KNOXVILLE -- Tennessee football coach Derek Dooley had had better days than Wednesday. It had begun with him having to kick his best defensive player, Jantzen Jackson, off the team for undisclosed reasons. Then the evening's mock scrimmage had included a dropped punt, which had sent Dooley into a rant more than once in 2010.
But all it took to bring a smile to his face in Wednesday's dark was for someone to ask him about the NCAA sanctions announced earlier in the day, the ones that pretty much limited the Big Orange to two years of probation without postseason bans.
"That's a real positive thing for our program," said Dooley, who wasn't around for any of the alleged wrongs committed under former coach Lane Kiffin's watch.
"It's literally been a black cloud over us from the day I took over the program [in January of 2010]. And this year has been the hardest because of all the negativity surrounding our athletics programs. With every recruit I had to answer questions I didn't have an answer for."
"I'm gratified that the NCAA did what was responsible. I'm very happy this is behind us."
If you're not a fan of UT sports programs you probably took one look at Wednesday's NCAA sanctions and said, "Boy, did they get off light."
Especially since a lot of Volniacs likely let out a similar "Boy, did we get off light," though with a much higher level of enthusiasm.
At least that was the probable reaction from everyone but former men's basketball coach Bruce Pearl, former athletic director Mike Hamilton and former Pearl assistants Tony Jones, Steve Forbes and Jason Shay, who largely received the great bulk of the NCAA's wrath for lying about otherwise secondary violations.
Or as the NCAA termed their misleading statements: "Unethical conduct."
Pearl suffered the worst fate, barbecued for the illegal barbecue he hosted for underage recruits, an NCAA no-no he had previously committed at Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
Partly because he lied to the NCAA about that 2008 barbecue in Knoxville, mostly because he asked the parents of those recruits to lie for him, Pearl was skewered with a three-year show cause penalty that would make it incredibly difficult for any school to hire him until late August of 2014.
The other coaches were hit with one-year show cause penalties which would allow them to return to NCAA coaching staffs this time next year without show-cause rulings.
As for Hamilton, well, the following quote from the Committee on Infractions vice-chairman and Conference USA commissioner, should cause many to thank Hamilton for the way he handled much of the investigation before he resigned in early June.
Said Britton Banowsky: "The institution did a really commendable job of trying to get to the bottom of this themselves. We were very impressed by how the university responded."
But for Dooley, it was never that easy. Before he ever took the job, the New York Times had written a story about Kiffin's questionable use of "hostesses" for recruiting purposes.
Then came the Pearl problems last September, just as Dooley hoped to ratchet up recruiting.
"Then Bruce got fired," said Dooley. Then the baseball coach got fired, we had to go before the Infractions Committee, and Mike Hamilton resigned. You can't give any [rival recruiter] any better ammunition than that."
Dooley went further.
"The spin was this: 'Look what happened to [Southern Cal, which got a two-year bowl ban]. Do you want that to happen to you?' Until today we could tell them we felt good about our chances, but we didn't have proof."
You can argue over whether a school should be held more responsible for its employees than UT was. In the past, it's too often been the other way with the NCAA. The guilty go free, the innocent pay the price for sins they didn't commit.
But the worst part of all of this -- especially if you're Hamilton -- is what Banowsky said about Pearl's lies concerning otherwise minor wrongs.
"This case was narrow in scope,'' he said. "The serious nature relates to the unethical conduct. I'm not sure we would be here were it not for those allegations and those findings.''
If that's not enough of a reason for future coaches caught in the NCAA crosshairs to tell the truth, there never will be.
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 ...