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UT’s Jones Tries To Coax Favorite Son Martin Back To Knoxville

You can call it the first major recruiting pitch of new coach Butch Jones’ career at Tennessee.  Yesterday he spent the day wooing ex-Vol quarterback Tee Martin back to Knoxville.

But while many folks always believe any alum would kills for a chance to return to his old school as a coach, the reality is a little different.  For fans, of course a player would return.  For players-turned-coaches, there are little things like money, family happiness, and upward mobility that weight into the decision.

Perhaps that’s why Martin — who led UT to the 1998 BCS championship as quarterback — spent the day in Knoxville yesterday and then scrambled back to Los Angeles and his job as Southern Cal’s receivers coach this morning without giving Jones or his old school an answer.  Martin was on the Kentucky staff that snapped a long losing streak to Tennessee.  He then went to work with Lane Kiffin, one of the most hated sports figures in the history of the Volunteer State.  In case you haven’t been keeping up, sentimentality doesn’t appear to rank too high on Martin’s list of reasons to accept/decline a job.

“Things went really good,” Martin told The Knoxville News Sentinel.  “I had an opportunity to meet the staff and see everything that’s changed (on campus).  I could tell they were headed in the right direction…

“We’ll see what happens.  Today was more about getting to know each other… It’s about making this decision for the right reason.”

The ex-QB also told (paywall) — the Rivals site covering Tennessee — that he was going back to California to “talk with Lane and then make my decision.”

So is Martin heading back to Southern Cal’s campus to tell Kiffin bye-bye in a face-to-face meeting?  Is he trying to convince his singer wife Toya to move from LA to Knoxville?  Or is he just using Tennessee’s offer to get a raise in California?

Whatever Martin’s motivations, this should show fans of all schools that there’s more to accepting a job than just spending four college years on a school’s campus.  For an assistant it’s a career move, a business decision.  Even for an alum.  Even if his blood runs (insert school color here).


UPDATE – Multiple reports from Knoxville are claiming Martin has rebuffed Tennessee’s offer. Martin: “I made a commitment to my players at USC.”

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Louisville’s Strong Weighing Offers From UT, Louisville

And the beat goes on…

The final coaching search in the SEC rolls on and the rumor/panic meter is pegging in the red.  Which is also where the winner of the Charlie Strong sweepstakes might wind up running financially.

The silence that’s been coming from Louisville this afternoon has left both Tennessee and Louisville fans to wonder where Strong will be coaching next season.  Whatever choice he makes, the man who won the Big East Conference in the third-year of his Louisville rebuilding project will have a much, much heftier salary coming his way.  The two schools are reportedly duking it out with dollar signs for Strong.  The coach made $2.3 million last season.  Expect that number to be well over $3 million next year.

A Cardinals team meeting was initially scheduled for 3:45pm ET today to discuss the team’s Sugar Bowl travel/practice plans.  Now that meeting has reportedly been pushed back 45 minutes.

Twitter is bursting with news of planes leaving Knoxville for Louisville, but that’s about as trustworthy as… well… as anyone else during these coaching searches.  (And, yes, we include ourselves in that knock.)

If Tennessee does land Strong, expect many people to state that the Vols overpaid for a coach with just three years experience (though many people ribbed UT for underpaying for a coach with just three years experience the last time around).

If UT athletic director Dave Hart doesn’t land Strong, then people across the Volunteer State will really be breaking out the disaster plans.

They shouldn’t.

As we wrote this morning, Tennessee is no longer competing with Arkansas and Auburn for a coach.  Those schools picked men who were not even believed to be on the Volunteers’ list.  And Kentucky had already tabbed a coordinator for its job a week ago.

That means for any head coach wanting to land a job in the top football conference in America and make a truckload of cash in the process, the UT job is the only one available.  So why the panic?

Hart initially said he’d make a hire by mid-December.  According to my calendar it’s just now December 5th.  In terms of Arkansas’ search, we understood fan frustrations because the Razorback job had been open since April.  That’s a lot of waiting, wishing, mulling, worrying, and hoping.

But Tennessee fans should be asking their AD to slow down and take another lap around the country.  The pressure’s off and the Vols need a good hire.  Why run a two-minute drill when it’s not necessary?  To save a recruiting class?  The last time the Vols did that they saved said class by hiring Derek Dooley.

Then again, maybe this all part of the smokescreen for you know who. (Language NSFW, but a funny video just the same.)

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UT’s Bray Tweets He’ll Be Back Soon; Dooley Not So Sure

If you read this site on a regular basis, you know that we’re anti-Twitter when it comes to college athletes.  With a few keystrokes they can damage their own reputations and — in extreme circumstances — tear down a whole program with their 140-character blasts.  (Ask Butch Davis about Twitter’s effect on his career and North Carolina’s program.)

Well, Tennessee quarterback Tyler Bray is the latest to put his foot — or would it be fingers? — in his mouth with a tweet he posted last night:


“Thumb is feeling a lot better.  Thanks to volnation for all your support ill be back soon maybe sooner than everyone thinks…”


And like that, hopes were raised across the Volunteer State.  But his coach dismissed his quarterback’s tweet today.

“It’s going the same as we always thought,” Derek Dooley said.  ”I mean, it’s really hard to tell because he’s in a cast.  Somebody said he tweeted something.  He’s not a doctor, he’s a 19-year-old guy.”

