defense, most Georgia fans were saying things like this: “You know, 11 wins this year, easy schedule next year, I really think we’re sitting pretty when it comes to winning the national title!”

After the loss — at least on the UGA messageboards — the talk changed to this:  “You know, we didn’t beat a good team all season.  10 wins against teams we should beat and then another bowl choke.  Nothing’s changed.”

A bowl loss is the worse thing in the world.  Instead of an offseason of positive dreaming, negative grumbling fills the airwaves.  Richt will get his contract extension from Georgia… as he should.

But if the coach’s status were left to fans — after yesterday’s loss — Richt’s seat really wouldn’t be all that much cooler entering 2012.  Especially with the Dawgs’ much-maligned schedule.

His conservatism and a missed field goal will have a lot of Georgians saying that Richt had better win big next season.  Or else many folks will be right back calling for his head.

There’s nothing like the mood swing after a bowl loss.

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PR Bungle: Dooley Won’t Give Vol WR Arnett A Free Pass To Transfer

Derek Dooley is developing quite the reputation for being a stickler.  Maybe that’s just the lawyer in him.  But Tennessee’s head coach is now — for the third time — putting his foot down when it comes to a player looking to transfer.

Yesterday, freshman receiver DeAnthony Arnett let it be known that he wants to return to his home state of Michigan to be closer to his father, whose poor health has worsened in recent months.

Soon after, UT announced that Dooley would not allow Arnett to have a free pass out of town.  According to an email the player sent to the media, Michigan and Michigan State are off limits to him:

“If I wanted to attend The University of Michigan and Michigan State University then I would have to pay for school instead of be on the Scholorship.  I dont know whats next my family cant afford to pay for school and my father health reason isnt good enough excuse for me to attend a BCS school close to home.”

Sidenote — It’s ridiculous what Twitter and texting are doing to the English language.  Do kids even know what an apostrophe is anymore?

Back to the topic, Dooley appears A-OK with Arnett heading to the Mid-American Conference, but he doesn’t want him going to a football power.  Here’s a UT spokesperson’s take on the situation:

“We’re not denying him a release to be near his family, get a good education and play Division I football at the same time, but we do have a policy of not releasing players to schools we either play or recruit against.”

Outside of bowl games — and Dooley didn’t have to worry about that one this year — the Vols don’t meet up with the Wolverines and Spartans often.  In fact, in more than a century of football, UT has played Michigan once and State never.  And it’s not as if Tennessee squares off with great regularity against those schools on the recruiting trail, either.

Admittedly, no one can be sure if Arnett is seeking a transfer just because he wants to be near his father.  Rumors suggest he was tight with departed receivers coach Charlie Baggett.  So maybe he wants out because he’s disgruntled.  And it’s also possible that UT coaches feel Michigan or MSU might have tampered with the player.  Who knows?

But for Dooley, this is a PR battle he doesn’t need to fight right now.  He’s already played hardball with two players who wanted to transfer when he took over — Lane Kiffin-signee Bryce Brown and Phillip Fulmer-signee Aaron Douglas both met major resistance in their attempts to leave Knoxville.  Now Arnett is getting the same treatment and not everyone on the Tennessee messageboards is thrilled about it.

Nick Saban — who Dooley served under — and Les Miles can get away with being tough guys in these types of matters because they win.  Dooley hasn’t.  So he’s not getting universal support in his decision to block a player whose father is sick from playing at a big school (which could aid Arnett’s professional aspirations).

We view it as another public relations misstep for a coach who lost at Kentucky to close the season and then decided to go into silent mode.  Many ornery Vol fans have voiced their displeasure with their coach’s disappearance since November.

Dooley should be worried about winning with the guys he’s got.  If a kid wants to transfer because he’s homesick or his playing time isn’t what he’d hoped, fine, he should hold onto him.  But this one looks bad.  And UT fans are split over their coach’s move.

That’s not what Dooley needs right now.  Because if he doesn’t start winning in 2012, he might spend the next few years of his career in the MAC right along with Arnett.

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Forbes Ranks College Football’s Most Valuable Teams

The financial magazine Forbes has put together it’s latest list of college football’s most valuable teams and — not surprisingly — the SEC is well represented.

The magazine used a four-pronged scoring system based on:

1.  The value of a team to its university
2.  The value to its athletic department
3.  The value to its conference
and 4. The value to its surrounding community

Like any list of this type, there’s plenty of room or debate (which is exactly what the good folks at Forbes want in the first place).

This year’s list?  Here goes…

1.  Texas — current value: $129 million
2.  Notre Dame — $112 million
3.  Penn State — $100 million (here’s guessing that’s drop a bit next year)
4.  LSU — $96 million
5.  Michigan — $94 million
6.  Alabama — $93 million
7.  Georgia — $90 million
8.  Arkansas — $89 million
9.  Auburn — $88 million
10.  Oklahoma — $87 million
11.  Florida — $86 million
12.  Tennessee — $82 million
13.  Ohio State — $78 million
14.  Nebraska — $77 million
15.  Wisconsin — $67 million
16.  South Carolina — $64 million
17.  Texas A&M — $63 million
18.  Southern Cal — $62 million
19.  Michigan State — $59 million
20.  Iowa — $48 million

Five of the top nine, seven of the top 12, and nine of the top 17 most “valuable” college football programs call the SEC home.  Impressive.

