His hand forced, Derek Dooley was in the precarious place of making his football team worse while making his football program better.
Dooley did both when he dismissed talented and troublesome Janzen Jackson on Wednesday morning, ending the two-plus-year University of Tennessee career for the athletic safety.
Jackson's dismissal was hardly a shocker. The former five-star recruit was part of Lane Kiffin's lone class, which was much ballyhooed but in retrospect was as much fool's gold as the fool who recruited it. Jackson was the last man standing of the UT Hamburglary -- the bone-headed trio, including former Volunteers Mike Edwards and Nu'Keese Richardson, who used a pellet gun to try to rob two dudes who had little more than a cheeseburger at a gas station in 2009.
In truth, Jackson should have been sent packing then, but the combination of a relatively weak alibi of "sleeping in the car" at the scene of the crime and the scenes of his bone-jarring hits putting opponents to sleep were enough to convince Kiffin to give Jackson one more try.
Jackson seemed to be majoring in one more chances. When Dooley was hired to replace Kiffin, few thought that Jackson would be long for Knoxville, especially given the player defections that started with the departure of Bryce Brown, the other five-star recruit in Kiffin's class -- which had 22 players, 11 of whom are gone, including the four highest-rated players and seven of the top nine.
But Dooley kept Jackson in check and even allowed him another opportunity to get his life in order by permitting him to leave school last February for "personal reasons." Be it family issues or personal issues or rehab or whatever, Dooley allowed Jackson one final chance to get his act together.
Even when Jackson returned, Dooley was careful with his words, saying Jackson was "day-to-day" and always making sure that everyone -- including Jackson -- knew that the slightest misstep would be his last step in orange.
"Our program has devoted a tremendous amount of energy, resources, support and care in an effort to help Janzen manage his personal challenges," Dooley said Wednesday. "I will always be there to help him as a person, but there comes a time when a player's actions preclude him from the privilege of playing for the University of Tennessee football team.
"Although I'm disappointed with this outcome, we will never compromise the long-term organizational values and goals we maintain here at Tennessee."
And in doing so -- even by dismissing his most physically talented player -- Dooley can look in the mirror knowing that he gave Jackson every chance and still has control of his locker room.