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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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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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Big 12 Approves Revenue-Sharing, But That Doesn’t Mean A Thing

The Big 12 has announced that a revenue-sharing plan for all Tier I and Tier II television money has been accepted… IF the league’s members all sign over their TV rights to the league office for a minimum of six years.

So there’s still a pretty big “if” hanging out there.  Also, this does nothing for the Tier III rights which would include Texas’ Longhorn Network.

In other words, today’s announcement is a PR move — possibly designed to help ease the fears of potential Big 12 expansion targets like BYU.  But officially, nothing changes until each school agrees to hand its TV rights over to the league.  And that’s not happened yet.

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Kennedy, Donovan Praise Kentucky

During yesterday’s SEC basketball coaches teleconference the subject of John Calipari’s new mega-contract came up again and again.  And while the league’s other coaches said all the right things about Coach Cal, a couple of them had even better things to say about the school the employs him.

Ole Miss’ Andy Kennedy:

“… I think when you start setting the standard for the epitome for success for college basketball, you start with Kentucky.  No offense to Cal, but that started way before he got there.  Obviously, it’s the most storied program in the history of college basketball.  The most passionate fan base of any collegiate following that I’ve ever been a part of.  And he’s done a tremendous job of going in and selling that product.  He’s an excellent coach.”

Billy Donovan of Florida:

“Every program aspires to build that kind of tradition. … Kentucky’s always been Kentucky.  It’s been that way for 60 years.  … They are truly the measuring stick.”

I think the PR department at UK just got some free and easy quotes to use in this year’s hoops media guide.

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SEC Schools Should Offer Replacement Trees To Auburn

We at believe Mike Slive should be busy this afternoon.  He should be on the phone with 11 presidents from the SEC’s 12 member institutions.  His league has taken a prolonged, embarrassing beating in the national press in recent weeks — Cam Newton, Bruce Pearl, now an Alabama fan vandalizing Auburn’s 130-year-old oak trees — and the commissioner finally has a chance to show the country that his conference can pull together.

In the process, he might even be able to cool down some of the animosity that is reaching dangerous levels in his always passionate conference.

Slive and the university presidents at Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, LSU, Mississippi State, Ole Miss, South Carolina, Tennessee and Vanderbilt should make a combined, public offer to assist Auburn in saving/replacing the oak tree tradition at Toomer’s Corner.

With poison likely to remain in the ground for several years, it’s questionable as to whether or not grown trees can be transplanted or small, younger trees can be planted at the site.  But if there is a possibility of replacing those trees, the league’s schools should make a symbolic gesture by offering to provide the replacement trees.  Eleven oaks from across the Southeast.  One from each league school.  Spread across the Auburn campus or gathered in the Toomer’s Corner area.

Such a gesture would send a strong message that while SEC fans might bicker with one another, the schools very much stand together when faced with adversity.

Just imagine the ESPN coverage the league would receive at the dedication ceremony alone.  Bonus — we’re talking about positive PR for a change.

Now obviously there is no fitting replacement for the Toomer’s Corner/oak tree tradition.  If those sacred oaks die, it will take years for a new tradition to truly gain a foothold.  But if Auburn attempts to move forward with a new, replacement tradition, then schools of the SEC should offer to aid Auburn in the venture.

That would show America that the Southeastern Conference does not have a wild, wild west “anything goes” mentality.  And for those fringe fans who do prefer to hate another school rather than love their own, such a gesture would show them that they are very much in the minority.

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Miles: “I Am Told That We Will Speak”

Only Les Miles could make a routine statement sound so bizarre.  LSU’s coach said today during Patrick Peterson’s “I’m going pro” press conference that he will meet with Michigan officials regarding the Wolverines’ head coaching job.

“To this point in time I have not talked to anybody from Michigan, nor has my representation had anything but distant conversations with representatives who represent the school.  I am told that we will speak, but that time and place has not been identified.”

A tip of the hat to the coach for being honest.  That’s rare in the coach-search game (more on that in a minute).  But his wording is as amusing as ever.  He could’ve just as easily said, “I haven’t talked to anyone from Michigan but I’ve told my agent to set up a meeting so I can hear them out.”

At any rate, Miles would not classify the meeting as an interview.

“It’s hard for me to speculate as to the substance of that meeting,” the coach said.  “The only thing I can tell you is I spent my day today with a number of underclassmen.  I am extremely happy here.  There’s a real comfort with my family in Baton Rouge.  I think it’s best left that way.”

The Detroit Free-Press reports today that Miles and Michigan AD Dave Brandon will convene in Dallas tomorrow.  Both will be in town for the American Football Coaches Association convention.

For now, it sounds as if Miles is simply trying to be courteous to his alma mater.  It’s quite possible that he took the unusual route of being completely honest about the scheduled meeting because he wants everyone to know just how highly he thinks of UM.  When was the last time a coach came out an publicly stated, “Yep, I’m going to talk with School X?”  Usually said coach is already out of town before word of his job switch leaks. 

Miles may well land in Ann Arbor, but this seems a little too public to us.  Almost like Miles is doing a PR favor for his old school.

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Pearl Needs To Sign His New Contract

A quick catcher-upper:

1.  Bruce Pearl committed some — relatively speaking — small violations of NCAA rules and was caught doing so.  Had he come clean, he and Tennessee likely would have escaped any serious penalties.

2.  But Pearl lied to NCAA investigators about the violations, which is a the Queen Mother of no-no’s.  He apparently tried to lure others into his cover-up as well.

3.  Tennessee announced that it was reducing Pearl’s salary by $1.5 million over the next five years.

4.  Tennessee did not announce that Pearl’s original contract was terminated entirely and a new one was being drawn up.  That news leaked out weeks later.

5.  Pearl, when given the new contract, did not immediately sign it as he and his lawyers were not completely satisfied with some of the wording in the new pact.

Now the ball is back in UT’s court.  Pearl and his attorney have requested changes in the language of the deal and the University of Tennessee’s general counsel is now examining those requested changes.

Pearl told The Knoxville News Sentinel “that salary is not the issue.”  He added, “I accept the penalty the university has imposed.  I’m not going anywhere.  This is where I want to coach.”  Vol messageboards had recently heated up with talk that Pearl was planning to leave Knoxville.

Of course, with the Sword of Damocles dangling over his head, it’s unlikely that any school would be beating down Pearl’s door at the moment.

The UT athletic department has made no bones about its intent to keep Pearl as head coach.  AD Mike Hamilton says that just “three or four things” are holding up the contract process.  “I see that (new contract) as a foregone conclusion.  Bruce and I are basically on the same page with where we think it needs to go.”

Perhaps.  But it’s not the best PR move in the world for Pearl to let this contract issue drag out.  He is very lucky to still have his job.  Tennessee officials are even prepared to withstand a one-year NCAA suspension of their coach… if it comes to that.

If Pearl feels uncomfortable with some of the language in the new pact, UT officials should ask him if he would feel more comfortable in the unemployment line.  Of course, by sticking by Pearl so steadfastly, UT has made it clear to the coach that he still holds the leverage when dealing with the school.  UT clearly wants him on the sideline at Thompson-Boling Arena.  He knows that.  So if a clause doesn’t suit his liking, Pearl sees no problem in asking for that clause to be tweaked.

But from a PR perspective, the longer Pearl delays signing his new contract, the more it appears he’s playing dentist to UT’s gift horse.

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