Bray broke his thumb against Georgia earlier this month and was initially expected to be out at least until Tennessee’s regular-season finale against Kentucky.

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Dooley’s Not Worried About His Orange Pants

Derek Dooley’s bright orange slacks have become a hot topic in the Volunteer State this fall.  But while the coach is the guy who chose to wear them, he’s apparently getting a little tired of talking about them:

“That’s the last thing I’m worried about.  I can assure you the orange slacks aren’t the reason we’re winning.”

Those pants might not be pretty to look at, but at least Dooley knows where his pants are.

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UT Chancellor Stands Behind A.D. Hamilton

Over the past two years, no athletic director in America has been on the receiving end of more body blows and haymakers from the national press than Tennessee’s Mike Hamilton.

First, his hire of Lane Kiffin blew up in his (and Tennessee’s) face.  With Kiffin’s January departure, Hamilton had to hire a coach just three weeks before signing day.  As a result he was turned down more times than a hotel bedspread, finally snaring Louisiana Tech’s Derek Dooley as he limped away from a 4-8 season with the Bulldogs.

At least Hamilton had Bruce Pearl going for him.  Scratch that.  When news broke that UT’s basketball coach had lied to NCAA investigators and attempted to get a recruit’s father to help cover-up his deeds, the national media screamed for blood.  But Hamilton stood by his man.  Half a year later he finally pulled the plug on Pearl — first with an ill-timed interview on the eve of the NCAA Tournament and then with an official firing notice.

And who did he land to replace the ever-popular Pearl?  Cuonzo Martin from Missouri State… a coach most Vol fans had never heard of (despite a solid reputation among basketball folks).

While pundits from ESPN to CBSSports have called for Hamilton’s head — and many fans in Volunteer State have added to that chorus — there’s still one guy who appears to have Hamilton’s back.  His boss.

UT chancellor Jimmy Cheek tells The Associated Press: “I think it’s been a tough period, but Mike has, I think, hired two outstanding coaches in Derek Dooley and Cuonzo Martin.  I think both of them, the longer we get to know each of them, the better we’re going to get to like them.  We’ve just got to be patient as that unfolds.”

Patience.  Now that’s a word sports fans love to hear.

“I think the fans are very important to our program,” Cheek said.  “But we’re here to manage the (athletics) programs.  These are complex decisions we have to make.  There’s certainly information that I’m privy to that the rest of the public is not privy to.  We have to look at everything.”

Perhaps Cheek’s support for Hamilton also reveals what has been whispered in Knoxville since Pearl was given the boot — Hamilton was only following marching orders from Cheek and a few key Vol boosters.  If so, then Cheek might simply be showing loyalty to someone who took the fall for another group’s decision.

Of course, this could all be smoke, too.  Southern Cal dismissed AD Mike Garrett after the Trojans went before the NCAA’s committee on infractions, not before.  If Cheek is still supportive of Hamilton — after the Vols’ own meeting with the NCAA’s COI — then his words will carry a lot more weight than the ones he uttered this week.

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Former UT Coach Smith Rants About His Departure From Knoxville

Well, former Tennessee defensive line coach Chuck Smith just had his day in the sun… but it’s hard to imagine much positive light falling on him after his morning press conference.

According to radio host Jimmy Hyams of WNML-FM/AM in Knoxville, Smith covered a number of topics during his presser and afterwards… which we’ll summarize for you:

* Smith wanted Tennessee fans and media to know that he remains a “Vol for life” and did not quit on the UT program.

* He said that “family” isn’t important at UT and that he was driven away because he was “too big for the program.” 

* In an odd twist, he then compared himself to Lane Kiffin saying that once a person puts on the “T” logo, he’s a “Vol for life.”  Not sure that making a pro-Kiffin comment is the best way to go in the Volunteer State these days.

* He denied rumors that he and defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox ever came to blows…

* But when it came to praising his co-workers, he did have good things to say about UT’s offensive assistants and Derek Dooley.  His defensive mates were noticeably omitted.

* He also said that his defensive line was the “MVP” of the team over the Vols’ last four games.

* At one point, Smith said he would like to be a season-ticket holder at Tennessee… and then said he’d like to coach elsewhere in the SEC East.  Maybe it’s a love/hate thing. 

Smith might find it hard landing another job in the SEC East — or elsewhere — after the press conference that he called without UT’s knowledge.

His exit for Tennessee isn’t likely to serve as an entrance to anyplace else.


UPDATE — Want to watch the odd press conference?  Click here.

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Ezeli And Harris Earn SEC Player Of The Week Honors

The SEC has handed out its weekly basketball honors and both will go to players in the Volunteer State.

Vanderbilt’s Festus Ezeli has been named the SEC’s Player of the Week after averaging 19.0 points, 6.5 rebounds and 3.0 blocks per game in wins over Western Kentucky and Belmont.

Tennessee’s Tobias Harris has been honored as the SEC’s Freshman of the Week after scoring 21 points and leading the Vols in steals (3) against Middle Tennessee State.

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SEC Players Of The Week – Basketball

The SEC has announced its basketball players of the week and both reside in the Volunteer State.

Vanderbilt guard John Jenkins was named the league’s Player of the Week after averaging 21.7 points per game at the Puerto Rico Tip-Off.

Tennessee forward Tobias Harris was named the SEC’s Freshman of the Week.  Harris leads the Vols in scoring (16.3 ppg) and minutes (27.3 mpg) and is second on the team in rebounding (5.3 rpg).

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