When I first heard of a brash football program that seems to have embraced its history as a villainous rogue institution getting into NCAA scalding water this past week, it was really difficult for me not to chuckle.
The laughter, however, was of the nervous variety.
I'm not one who normally basks in the plight of another school, but the University of Miami has been, as long as I've been alive, a program that gets more mileage than anyone else on its grimy reputation. How many times have you heard a recruit talk about "The U" and how they've "just got that swagger" and how he "grew up a fan of the Canes?"
I hear it all the time. It's a recruiting tool, it's a badge of honor and it's an attitude that permeates its fanbase, its football alumni and even as we found out this week, it's administration.
And between Luther Campbell, Jimmy Johnson, Michael Irvin [check out what he had to say about Shapiro, by the way], the ESPN documentary, etc., it has been shoved in our faces over and over and over again. So, when you hear of something to the degree of Yahoo! Sports' riveting reporting this week on UM rogue booster Nevin Shapiro's admission of rampant NCAA rule breaking involving former and current players, the first thought is, "well, it kind of serves them right."
After all, any program with boosters throwing around thousands of dollar bills, taking players and recruits to strip clubs, arranging parties and prostitutes and even paying for abortions, it's kind of difficult to feel sorry for ... especially when you see pictures of school president Donna Shalala gleefully accepting $50,000 checks from said booster/convicted felon.
But the thought that entered my head immediately after "well, it kind of serves them right," was "Gosh, I hope there isn't anybody around Tennessee doing this same thing."
In Derek Dooley's recent interview with Jimmy Hyams and John Wilkerson that Will posted above, Dooley pretty much echoed the nervousness -- without the laughter -- saying news like this keeps coaches from getting good nights of sleep.
"You read the stuff, and there's certainly a lot of corroborative evidence that supports that article, and I hurt for Al Golden ... I can't speak on it because I don't know the facts, but it's sad. You just try like heck with your program to try to minimize it. But it's so hard -- it's so hard -- to know what's going on when those guys are not around and when you've got people who are out there putting stuff in front of a young person who's got no money who's from nothing, and you're showing them a good time, it's hard to say no. You've got to teach your guys to say it, but we've all been there. It's tough."
Sometimes, it's impossible to police. Really, you're at the mercy of your fans ... and you just hope you've taught your players well enough that they decline any money or gifts. As a fan, you also have to trust that your coaching staff is keeping everything on the up-and-up as much as it can, and I have faith in this current coaching staff. It's the past that concerns me.
In Tennessee's case, the statute of limitations has not passed -- and won't for some time -- on Lane Kiffin's tenure. Honestly, you could tell me that Kiffin and Crew backed up a money truck to a recruit's house, then mailed a picture of it to the NCAA with "na-na-nah-boo-boo" attached on a sticky note, and it wouldn't surprise me. That's how little faith I have that things were on the up-and-up at UT during his tenure.
So, if you're Dooley, you worry. If you're a Tennessee fan, you worry. Then again, if you're a fan of any college football team, you worry. Anytime you see such blatant and expansive disregard for NCAA law as what we've seen in these Miami allegations [should we really even refer to them as 'allegations' with the paper trail the reporters have uncovered?] you have to think, "Goodness, if it's happening at X, it could be happening at my school."
Chances are it is happening on some level everywhere [not saying everybody is dealing in prostitutes and abortions], which is why you never want the NCAA -- or Yahoo! Sports -- sniffing around your program. That's why Kiffin was such a bad fit at UT and why his shtick is bad news anywhere. When you draw that much attention to yourself, you're begging for enemies, you're begging for people to come and look around and you're begging for penalties.
Bringing this Miami situation -- and recent other situations around college football -- into our window of concern is not difficult to do. How can we not feel fortunate if all the rumors of the NCAA's recent investigation into Vols football turning up only minor violations comes to fruition? We've danced around concerns for a while now.
Here is a list of the bullets UT has dodged recently or hopes to dodge, and there is going to be a lot of unsubstantiated, completely baseless worry in the following bullets so PLEASE KNOW UP FRONT THAT THESE ARE ONLY THINGS THAT CROSSED MY MIND AND NOT THINGS THAT ACTUALLY HAPPENED THAT WE KNOW OF ...
