Frustration overshadowed what had been a solid spring on the field, leading B.J. Coleman to leave the University of Tennessee football team Thursday.
Coleman told the Times Free Press he did not believe he had a legitimate opportunity to win the starting quarterback job, adding it was a painful decision to give up his dream.
“It’s the best move for me,” the former McCallie School star said. “What changed my mind is, after this spring, I don’t see myself getting a fair shake. Based on conversations with coaches and things that happened this spring, I feel the staff has goals that do not include me.
“I didn’t just quit. I didn’t just walk out. But I’m going to be taking a huge risk of losing another year of eligibility if I stay. I just want to play ball. This is my home-state school, and I know I can lead the team better than the other two guys.”
Staff Photo by Patrick Smith Former McCallie standout and Tennessee quarterback B.J. Coleman looks across the field during a pre-game warm up before their game against Northern Illinois.
Coleman met briefly Wednesday morning with Tennessee coach Lane Kiffin and quarterbacks coach David Reaves to discuss his future and to ask for an assurance that his spring performance had earned him a chance for more repetitions with the first-team offense. According to Coleman, Kiffin rescheduled the meeting for noon Thursday to allow the coach another day to evaluate video from this spring’s 12 practice sessions and three game-situation scrimmages.
When Coleman arrived for the Thursday meeting with Kiffin, he was told the meeting would need to be rescheduled for Monday.
After meeting with athletic director Mike Hamilton and the UT compliance office, Coleman returned to Kiffin’s office later Thursday afternoon to inform the coach of his decision to leave. According to Coleman, Kiffin became agitated.
However, Thursday evening a university athletic department spokesperson said he was unaware of the finality of Coleman’s decision.
“That’s hard to believe,” said Ralph Potter, who coached Coleman at McCallie and now is the athletic director and football coach at Brentwood Academy. “I know for a fact that B.J. met with Mike Hamilton, the director of football operations and Coach Kiffin and told all of them he wanted his release to separate himself from the team so he could pursue other options.
“I heard that directly from B.J. before and after Thursday’s meeting.”
For the last two weeks of practice, Coleman took most of the snaps with the second team, while senior Jonathan Crompton took most of the first-team reps. In the three spring scrimmages that were treated as game situations and played in Neyland Stadium, Coleman was a combined 41-of-60 for 425 yards, with four touchdowns and no interceptions.
By comparison, Crompton was a combined 31-of-70 for 324 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions. Rising junior Nick Stephens, who missed much of the spring work with a broken right wrist, was 13-of-25 for 159 yards and two TDs.
“I believe the reason I wasn’t moved up is because it would hurt them in recruiting if they name a sophomore as their starter,” Coleman said. “Some of the high school guys they’re recruiting might not want to go where they think they’ll have to sit for a couple of years.
“I gave it everything I had. I couldn’t have had a better spring or made it more obvious to them that I was their guy. I proved it on the field and off. The scrimmages, to me, are how you grade if a kid can handle the atmosphere and the pressure. I’ve given them every reason to play me.”
As a redshirt freshman last season, Coleman did not receive playing time until he threw for 325 yards in a late-November junior varsity game. His most significant experience came later against Vanderbilt, when he threw just eight passes, completing four for 21 yards and an interception.
“This spring was my best shot to get the starting spot,” Coleman said. “Right now. After that, when they get their own guys in here that they’ve signed, I will start moving down the list. I would become what you call an insurance policy.
“It’s been frustrating to hear Coach Kiffin talk about how the quarterbacks have struggled so much this spring when I knew I didn’t. It seemed like, for Coach Kiffin, the day was based on how Jonathan does.”
Included in Coleman’s spring totals was last Saturday’s performance in the Orange and White game, in which he completed 13 of 22 passes for 161 yards with two TDs in his three series. His other drive began at the offense’s 2-yard line and culminated in a field goal after a third TD pass was nullified by a penalty.
“From the pregame meal through the Vol Walk Saturday, I treated it the same way I would a game next year,” Coleman said. “I wanted to show everybody what I’ve got. And finally the fans saw what I’ve been doing all spring.”
Coleman said he is unsure where he will transfer but said he and his family will begin contacting prospective programs soon.
An Academic All-SEC performer, Coleman has more than 80 credit hours and is on schedule to graduate in three years. He was chosen as the ambassador to represent UT at the NCAA’s student-athlete leadership conference in Orlando in May.
“If I’m the best leader and the most talented guy who gives you the best shot at winning, why am I not named the starter?” Coleman asked. “I’ve had so many players come up to me and tell me I’m their guy, I’m the one to lead this team, and I even told the coaches if they would just give me the keys I would get us where we need to be.
“But it never seemed like the coaches felt the same. That frustrated me for a while, but I’m at full peace with it now.”
Stephen has covered local sports in the tri-state area for more than 23 years, having been with the Times Free Press since its inception, and has been an assistant sports editor since 2005. Stephen is among the most decorated writers in the TFP’s newsroom, winning numerous state, regional and national writing awards, including nine in the last two years. He was named one of the top 10 sports writers in the nation at the Associated ...