Archive for the ‘No Pass Out Checks’ Category

The Long Road Back

No Pass Out Checks | Gate 21

Tennessee FootballLosing is never fun.

I think that must be an axiom.  If not, then it should be.  Still, there are degrees of losing — certain nuances to the old black and white world of one team wins and one team loses.  The Tennessee Volunteers, their coaches, their fans, and yours truly have become increasingly more familiar with the details of these degrees of losing this season.

That is not necessarily a bad thing…

On the one hand they lost two games — against the UCLA Bruins and the Auburn Tigers — which, by most measuring sticks, they should have won.  Each of those contests were marked by an anemic passing game and a defense which was exhausted at the end of the game.

In each of these games, the Vols offense floundered early in the game — spotting their opponent a substantial (though not insurmountable) lead lead, only to rebound too late in the game to have enough time to mount a complete comeback.

That is the darker side of defeat.

Then there was the “moral victory” of a ten-point loss to the Florida Gators.  Most folks had the Vols written off as dead before the opening kickoff — near 30-point underdogs.  Yet, when the final whistle sounded, the men in orange had defended their honor and managed to show the Gators that they would not go quietly.  Though they lost by 10, Tennessee left everything on the field and left Urban Meyer answering questions about why the vaunted Gators had not annihilated the out-manned Volunteers.  It was a loss — no question about it — but it was respectable.  It marked a small step forward.

The reality in that game was, however, that though the Vols were never truly “out of it,” they were likewise never truly in a position to win.  They hung around till the end, but really never had what it took to get the victory.  I suppose that is the sort of loss where you simply say, “well, they gave it their best.

Then there is the Alabama game…

Make no mistake about it, the Alabama Crimson Tide won the game and won it honestly.  Alabama did what they had to do to win…

…but so did the Vols.

Unlike the Florida game, Tennessee was very much in a position to win and, with only a little bit of luck, everyone in Big Orange Country would be smiling right now.  The Vols did not win, but they were there at the end of the game fighting for the chance to bring it home.

This represents an amazing leap forward for this program, for this team, and for this staff.  This shows — clearly in my mind — that with a little time there are very special things to come for the Tennessee Volunteers.  The future looks even brighter than it did after the Vols victory over the Georgia Bulldogs.

Are the Vols “back“?  No.

…but they are getting closer.

– So it goes…About Lawvol


Giving Your All, the Rough and Tumble Way

No Pass Out Checks | Gate 21

It’s been a bumpy couple of weeks for the Tennessee Volunteers and their fans, on that there is little room for debate.

First, the Vols lost to Florida in a “moral victory” which amounts to losing gallantly.  The Vols then went on to beat a scrappy Ohio Bobcats team in less than runaway style, but as I said at the time: “a win is a win.”  Then, this past weekend, the men in orange were bested by the Auburn Tigers and Gus Malzahn’s semi-deranged (but highly effective) form of offense.  Finally, Lane Kiffin gave Brandon Warren his walking papers as a result of what Kiffin described as “conduct detrimental to our team.”

For my part, I have had little to offer on these issues due to my ridiculously overloaded schedule.  Trust me when I say that it was not for lack of desire or lack of observations that I have been so quiet.

Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on your perspective) I now have a little time to pontificate, so here we go…

Auburn and “Johnnie Cochran” Offense

Gus Malzahn is either a genius or a madman depending on whether you are a fan of the Tigers or are their opponent.  His offensive sets are as entropy-filled and outlandish as they are effective.  One of the keys to its function is to make an opposing defense deal with the constant distraction of the seemingly endless arsenal of quasi-trick plays that it includes.  This bevy of distractions vying for the attention of opposing defenses, reminds me of pretty much every argument ever made to a jury by Johnnie Cochranfocusing on the distraction rather than the fact.

Still, there is a lot of fact to Malzahn’s ability to mask his plays and to run unconventional sets regularly and successfully.  I personally cannot remember seeing a game which featured as many reverses and double-reverses as the Tennessee — Auburn contest.  I know that I have never seen a true pooch punt (seemingly taken right out of General Neyland’s own playbook from the 1930s) in person.  To Malzahn’s credit, he has taken a lackluster unit that barely produced anything other than narcolepsy in 2008 and transformed them into a machine which scores tons of points and gives defenses fits.

