By Alex Norman
I give up.
Seriously. I give up.
From this point forward I refuse to believe that Tennessee’s athletic department will ever be back to normal.
Much like my refusal to pick the Vols to beat Florida in football, I will no longer believe that Tennessee can go a month without a public relations problem.
Let’s go back to football for a second. How on earth did the Vols lose to the Gators last fall? That Florida team had no desire to even be out there, with a starting quarterback that was a turnover machine, in front of over 100 thousand fans, most of whom found a way to make Neyland Stadium look like a giant orange and white checkerboard.
It was perfect… until it wasn’t. Despite never having a long sustained drive all day; Florida won 10-9, their 10th straight win over the Vols.
This is the kind of thing that has happened to Tennessee athletics since the firing of Phillip Fulmer in November 2008.
But in recent months you had the feeling that things were on the upswing.
Dave Hart, Tennessee’s embattled athletic director, turned a disastrous men’s basketball situation (the hiring and firing of Donnie Tyndall) into a positive with the quick replacement hiring of former Texas coach Rick Barnes.
For Tennessee football, anticipation for the upcoming season is high. The Vols are in some preseason Top 25 polls and are a dark horse pick to win the SEC East for the first time since 2007. Season tickets sales continue to grow.
But nothing is ever puppy dogs and ice cream for Tennessee. The next crisis is always somewhere… waiting to rear its ugly head.
Last week news broke that Tennessee freshman quarterback Jauan Jennings was accused of assault, vandalism and theft, stemming from an alleged fight at a bonfire in Lebanon. There have been no charges brought, and any possible suspension or punishment from Tennessee head coach Butch Jones has not been made public.
But for a football program that has seen multiple players from last year’s roster accused of sexual assault, the last thing they need is another player in the news for the wrong reasons.
Jennings may well be innocent, and this might blow over before fall camp begins in August. But until then it is another headache for Jones.
If this wasn’t enough, Hart had to deal with another potential mess, from a very unexpected place.
The Chronicle of Higher Education ran an article last week which detailed academic misconduct for the men’s basketball team at Texas while Rick Barnes was head coach. Both Texas and Tennessee have said that Barnes was not aware of this academic wrongdoing.
In the cesspool that is college athletics (especially in a revenue sport like men’s basketball); Barnes has a very good track record, so this had to hit Hart like a sledgehammer. Only a couple of months after Hart was raked over the coals for a lousy vetting process when Tennessee hired Tyndall, he would once again answer questions for a new hire.
Not surprisingly, Hart is all in when it comes to backing Barnes.
In a statement released by the University of Tennessee, Hart said, “Coach Barnes has a sterling reputation as a person of very high ethical standards at every institution he has represented and we are excited to have him lead our men’s basketball program.”
In a month SEC Media Days will take place in Hoover, Alabama. When those days get there, summer is unofficially over and the 2015 football season is within reach.
Can Tennessee get to that point on the calendar without something else happening that takes a shot at their already shaky rep?
Don’t bet on it…