Stephen Hargis: Robinson's return ends 'crazy' sequence for UTC

Stephen Hargis: Robinson's return ends 'crazy' sequence for UTC

September 7th, 2012 by Stephen Hargis in Sports - Columns

Terrell Robinson

SOUTH PITTSBURG, Tenn. - Vincent Robinson sat on his living room couch Thursday with a television remote in one hand, a cell phone that buzzed incessantly in the other. Each new call went unanswered.

His shoulders slouched as he let go a deep sigh, glanced down at his buzzing phone and rejected yet another call.

It wasn't as much the day's work as the previous 48-hour whirlwind of emotion that had Vincent looking and feeling physically drained. In the background the local evening news had two segments discussing his son, University of Tennessee at Chattanooga sophomore quarterback Terrell Robinson, who abruptly had left the football program Tuesday but returned Thursday.

"This has just been crazy," said Vincent, who played basketball for UTC in the late 1980s. "I think everybody involved is just worn out from it and ready to move on, man."

Since former football Moc Russ Huesman returned as coach and began turning the UTC program around four years ago, it has become a source of pride for the city that had been missing on fall Saturdays for more than two decades. The positive feeling surrounding the program had reached new heights when B.J. Coleman transferred in as quarterback, and it appeared as if the Mocs' next step toward reaching the FCS playoffs would be led by two area products -- Terrell Robinson and Huesman's son, former Baylor star Jacob -- taking the snaps.

But all that goodwill took a gut shot Tuesday when Terrell informed Coach Huesman he was quitting the team. After the season-opening loss at South Florida, Mocs fans who had been united now were forced to choose sides.

Had Coach Huesman not given a fair shot to Terrell, last season's Southern Conference co-freshman of the year, in favor of his son? Or was Terrell just pouting? Internet chat rooms, as well as calls and emails to the newspaper, showed a divided fan base with a season still to be played.

"We had about 50 people at my house watching the game Saturday, and by the second half most of them were upset and just left," Vincent said. "Terrell is a rhythm quarterback. He may get stopped a couple of times, but then a big run or a long pass puts him in a good rhythm and he feeds off that.

"I think he felt by taking turns, he never could get in a rhythm like he did last year when he took all the snaps [while Coleman was injured]. He was looking over his shoulder, thinking if he didn't hurry up and make a play or if he messed up, he was going to be on the sideline and not get to help his team.

"I knew when I saw that Terrell had a lot fewer snaps than Jacob had that he would be upset. He's a competitor, but I really think he felt like he just wasn't going to get a fair shot. I told him to just keep working and try to win the job, but he had several people in his ear after the game telling him he would never get a fair shot with the coach's son playing the same position. I think they finally got to him after a few days of telling him that. He got some bad advice there.

"I was as surprised as Coach Huesman when Terrell called and told me. I was heartbroke when he told me."

There was really only one way out of this mess, a no-win situation for both sides, and that was for Terrell to take the steps he did Thursday morning by meeting with Coach Huesman and asking to come back to the team.

"He wasn't answering his phone for a while, and we were worried about him," Vincent said. "He's a laid-back kid, very private, and doesn't really like all the media attention, good or bad. When I did talk to him, I told him to go back because otherwise he was going to lose two years of his career and he would regret it."

Many of us made irrational decisions when we were 20-year-old college students, letting emotion dictate our choices rather than actually thinking through the situation. The difference is Robinson's decision to quit the team was played out on the front page of the sports section, on local TV news and on the Internet.

Robinson's biggest mistake in all this was to quit on his teammates, because it goes against everything sports teaches. Whether it's for a win or playing time or to earn a starting position, you compete until the final whistle, and he now must make up a lot of ground with his teammates, coaches and the fans who had bought into seeing him as the potential new face of a promising program.

He took the first step toward reclaiming his role by swallowing his pride and meeting Coach Huesman in his office, and he took another huge step forward during that same meeting when he asked if he could, on his own dime, drive to Jacksonville State on Saturday, wear his jersey and be with his team on the sideline to encourage them.

Second chances are as much a part of sports' stories as bats and balls and second-half rallies. Thankfully for both Terrell and UTC, he recognized the need for that second chance before too much time had passed.