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From the Ashes Rises a Phoenix: Western Kentucky Postgame Thoughts

No Pass Out Checks | Gate 21

Western Kentucky vs. Tennessee
Postgame


7

Toppers
1
2
3
4
Tot

WKU

0
0
7
0

7

Tennessee

0
28
7
28

63

Final

63

Vols

Well, there are so very many positive things to say about this game that it is hard to really know where to start, thus, I’ll just start at the top, here are the stats for the game:

Team Stats
Western Kentucky Tennessee
First downs
6
40
Rushing
3
23
Passing
2
16
Penalty
1
1
3rd Down Efficiency
1-for-11, 9%
7-for-9, 78%
4th down efficiency
0-for-1, 0%
0-for-1, 0%
Rushes-Yards
29-27
44-383
Passing Yards
66
274
Return Yards
178
97
Completions-Attempts-Int
10-17-1
25-32-2
Sacks-Yards Lost
3-25
0-0
Punts
9
0
Fumbles Lost
2-2
2-1
Penalties – Yards
9-82
6-45
TOTAL NET YARDS
189
710

The stats speak loudly.  Tennessee racked up a whopping 710 total net yards.  Last season the Vols managed only 3,225 yards on the season, today they produced over 20% of last season’s total yards in a single game.  They scored more points than they have since the 2000 game against the Arkansas Razorbacks.  Even more surprising was the balance in the offensive yardage between the pass and the run.

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Alabama gets caught cheating, Kiffin plays with chalk

No Pass Out Checks | Gate21

Somewhere, in front of a chalkboard—his hands coated with chalk dust—Lane Kiffin is smiling…

For the past several months Tennessee fans and the general sports-watching public have heard a near endless discussion about the various secondary infractions which have occurred since Lane Kiffin (a/k/a “the Blackjack General”) took the reins as the head football coach for the Tennessee Volunteers.  Needless to say, some have taken every available opportunity to criticize the University of Tennessee, The UT Athletic Department, Smiling Mike Hamilton, and the Blackjack General himself.  Some of it has amounted to little more than sniping and smack-talk, while others have been decidedly more direct.

Rightly or wrongly, Tennessee has self-reported (or is in the process of investigating with with an eye toward reporting) six secondary violations of NCAA Rules, the most recent coming—as HSH reported just the other day—as a result of the Blackjack General’s recent appearance on ESPN’s “Outside the Lines,” where he discussed, imagine that, secondary infractions with ESPN’s Bob Ley.

A “secondary violation” is defined in the NCAA Manual as follows:

A secondary violation is a violation that is isolated or inadvertent in nature, provides or is intended to provide only a minimal recruiting, competitive or other advantage and does not include any significant recruiting inducement or extra benefit.  Multiple secondary violations by a member institution may collectively be considered as a major violation.

•  2008-09 NCAA Division 1 ManualPDF Document § 19.02.2.1 (emphasis added)

To put this in layman’s terms, secondary violations are the functional equivalent of talking in the NCAA’s rather large and particularly boring class.  Or, perhaps, in Lane Kiffin’s case, they amount to showing-off for all the girls (or in this case, recruits) in the back of class to impress them and passing notes reading:

I like you.  A Lot.

Do you like me?

Check One:  ___Yes  ___No  ___Maybe

— Lane

While this sort of thing—in both Mrs. Elliott’s 6th Period English Class and in the world of NCAA compliance—are annoying, they are largely harmless.  While it is true (again, with both Mrs. Elliott and the NCAA) that enough of these sorts of minor errors along the way can land you in the proverbial Principal’s office, as long as you say you are sorry after each instance (and UT has self-reported all such violations) and space the occurrences out by a day or two, usually there is little punishment to be meted out, aside from being made a spectacle in front of your peers…

… or by having to stay after class and write on the blackboard.

Kiffin-Chalkboard

Kiffin at the Chalkboard

Hence, while Lane Kiffin and the UT Athletic Department are probably getting a little tired of having to deal with the issue of secondary violations, they have been merely a bump in the road thus far.

The Alabama Crimson Tide, on the other hand, is now facing a decidedly more serious situation…

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Walking in Memphis: a Brief Reflection on Reality, Basketball, and Bruce Pearl…

No Pass Out Checks | Gate21

Then I’m walking in Memphis
Walking with my feet ten feet off of Beale
Walking in Memphis
But do I really feel the way I feel

• “>" href="http://gate21.net/2009/04/03/walking-in-memphis-a-brief-reflection-on-reality-basketball-and-bruce-pearl%e2%80%a6/#Walking_Memphis_audio" >Walking in Memphis” by Marc Cohn

Well, it seems that Bruce Pearl will be staying in Knoxville for the foreseeable future, which is good.  The question, however, remains: What are we to make of this “Memphis Incident”?