- First of all, this Miami investigation did indirectly affect Tennessee because of Bryce Brown. There was at least a thought that came into my mind that UT would potentially have to vacate the seven wins in which Brown participated during his freshman year because he received illegal benefits while on a recruiting visit to Miami. I can still see Brown underneath Tennessee's fingernails, no matter how much we want to clean ourselves of his year here.
- Also, the concern crossed my mind [you're lying to yourself if you don't agree] that, "man, if the Hurricanes were wining and dining Brown to get him to come down there, what exactly did Kiffin and his cronies do to get him to sign with Tennessee?" Yeesh. Then again, if the NCAA can't find anything on Cam Newton ...
- Next, there's a loooooot of egg on the face of the NCAA right now after the Miami athletic director who sat at the helm of the infractions committee looks like the biggest hypocrite in the country. If Tennessee is next on the docket [I think one of our readers pointed this out in the comments section, though I can't find it] what if it decides it's going to start cracking down hard on these rebellious institutions immediately, and lo and behold, there stands UT's name at the top of the list?
- Now this last one is a stretch, but take into consideration this -- there's perhaps no college football player in the country more reviled right now than former Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor. From Tattoo Gate to the recent news that Pryor's lawyer stated that Pryor told the NCAA of violations during the time when Ohio State officials said they had no knowledge of those violations, the former top recruit in the country is somebody Buckeyes would like to forget. What you may have forgotten is just how much of a player for Pryor's commitment the Vols were before David Cutcliffe left to be the head coach at Duke. Some around the program even said as late as a couple of years ago that they think Pryor would have signed with UT had Cut stayed. He thought so much of Cut that he officially visited Duke and called the coach several times for his valued opinion. Can you imagine a Pryor-Kiffin marriage and what that may have produced? It's difficult to take that Columbus situation and pick it up and move it to Knoxville, but if Pryor walked around with his hand out, there are surely folks around UT willing to fill it. And we had a coach who probably wouldn't have minded seeing it full. Thank God again for Dooley.
The bottom line of my rambling is this: Put yourself in the Miami fans' place.
They have come off several mediocre-to-bad years under Randy Shannon, a coach who by most accounts was a man of integrity who tried to run things the right way [and obviously failed] but he simply wasn't a very good coach. Just three days ago, the tenure of mediocrity is seemingly in the rearview, and with the hiring of Golden, there's hope anew. The new coach already has 21 commitments, football practice for a brand new era has begun and the Hurricanes have enough talent on their roster to be able to look forward to at least competing this season and excelling in the future. It was an exciting, hopeful time to be a Miami fan.
Sound familiar, Vols fans?
I am absolutely not saying our time is coming. I'm just saying this could happen anywhere, to anyone. It's a scary thought, and I can't tell you the number of times I've thought, "I can't wait until the NCAA hands down its minor penalties and we can FINALLY wash the Kiffin stink off us once and for all!"
But, will we be able to? I think that's what Dooley was alluding to in the quote above is the concern about the unknown. All he knows is what HE is doing and what HIS STAFF is doing. He has little control over what vulture boosters are doing, and he has no control over what already has been done. Scary stuff indeed.
Your sins will find you out, and even though Golden has done nothing wrong that we know of, he is stuck in a poop storm that encircled the Miami program before he got there. It seems unfair for him to be thrust into the eye of the storm, though it's difficult to say that with a straight face when current players were involved.
Not having Kiffin around has -- by most accounts -- really helped UT throughout the recent NCAA troubles. Thankfully. But where is all the talk of that in Miami? These allegations are so humongous, so horrendous, that in our minds we can't see that mattering much. Doesn't matter if it's Golden or Billy Graham at the helm, they're going to get hammered regardless. It seems inevitable. Some things, you just can't cleanse.
The only thing left for us to do is say a prayer of thanks that we no longer have an outlaw coaching staff, a clueless athletic director and a slew of shady characters in our program. Then, cross our fingers and hope that there isn't any untraceable blood in the water and the sharks don't come circling.
Laugh if you will. Just wipe the sweat off your hands while you're doing it.