Coleman's departure may signal end

Coleman's departure may signal end

April 24th, 2009 by Mark Wiedmer in Sports

His brief tenure as Tennessee's offensive coordinator undone by his head coach's firing, Dave Clawson made the following statement on his way out the door last November:

"The first thing the next head coach here needs to do is name B.J. Coleman his starting quarterback."

(And to think some of us spent much of the 2008 season believing Clawson was the president of the Jonathan Crompton Fan Club.)

Now fast forward a few months to last Saturday's Orange and White game. At the close of his first spring, new UT football coach Lane Kiffin strongly hinted that Coleman was proving to be far better in games than practice, a supposed explanation for why the redshirt sophomore remained behind Crompton on the depth chart despite superior statistics in public scrimmages.

Asked at Tuesday night's Big Orange Caravan event if he'd ever coached another quarterback with that trait, Kiffin replied, "Matt Leinart," who just happened to win the 2004 Heisman Trophy while at Southern Cal.

This is not to say that Kiffin should have named Coleman his starting quarterback before Santa Claus came to town. Nor is it to suggest that given a chance, B.J. could have accomplished what Peyton Manning didn't by winning the Heisman.

But with Thursday's stunning news that Coleman is leaving the UT program over lack of playing time and some rather immature behavior by Kiffin, a troubling question is no doubt vexing Volniacs throughout the Big Orange Nation:

If Coleman's former offensive coordinator believes he should have started 12 games this past season instead of none, if Kiffin sees at least glimpes of Leinart in the McCallie School graduate, then why, oh, why will Rocky Top no longer be home, sweet home to No. 18?

To be fair, it is never easy working with other folks' kids. Not for babysitters. Not for kindergarten teachers. Not for big-time college football coaches forced to deal with a former coach's recruits.

Coleman did not sign with Kiffin; nor did Kiffin recruit Coleman. They were forced upon each other when the Vols fired Phillip Fulmer.

It is also worth noting that whether or not this judgment is fair, both the previous staff - or at least the former head coach - and the new regime kept Crompton above Coleman on the depth chart. To characterize this slight as nothing more than blind prejudice is to strain credibility.

Whatever coaches like in their quarterbacks during practice, Crompton apparently showed more of it to two different staffs.

But to watch Coleman in last year's celebrated junior varsity performance against Hargrave Military Academy or in the 20-10 win at Vanderbilt - his only meaningful SEC action - was to understand that his biggest strength may be that intangible gift of inspiration.

With Coleman on the field at Vanderbilt, the Vols had more pep in their step, much as they did during the 2009 Orange and White game.

Yes, he throws a beautiful ball. Yes, he's strong and tough and bright. But when Coleman gushed, "We get to play SEC football for the Tennessee Vols. What could be better than that?" you got the feeling that he had his teammates feeling the same thing.

Now he'll tranfer that enthusiasm elsewhere - to UT-Chattanooga perhaps? - and Kiffin will be left to deal with the fallout of a two-time Tennessee Mr. Football walking away from Home State U., at least partly because Lane was twice too lame to keep scheduled appointments with Coleman to discuss the frustrated quarterback's future.

For Coleman those slights were the last straw in filing for divorce. For Kiffin they may signal the end of his honeymoon with the Big Orange Nation.