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SEC Headlines – 12/20/11

1.  Auburn slipped past Florida A&M 76-69 last night, but Tony Barbee isn’t happy his team plays down to the level of its competition.

2.  Might AU use a “mystery tailback” in the Chick-fil-A Bowl?

3.  Alabama is getting back to basics for its bowl preps.

4.  Outgoing offensive coordinator Jim McElwain got emotional when Nick Saban praised him to the team during practice… and the team responded with applause.

5.  Freshman quarterback Brandon Allen is drawing praise at Arkansas during bowl practice.

6.  Will tailback Knile Davis play in the Cotton Bowl and burn a medical redshirt?  Will he return next year?  Or turn pro?  No one’s saying.

7.  Of LSU’s two All-American cornerbacks, Morris Claiborne is the low-key one.

8.  MSU’s linebacking corps jelled as the season played out.

9.  Quarterback Tyler Russell will play through the pain of an MCL sprain in the Music City Bowl.

10.  Mississippi’s Hugh Freeze and his staff of five assistants are trying to play catch-up on the recruiting trail.

11.  The Rebels’ new head coach said yesterday that he’ll be calling plays next season… even though he still might give someone else the “offensive coordinator” title.

12.  In hindsight, Will Muschamp says he should have put his first Florida team through a more physical August camp.

13.  The roundball Gators whooped up on Mississippi Valley State 82-54 last night.

14.  Georgia has wrapped up the on-campus part of its Outback Bowl preps.

15.  The Dawgs want to make amends for last season’s bowl loss to UCF when they face Michigan State.

16.  Mark Fox’s basketball team hosts Mercer tonight.

17.  Kentucky’s Darius Miller says he’s been rushing the 3-point shot.

18.  John Calipari is trying to create a “Breakfast Club” on his Wildcat team.  (That’s my cue to do this for those of you who are children of the ’80s.)

19.  UK and the city of Lexington continue to differ over the future of Rupp Arena.

20.  Melvin Ingram told fellow Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney to “keep pushing” through the freshman wall.

21.  When Ellis Johnson is announced as Southern Miss’ new head coach, Steve Spurrier will lose a solid recruiter.

22.  Tennessee may be on a four-game losing streak but Cuonzo Martin is “sticking to the script.”

23.  Martin also won’t cut Trae Golden’s minutes just because he’s got a broken nose.

24.  Vanderbilt got a 29-point performance from Jeffery Taylor — who was coming off a bad stomach bug — in a 99-71 win over Longwood last night.

25.  It looks like Cincinnati will have a healthy Zach Collaros at quarterback when they face the Commodores in the Liberty Bowl.

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SEC Headlines – 12/19/11

1.  Freshman Bradley Beal already looks comfortable at Florida… what with that 15.2 points-per-game average.

2.  Erik Murphy will be back in the Gators’ starting lineup tonight.

3.  Prepping to meet Michigan State in the Outback Bowl, Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham remember his own three years in East Lansing.

4.  This writer puts odds on which UGA underclassmen will turn pro.

5.  John Calipari was happy with the play of point guard Marquis Teague this weekend.

6.  For freshman All-American defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, his best days at South Carolina are ahead of him.

7.  It doesn’t show in the record, but this writer says Tennessee’s hoopsters are making progress.

8.  Vanderbilt will hope to get more than 15 combined points from John Jenkins and Festus Ezeli tonight against Longwood.

9.  Alabama is a healthier team as it resumes preparations for the BCS Championship Game…

10.  And it resumes those preps today.

11.  One area of consistency for Auburn in 2011?  Punter Steven Clark.

12.  The basketball Tigers will face Florida A&M tonight before heading to Hawaii for Christmas.

13.  You can probably forget finding cheap tickets to the BCS title game.  (Duh.)

14.  Trent Johnson’s Tigers have won four in a row, but tonight they host #11 Marquette.

15.  Linebacker Ferlando Bohanna — now that’s a name — gives Mississippi State options moving forward.

UPDATE – The SEC has named its Players of the Week.

UPDATE/BONUS — We usually don’t cover baseball, but the league announced today that the SEC tourney will go from 8 to 10 teams in May.

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SEC Headlines – 12/6/11 AM Edition

1.  The AP has handed out its postseason All-SEC honors and awards.

2.  A look inside the Harris Poll vote — part of the BCS system — might scare you.

3.  Auburn fans are trying to get the skinny on bowl opponent Virginia.

4.  One Heisman pundit says Alabama’s Trent Richardson would have won the award… had he played last Saturday.

5.  The Cotton Bowl was a good landing spot for Arkansas.

6.  LSU will do some healing up over the next month.

7.  Les Miles is a finalist for the Eddie Robinson National Coach of the Year award.

8.  Florida will get a tough test from Arizona tomorrow night.

9.  There are a lot of similarities between Georgia and Michigan State heading into the Outback Bowl.

10.  John Calipari says he’s only looking out for his team — which he says will always be filled with young players — in deciding to drop a rivalry game with either Indiana, Louisville or North Carolina.

11.  South Carolina supporters are studying up on bowl opponent Nebraska.

12.  Tennessee’s compliance department is reminding car dealers not to give Vol athletes any special deals.

13.  James Franklin says the fact that Vanderbilt didn’t have a first-team All-SEC selection shows what a great job his staff did this year.

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