For starters, I am greatly relieved that Bruce Almighty will still be wearing orange next season.  That is the good news, not that there is necessarily some “bad” news, but keeping Pearl on the sidelines in Knoxville is definitely very good.

That said, what exactly are we to take away from the brief and furious flirtation (so brief and furious that I never even got a chance to comment before it ended) with the notion that Coach Pearl might bolt to the Pyramid City to take the reins as head coach of the Memphis Tigers?  The real answer is probably “nothing.”  Still there are a few thoughts that jump out to me—random observations, I suppose—which seem relevant, if less than timely.

Bruce Pearl is Happy at Tennessee…

It seems to me that Bruce Pearl sent two messages yesterday.  The first is a very positive one, namely that he is happy as coach of the Tennessee Volunteers and has no desire to leave behind what he has begun.  Bruce Pearl likes it here.

Why do I say that?  Well first of all is the obvious: he is staying here.  More importantly, however, is the what he said in his public statement last night.  To me, it makes it clear that Pearl is truly happy to be at Tennessee.

I truly love my job, and I want it to be clear that I’m not interested in any other job.  There’s no place in the country I’d rather be than the University of Tennessee.  My children are happy here in the Knoxville community—one is in high school, one is in middle school and two are currently attending the university.

My staff and I are building a consistent top-25 program and I’m honored and privileged to serve the greatest fans in the country. Tennessee has all the resources necessary to win championships, from our recently upgraded facilities to our ability to schedule.

It’s great to be a Tennessee Vol!

Bruce Pearl commenting on rumors of him leaving Tennessee | UT Sports.com

Now in the era of sports double-talk and lip service (See Bobby Petrino at any point in his career), it is rarely advisable to take public professions of loyalty at face value.  I understand that.  Still, there are different degrees of lip service and there are different types of coaches.  Pearl’s statement was anything but tepid—it was largely unequivocal and pointed.  In other words, he could have simply said “I’m staying,” and left the other assurances out of the discussion; he didn’t.

Second of all, for reasons unknown to me (considering I have never met Pearl), I trust the man.  Maybe that owes to the side of him that exudes infectious enthusiasm about everything to which he is tied; maybe it is because of his well documented history of loyalty at Iowa and Wisconsin-Green Bay; maybe it is because he is a con man and I’m snowed.  Regardless of the reasons, Pearl is unique in my mind because I do believe that he is both loyal and trustworthy as a coach.  My gut tells me that if he was not happy and was considering a move, while he might not come out and say it, he would similarly not effervesce about how much he loves it at Tennessee.

Furthermore, if he had wanted to leave, it would have been hard to argue with his decision given the suggestion that Memphis was prepared to offer up to $ 3.25 million a year (approximately $ 1.25 million more per year than his new contract is reported to provide).

Thus, I believe him when he says that he never intended to leave, and that he truly loves coaching the BasketVolsIf he truly wanted to leave, he would have.

Yeah, yeah, I know—I’ve obviously been drinking the Kool Aid…

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So, did the Butler do it?

No Pass Out Checks | Gate 21

Brian Butler has been called many things by many people, not all of them are nice.

Butler is a former rapper and call-center manager, and a seemingly respectable football trainer based out of Wichita, Kansas.  At present, Butler is the principal and operator of the Potential Players recruiting service through which he serves as a self-styled, come-lately, “recruiting adviser” to high school football standouts across the country.  A “gifted” self-promoter, he is also the subject of a recently announced investigation by the NCAA.

Brian Butler working a recruit (NY Times / Simmons)

There are many questions being asked about Butler by many people, especially those recruiting high school standout Bryce Brown (which includes Tennessee).  The fundamental question, however, centers on whether he is essentially seeking to act as a sports agent for players being recruited by college football programs.

For now, at least, there is no definitive answer to this query.

The reason that this is an issue is that Butler has widely taken the position that the only way that college recruiters can speak with high-schoolers that he is “advising” is by going through him.  To many, this appears—at least outwardly—that Butler is serving as an “agent” rather than simply as an “adviser.”

