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5 things about the Jay Graham situation
- Updated: February 26, 2013
To be a Vol fan is to know heartache. Fulmer’s last year was filled with it. And who could ever forget the heartache that ensued when Lane Kiffin broke up with Tennessee while wearing an un-tucked shirt? (What a dick.)
But as bad as that hurt, it didn’t even hold a candle to the pain of watching Sal Sunseri’s defense last year. Or the ensuing meltdown that was the 2012 season, the cherry atop that train-wreck of a sundae when UT anchored down to rock bottom thanks to getting thumped by Vanderbilt.
But the two most recent heartbreaks have been friendly fire, if you will, both bullets coming from assistant coaches who proudly wore the orange while competing at the very highest level during their college days. Tee Martin refused to come back to Knoxville and Jay Graham refused to stay. The Tee Martin thing was a slap in the face by a man who’d endured the same. (Thanks to Dooley.)
The Jay Graham thing? Well, it’s turned into a full-blown situation. The Jay Graham situation.
Much focus has been given today to the reasons why Graham left. According to Erik Ainge, he quit. Took the easy way out. Was unhappy that he didn’t have the title of Recruiting Coordinator and didn’t wanna stick around and earn that title. And, what’s more, never even thought about accepting the counteroffer (for virtually the same amount of money) that he was presented.
It never looks good when a team loses a coach, particularly one who played for that team. Plus, Graham was the lead recruiter for Marquez North, and, aside from Tommy Thigpen, was the only person on Butch’s staff to have legitimate recruiting/coaching experience in the SEC. So I get why this whole deal sucks — why everyone’s so upset — and I said as much in yesterday’s post.
But you know what? UT’s no worse off today than they were two days ago. Because at the end of the day, all the Vols have really lost is a position coach who makes about as much as a super-aggressive insurance salesman. Yet, still, the Vol nation is bent out of shape about it, and, again, I get it. I’m bent out of shape, too.
But not too bent out of shape to see the situation for what it is. And as such, here are five things that I think have come to light thanks to the Jay Graham situation that everyone should know about.
5 things to know about the Jay Graham situation
1. It might be time to do away with the term VFL
(Just saw from Twitter that Erik touched upon this very thing this morning, but I must have missed that part. Sorry if this comes off as re-hashing.)
Because I’m kinda sick and tired of everyone being “Oh, yeah, he’s a VFLer,” only to have those same folks turn around and say “Wait, he ain’t no VFLer after all.”
To me, Jay Graham has been a few different things. First and foremost, he’s a guy who ran his guts out for the Vols in the mid 90s. Then, he was an NFL back for a few teams. Then he was a position coach at South Carolina. Then he was a position coach at UT. And now, he’s the guy who made a decision I wish he didn’t. The one to become a position coach at Florida State.
Let the VFL debate begin! Which is it, folks? Is he a VFLer in spite of all this? Or should he have his VFL card taken away?
It’s all so… silly.
Fans are way too quick to romanticize VFLers, then also way too quick to wanna burn them at the stake. It’s this simple – VFL looks good on paper, but hardly anything is that black-and-white in real life. So when complications get in the way, such as they did with Tee and Jay, there’s all this emotional fuel added to what’s already a complicated fire.
Why can’t I just remember these two as the great Vols they were during their playing days? Why must I assess their allegiance to their alma mater for the rest of their lives?
Time to bail on that term for all those reasons. Plus, Dooley came up with it, and, you know, Dooley.
2. Grow thicker skin
After the men’s hoops team beat Texas A&M in a four-OT thriller, I made the following post on the aVy’ FB page:
“That. Was. Epic. 4OT victory and every single bead of sweat that went into it. So proud of this team, it’s a joke. We’re an upset win over FL away from being a legit bubble team.”
Know what someone responded with?
“It is NOT a joke. The team earned every second they played. Don’t know what you mean by ‘bubble’ team, but to me, that’s a derogatory comment.”
So I explained what I meant by “so proud it’s a joke” and that “bubble team,” was, in fact, a legitimate term. The response was classic:
“So I’ve only watched basketball for 65 years. I’m old and don’t know all the gibberish you youngins spit out. However, the term “bubble” is not a nice term for a team, regardless of who dubbed the termanology [sic]. And I still do not like your calling the game a ‘joke’.[sic]”
Naturally, I banned this particular woman, because I’m allergic to stupid and I started breaking out in all these awful hives. Plus, whatever, right?
But my point is this: not everyone’s out to get the Vols. Like me, for example. I wasn’t out to ridicule UT when I said I was so proud of them it was a joke. And that their fantastic play had elevated them in status to that of a legit bubble team which stood a real shot of making the NCAA tourney.
But that woman thought I was out to ridicule them because she was too sensitive. So, to the people who wanna beat Jay Graham up? Get over it, man. Grow thicker skin. It’s not this horrendous conspiracy concocted by Graham to ruin your life and the future of your favorite team. It was a decision made by one man — the coach of the running backs, for crying out loud — a decision he made with teensie-weensie little things in mind like, oh I dunno, his family and his career, maybe.
