Wiedmer: UT's Mama Board adds a Bulldog

Wiedmer: UT's Mama Board adds a Bulldog

October 4th, 2011 by Mark Wiedmer in Sports - Columns

University of Tennessee football coach Derek Dooley speaks to the press during an event.

University of Tennessee football coach Derek Dooley speaks...

Photo by Jenna Walker /Times Free Press.

KNOXVILLE -- Tennessee football coach Derek Dooley calls it the Mama Board.

"Basically, it's to remind you not to do anything to embarrass the University of Tennessee, the football program, your high school, your hometown and especially your mama," Dooley said during Monday's weekly media day.

"Every week we put up stories or pictures of guys from all over the country who've done something to embarrass their school, their team or their mamas. It usually isn't hard to find a few new ones. And our players usually know some of the guys from other schools."

This week the Volunteers almost certainly will learn -- if they haven't already -- about Georgia outside linebacker Cornelius Washington, the Bulldogs' sacks leader who was arrested early Sunday morning on a DUI charge.

Washington was allegedly driving 92 mph in a 55-mph zone when pulled over in Commerce, Ga. He posted an alcohol level of 0.12, 0.8 being the legal limit.

Bulldogs boss Mark Richt has suspended Washington for Saturday night's game at UT and the Oct. 15 game at Vanderbilt, per UGA Athletic Association policy regarding DUI charges.

But beyond the likely appearance of Washington on the Vols' Mama Board, one can't help but wonder if this isn't another nail in Richt's coaching coffin, even if Washington is believed to be the first Bulldog arrested in 2011.

At least 10 Georgia players were arrested a year ago, including freshman linebacker Demetre Baker, who was dismissed from the 2010 team after his midseason DUI arrest.

Asked why Washington wasn't dismissed, Richt told the Atlanta Journal Constitution: "The rules haven't changed, but it was a different climate a year ago, for sure."

Right and wrong shouldn't change with the climate. And let's be blunt here: Aside from injuring someone or damaging property, how much worse can a DUI be than driving 37 miles over the speed limit while legally drunk?

This isn't to say Washington should be dismissed from the team. But since most of us could swiftly lose our jobs over a DUI, perhaps losing a season of football or basketball might be a fair suspension. The athlete could remain on scholarship and in school; he or she could even practice with the team but just couldn't suit up on game day.

But this isn't only about Washington. This is about a program that's had one off-the-field distraction after another since at least 2008, when UGA was the preseason pick to win it all.

What followed was a disciplinary nightmare that continues to this day. Before the opening kickoff of that 2008 season, eight players had been arrested since the previous year's Sugar Bowl romp over Hawaii. Then came the aforementioned 10 arrests in 2010. Now the Washington DUI when the Bulldogs least need a distraction.

Coincidence or not, UGA has gone 27-17 in that span, each complete season worse than the one before it.

This isn't to say Dooley's Vols necessarily behave better than Richt's Bulldogs. After all, UT senior linebacker Austin Johnson was charged with public intoxication and disorderly conduct in July but has played in every UT game.

Still, asking Big Orange senior running back Tauren Poole on Monday what would happen if one of his teammates were arrested on a DUI got the following reply:

"I don't know. But it wouldn't be pretty. You definitely don't want to have to go see Coach Dooley about something like that. You know it's going to be rough; it's not going to be a slap on the wrist."

How often does Dooley discuss the need to avoid the kind of behavior that lands other school's athletes on the Mama Board?

"All the time," Poole said. "On a scale of 1 to 10, Coach Dooley's a 10 when it comes to discipline, or doing the right thing. And if there was a number more than 10, he'd be that."

Losing his best pass rusher for two games to a DUI won't move Richt to a 10 on the Hot Seat Meter, regardless of how many such incidents the Bulldog Nation has had to endure in the past.

However, losing to Tennessee because his best pass rusher isn't around to harass UT quarterback Tyler Bray could place Richt on a Hot Seat Meter number more than 10, if one existed.

Which brings us back to Poole, and how spending this season and last under Dooley has changed him regarding discipline.

"Young guys always think they're invincible," he said. "I did when I was younger. But sometimes you've got to put the hammer down. Now that I'm a senior, I find myself thinking more like a coach. Maybe sometimes you need to say if you don't follow the rules, you don't play."

Maybe if Richt had more fervently embraced that philosophy earlier in his career he wouldn't be forced to sit his best pass rusher for a DUI in a game that could determine the future of his career.

Not to mention adding another news clip to UT's Mama Board.

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6273.