In my younger days in the public school system in the state of Tennessee, we used to take TCAP achievement tests at the end of the year (do kids still take these? do they still call them that?). I'd always love it when the multiple choice reading comprehension and/or word problem section included special option D: "Not enough information." When in doubt, that was always the right answer.
In the recently insane world of Tennessee Athletics, I'd also consider last year to be my younger days, because being a fan of this program has put some gray hairs on all of us in the last couple of years. I remember having a new coach that we were still getting to know, who said and did some things that caused us to rally to his defense before he'd even coached a single game. And we did, passionately so. I now recognize that same passion when I see Kentucky fans defend John Calipari or USC fans defend the same guy. Even Calipari and Kiffin are right sometimes, but for many - not all, but many - whether the coach is right or wrong is a secondary concern. We defend our coaches because they're our coaches. And we see right and wrong through that lens.
Tennessee has one again found herself in need of defense this offseason, this time not because of what the head coach said, but what the players did. When the Bar Knoxville incident happened on July 9, Derek Dooley came home early from vacation, quickly dismissed Darren Myles and suspended Greg King and Marlon Walls. This move was almost unanimously applauded, both for its speed and for its weight: Myles was expected to be a major contributor in the secondary, and King & Walls weren't even mentioned in any of the police reports; the first time we heard their names in relation to the incident was when Dooley announced their indefinite suspensions.
Our new coach - who continues to score points by simply not being Lane Kiffin, who is a southern gentleman that talks like us, jokes like us, and repeatedly emphasizes character education; and who, of special importance here, was a lawyer - made a bold first step in attempting to change the culture at Tennessee. And we had faith that, whatever information was yet to come about this case or whatever charges would surely be filed, Dooley would make the right decision for our program, no matter how difficult it may be.Twenty-six days have passed since the incident. If time heals all wounds, no additional charges being filed certainly helps the process along. No one was ever charged with assault on Gary Russell inside the bar, or off-duty police officer Robert Capoullez outside the bar. And on Tuesday, Dooley reinstated King and Walls from their suspensions...meaning the only on-field casualty from the incident is Myles, whose dismissal seems to have had more to do with the fact that his flee from the scene led to his second arrest of the offseason.
The picture we got on July 9 and the consequences on August 4 do not line up. What do we do with that? Do we shrug our shoulders and be thankful, quietly, that we've got one of our projected starters at defensive tackle back? Do we tear our clothes and cry out for the justice that apparently isn't coming?
Or, when in doubt, can we fall back on "Not enough information"?
I'm a Tennessee fan; that's my lens. And even though I should've learned my lesson with Kiffin last year, I still find that my initial instinct is to automatically defend the actions of the head coach...because he's the head coach.
Uncovering the real truth of July 9 appears to be an impossibility, or at least an improbability. There are several possible scenarios just based on what's been reported; what we don't know is what Dooley does, at least when it comes to what the players involved told him.
What we do have are the stories of those involved: Gary Russell's quote that "If not for my friends, I would be dead or brain-dead." Bar Knoxville owner Sandy Morton's story included "seven to ten guys beating up this one gentlemen." We were left with a picture of a large group of football players ganging up on one guy inside the bar, then kicking an off-duty police officer while he was down and sending him to ICU.
The police reports offered few additional details, save for Da'Rick Rogers' minor altercation with a police officer after being pepper sprayed.
The outrage over a police officer being sent to ICU and any number of football players ganging up on one guy in a 2:00 AM bar fight is completely justified. Even one game suspensions, to me, wouldn't have really been any punishment, considering the opponent in the opener. If anyone on our team was involved with these assaults, they deserved to be punished.
But now...well, now we really don't know much of anything.
The stories from the bar owner and the victim still stand, but the police haven't found enough evidence to charge anyone with assault on Russell or Capoullez. You can see the pictures of Russell at the link to his quote above, and we know Capoullez spent four days in the hospital. Something happened.
Greg King and Marlon Walls did something they weren't supposed to, obviously. That something was enough for Dooley to suspend them immediately. But it wasn't so much that they'll miss any game or even practice time.
If no charges are ever filed, then the whole thing slips into pure speculation. Is it possible that the reports were exaggerated, a Tennessee player(s) was assaulted inside the bar unprovoked, and Capoullez's injuries weren't directly caused by a Tennessee player(s) literally kicking him while he was down? Sure. It's just also possible that Tennessee player(s) were directly involved in both assaults, sent an off-duty police officer to ICU...and because there are no charges and it can't be proved, they go free to play this fall.
Which brings the whole thing back around to: how much do you trust Derek Dooley?
And while my brain, having been recently burned, screams "not enough information", my heart interrupts to say "of course I do, that's my football coach WOO!"
On Tuesday, Dooley again spoke of the consistency of the stories he's heard from his own players, and the way that everything else he's seen, heard, or read in the last twenty-six days has strengthened those stories. He has information we don't. He sounds like the confident lawyer he is. When he says he emphasizes character, I do believe him. He even got John Adams to use the phrase, "he shouldn't be second guessed".
And unfortunately, it seems like this whole incident is going to be best described exactly that way: unfortunate. Something clearly happened that shouldn't have, but who exactly was responsible was never made clear to the public. And so we're left with an ugly picture of the two victims, and a new coach administering his own discipline internally that, on face value, doesn't fit the crime that players may or may not have committed. We don't get the justice or resolution we feel like this situation surely deserved initially. And we don't get the sort of disciplinary action that would have sent whatever message we felt like needed to be sent, no definitive impact on the culture that we can see. The whole thing leaves us with not enough information.
So we'll keep trusting our football coach, because that's what we do. We'll keep hoping that he is making a real difference in character education (and the university has been much quicker to publicize the community service UT is currently involved in). And we'll keep wondering what really happened here...but less and less each day. And once we have actual football to talk about? This becomes a blip on the radar, only reappearing as a callback in the next arrest story. Very unfortunate, indeed...do we have any other option?
In the end, we're simply left to trust our football coach...and to hope he makes a difference, on and off the field.