published Friday, November 13th, 2009

Wiedmer: Prized guys part of bad UT surprise

The words scrolled across cable news channels all Thursday afternoon: Three Tennessee football players arrested for armed robbery.

Not exactly the story first-year UT coach Lane Kiffin probably would have chosen to trumpet the Volunteers on our nation's daily news carousel.

Nor could it have helped Kiffin's spirits to learn that all three players -- starting safety Jantzen Jackson, wide receiver Nu'Keese Richardson and defensive back Mike Edwards -- were part of the coach's prized freshmen class, especially since he had just spoken so proudly of the Vols' off-the-field behavior during Wednesday's SEC teleconference.

So as much as any coach can control the conduct of the 100 or so student-athletes (including walk-ons) under his watch, this issue is Kiffin's alone. These weren't former coach Phillip Fulmer's players. These weren't quick-fix transfers brought in to place a band-aid over long-term problems.

No, these were some of Kiffin's top recruits, especially Jackson and Richardson, whom Kiffin boldly stole from LSU and Florida, then rubbed those programs' noses in it.

Or have you forgotten Kiffin wrongly accusing Florida coach Urban Meyer of breaking NCAA rules in his attempt to sign Richardson, though no NCAA rules were broken?

Still, charges are not convictions. The cornerstone of this nation's judicial system is that you're innocent until proven guilty. So it is far too early to pass judgment on these players or their coach about this incident until far more shakes out than we currently know.

But we do know a few troubling facts. For starters, Edwards, Jackson and Richardson were arrested sometime after 2 a.m. on Thursday. That's less 40 hours before the team was scheduled to leave for Saturday's noon kickoff against Ole Miss. Should this trio not be suspended for curfew alone?

Then there's the matter of the pellet pistol, which allegedly was used in the robbery attempt of two men sitting in a car parked at a gas station near campus. If the pellet pistol belongs to one of the players, what's he doing with it? And if it doesn't, why is he using it?

Beyond that, this wasn't your typical liquor-laced testosterone struggle between frat boys and jocks over a red-hot coed. Those skirmishes are as old as time -- or at least as old as football -- and will continue for as long as the two share the same campus.

No, if proven true, this was a premeditated act, however stupid. While it's yet unclear which of the three may have actually taken part in the robbery attempt, if anyone -- or all of them -- are convicted, there is no place for that person inside UT's program.

But because of these questions, there are a couple of things all coaches should begin to demand of their athletes. The first is no guns. Ever. Not in the dormitory. Not in the car. Nowhere. Ever.

If you have a player who likes to hunt, he must turn over the gun to an assistant coach, who can sign it out to the player during daylight hours for hunting. But the gun must be back in the possession of the coach by dark.

Otherwise, there is never a need for a player to have a firearm on campus. Never.

Second, as more than one football coach has lamented in the past, nothing good happens after midnight. Give your players -- especially your freshmen and sophomores -- a midnight curfew on school nights. They have to check into the dorm at that time with a supervisor or risk suspension.

Have a couple of key players let their teammates down by being out after hours and a lot of problems will go away on their own.

Obviously, there is no single cure-all for incidents such as these. Even the best of kids will make bad mistakes. No one's perfect. Neither is there a perfect system in place to prevent errors in judgment.

As Kiffin lamented Thursday evening, "Unfortunately, there was an incident. We made it 11 months and 11 days with no incidents."

And he's right about that. But he was wrong about something else.

"There's no disappointment," Kiffin said. "There's no nothing right now because I don't have all the information in."

Maybe he's merely protecting his players, as Kiffin tends to do. But regardless of what ultimately becomes fact or fiction, if there's truly no disappointment that his players were in a position to get into trouble at 2 a.m., then there should be much disappointment from the UT administration in Kiffin's value system.

about Mark Wiedmer...

Mark Wiedmer started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press on Valentine’s Day of 1983. At the time, he had to get an advance from his boss to buy a Valentine gift for his wife. Mark was hired as a graphic artist but quickly moved to sports, where he oversaw prep football for a time, won the “Pick’ em” box in 1985 and took over the UTC basketball beat the following year. By 1990, he was ...

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