Staff Photo by Patrick Smith
Tennessee quarterback B.J. Coleman runs the ball in the first half of their game against Vanderbilt in Nashville on Saturday. Tennessee won 20-10.
The enthusiastic voice on the other end of the phone was unmistakably B.J. Coleman.
You could start every morning with a shot of B-12 and a Red Bull espresso and still not be as perky as the likable former McCallie quarterback. The guy makes the Mouseketeers seem gloomy, and any lingering frustration following the most disastrous season in the history of University of Tennessee football has already been replaced by his perpetually positive attitude.
I would hazard a guess that Coleman is the only current Volunteer who welcomes the more strict regime now running the program. The 5:30 a.m. sprints, extra work in the weight room and afternoon throwing sessions have already caused several players, both scholarship and non-scholarship, to quit or be sent packing by the new coaching staff. But Coleman sees only the silver lining.
“It’s all necessary,” he said Thursday. “They’re pushing us to new limits, and we needed this, to be honest. The coaches want to see how far mentally you’re willing to push your body physically. They’re teaching us to look past the pain and push on during game time, and I think that when fall rolls around those of us who are still here will know what an honor it is to be a Volunteer.
“These coaches know we’ve got a very short amount of time to get things going in the right direction. They’re hammering us already, and you better realize that you’re either ready to roll with whatever they ask or move on. The discipline and the attitude are things that got forgotten last year. Those are things you need to win in this league, and you have to work if you expect to enjoy the benefits of playing football at a place like this.”
Coleman noted that during the first team meeting with Lane Kiffin, the new head coach informed the players that they would no longer be allowed to wear hats indoors or listen to iPods once they step into a classroom. Even earrings are no longer permitted on campus for the players.
According to Coleman, showing respect for coaches, professors, fellow students and even one another is being stressed more than ever.
“The new rules are things that always should have been there, in my opinion,” Coleman said. “It’s those type things you can take into the real world, and they also help form leaders. We have real genuine leadership now, and you’ll see the difference come game time.”
Coleman, who won 25 games and rewrote the city’s passing records as a three-year starter at McCallie, was pegged by former UT offensive coordinator and quarterback guru David Cutcliffe as the Vols’ future. But he never seemed to impress former head coach Phillip Fulmer as much as he had Cutcliffe, and despite the seasonlong struggles of Jonathan Crompton and Nick Stephens, it wasn’t until after Coleman had thrown for more than 325 yards in a late-November junior varsity game that he finally got on the field, against Vanderbilt.
“Last year was a very humbling experience for me and the team,” Coleman said. “As someone who is a student of the game, I would have loved to have an opportunity to play earlier. I don’t think our talent was down, but after a few things didn’t work in our first game at UCLA we condensed the offense to the point that we just became way too predictable.
“We were a team lacking discipline in several areas from early on. There was no quit in the guys, but we always felt like a team being pulled in different directions. We never settled on what our bread and butter was going to be.”
Barring a dramatic turnaround from his quarterback competitors — Crompton never looked capable of grasping an SEC offense last season, and Stephens didn’t seem to have the temperament for the role — the starting job would seem to be Coleman’s to lose this spring.
Although it will be the team’s third offense in as many years, his confidence appears to match his infectious optimism.
“I’m focused 100 percent on taking the quarterback job here,” Coleman said. “The guys around me are extremely talented, so I’ll just continue to work hard and show my character and leadership abilities and hope that’s what the coaches want.
“All I can do is continue to work hard and be an example during workouts and on the practice field. I’ll just be myself, because that’s all I can control right 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 ...