Again, why does anyone care?  Under NCAA bylaws, current and potential student athletes are prohibited from retaining agents, and requires that all prospective athletes undergo an amateurism certification process, which includes, among other things, certifying that the athlete has not agreed to be represented by an agent.  On the issue of agents, NCAA Bylaw 12.3 states that:

An individual shall be ineligible for participation in an intercollegiate sport if he or she ever has agreed (orally or in writing) to be represented by an agent for the purpose of marketing his or her athletics ability or reputation in that sport. Further, an agency contract not specifically limited in writing to a sport or particular sports shall be deemed applicable to all sports, and the individual shall be ineligible to participate in any sport.

See NCAA Operational Bylaw 12.3.1 (PDF )

The NCAA’s website offers additional guidance stating that:

…a student-athlete (any individual who currently participates in or who may be eligible in the future to participate in intercollegiate sport) may not agree verbally or in writing to be represented by an athlete agent in the present or in the future for the purpose of marketing the student-athlete’s ability or reputation. If the student-athlete enters into such an agreement, the student-athlete is ineligible for intercollegiate competition.

Also, a student-athlete may not accept transportation or other benefits from an athlete agent. This prohibition applies to the student-athlete and his or her relatives or friends.

The term “agent” includes actual agents, runners (individuals who befriend student-athletes and frequently distribute impermissible benefits) and financial advisors.

It is not a violation of NCAA rules if a student-athlete merely talks to an agent (as long as an agreement for agent representation is not established) or socializes with an agent.

• via: Overview of NCAA Bylaws Governing Athlete Agents | NCAA.org

Thus, Butler acting as the only means of communication with a recruit could be troubling and potentially a violation of NCAA rules, hence the NCAA investigation.

This raises a particularly thorny set of issues for high school athletes and their families, college athletic departments, high school coaches, college boosters, the NCAA, and State Legislators.  That’s right, I said State Legislators.

For these reasons, I am personally of the opinion that someone—whether it be Butler, athletes, college institutions, or otherwise—will end up paying for what amounts to an infraction that lies in the proverbial “gray area” of the NCAA’s rules.  A violation in spirit, if not in the letter.  The problem is, however, that whether Butler’s conduct violates many rules or none all depends on the perspective applied to the facts, and for the record, I make no assertion that I know or understand all of the facts.

Still, let’s use a hypothetical to illustrate the complexity of the situation.

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The natives appear restless … or are they just resting?

No Pass Out Checks | Gate 21

Apparently, University of Tennessee students are getting a bit restless these days when it comes to the BasketVols—so restless, in fact, that they’ve decided en masse not to come to the games at all, and have chosen to stay home and take naps (or something along those lines).

According to Basilio only 312 students showed up for the Vols’ game against the Vanderbilt Commodores at the Tommy Bowl (a/k/a Thompson-Boling Arena).  Tennessee currently has nearly 30,000 students, so that adds up to around 1% of the total students bothered to come to the game.  Now admittedly, that game was played on Valentines Day, and maybe “love” was in the air, but only 312 students?  I know from my time on the Hill, there are usually plenty of undergraduates who don’t have dates at any given time (or ever, in the case of some folks).  Unlike football, students don’t have to get a ticket, and need only provide a valid student ID to get into the games, so the cost and annoyance argument is out the door.  Given the fact that students came in throngs last year, it appears that the students have simply gotten fickle and expect a little more from the program than what they are currently receiving.

So why have the students seemingly given up on this team?

I was a student at the University of Tennessee from 1994-1998.  When I arrived on campus as a freshman, the Vols were coming off their worst season in the history of the school.  The 1993-94 Vols won a grand total of 5 games under, then, coach Wade Houston who apparently did not even understand the rules of basketball.  Thus, my expectations were low when the 1994-95 season rolled around, despite the fact that Tennessee had a new head coach, Kevin O’Neill.  Still, I can say with conviction that I attended every home game that season and watched the Vols claw their way to an 11-16 record.

Great basketball, it was not.  Still, I went nonetheless.

Now I am not going to call into question the loyalties of the student body as a whole—we each make our own choices and decide what is important to us personally.  I suppose, given the lengths to which I have gone as a fan of the Big Orange (including running the Gate), I am one of those fans that you can count on to show up anytime the real Gate 21 (into Neyland Stadium) or the doors of the Tommy Bowl are open.  I suppose I am one of those nut-jobs who blindly supports the Vols regardless of the circumstances (this is not entirely true but, for the purposes of this article, it fits).  I guess that is why I always attended the games when I was a student.

Either way, only 312 students at the game is pretty slim pickings, and I am pretty sure — at a minimum — that out of the tens of thousands of students at UT, there are more than 312 students who, like me, are certifiable head-cases when it comes to supporting the Vols.

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