Yeah, I hated the decision, too. Yeah, I wish he didn’t make it. But who knows what all went into it. Even Erik Ainge, as much skinny as he gets, can’t hop inside Jay’s head and figure out what he was thinking.
Maybe he didn’t like being the lone hold over. Maybe he really values the chance to reunite with Randy Sanders. Hell, maybe he’s always longed to play footsie on the white sands of a Florida beach with Sal Sunseri.
We just. Don’t. Know. At least I don’t.
But this much, I do know. When you throw all this animosity at someone who’s disappointed you, you’re giving that person way too much control of how you feel — way too much control of your life. Which is why with this situation? I hope the VOL nation gets good, then gets on. Because this shouldn’t be the story it’s become.
3. This whole deal is why coaches prefer to bring in their guys
Remember when Coach Jones initially arrived in Knoxville? First, he had to get over the stigma of not being named Jon Gruden. Then, he had to get over the stigma of bringing his guys with him to join his staff at Tennessee. So many folks were like “What in the world? He’s bringing in every single one of his people from Cincinnati / Central Michigan!” while I was all “HELL, AT LEAST HE HAS PEOPLE!”
I mean, my goodness. That’s a good thing, you know. That a coach has a bunch of loyal men who’d drop everything and move their families to stay with the guy. Especially when you consider that we just had a coach whose staff would drop everything and move their families just to get away from him!
I don’t know this for a fact, but I strongly suspect that Butch probably had someone else in mind whom he would have at least liked to have spoken to about the position of running backs coach before handing it over to Graham. But he did no such thing. He chose Graham because he understood the importance of history as it pertains to the University of Tennessee football program. He understood how badly the downtrodden fan base wanted a former Vol on board. (See what I did there? Hmm? Former Vol instead of VFLer?) He saw what a great job Graham had done the year before with the unit and said “You know what? This isn’t exactly how I had it planned, but I’ll roll with this.”
And look how the situation played out. Graham was the lone returning coach and it seems pretty obvious, at least on some levels, that he didn’t jive 100% with the other guys Jones brought to Knoxville. With Jones’ guys. That he was on the outside looking in. That after the transition, UT was no longer a good fit for Jay Graham. For whatever reason.
All of which is exactly why coaches prefer to bring in their own people. Coach Jones should have been allowed to do just that.
4. Let the Trooper debate begin
Trooper Taylor’s name has come up as a logical replacement for Jay Graham and the sense I get from both asking around as well as from observing fan behavior (on Facebook, Twitter and on the radio airwaves) Trooper is a bit of a polarizing figure.
There’s no question he’s a great recruiter. And there’s no question, he’d be a popular hire in the eyes of many. But there’s also no question that he comes with a stigma thanks to potential NCAA improprieties.
Like most, I have an opinion on Trooper, and my opinion is this: Trooper doesn’t get enough “separation” from his players to command respect. I believe that his players think they respect him. But I also believe they mistake affinity for respect. Simply put, Trooper is a peer. Not a coach.
Period. Next thought.
He, again, is one hell of a recruiter and a lotta folks who know a whole lot more about football than I contend that, for a position coach, it’s far more important to be a good recruiter than a good coach. Plus, I’ve heard former players like Jayson Swain talk about how Trooper would drop everything for his boys. The kind of guy you can call at three in the morning if you had problems with your girl. And while that, to me at least, continues to paint him to be more of a peer than a coach, it’s still extremely admirable that Taylor has managed to endear himself to so many of his former players to such a great extent. And I respect the hell out of that.
So I can see both sides here.
HOWEVER, I fear that Coach Jones has found himself in a tough spot, because the Trooper thing may be a damned if you do, damned if you don’t situation. And I fear that whichever way Jones goes in this one, he’ll catch a bunch of flack for it.
Which is quite a shame when you think about it. Because the whole reason such a situation has arisen in the first place is because Jones agreed to NOT bring in one of his guys at running backs coach and, instead, to retain a former Vol from Dooley’s staff.
Which is exactly why I believe…
5. Coach Butch Jones should bring on whomever he wants to replace Jay Graham
Trooper Taylor? Great. I’m in. (Assuming it’s proven he’s clean from an NCAA standpoint.) Roy Manning. Fine by me. Get him to Knoxville. Des Kitchings? If that’s who Butch thinks is best, then I hope he lands him.
This dude, who @BWFullington (great follow on Twitter) dug up?
I like his style. He’s got swag. Plus, he could possibly knit some apparel. This program needs more dudes who are money with the crochet.
So if that’s who you want? Go get him, Butch. (I just updated this last part at 11:13 thanks to @BWFullington’s fantastic tweet.)
Because Tennessee hired Jones to be its football coach. And he now has to make an important decision thanks to the fact that his coaching waters have been (temporarily) muddied due to the Jay Graham situation that wouldn’t even exist if Jones hadn’t been pressured (at least a little bit) into retaining Graham in the first place.
Which is why I hope everyone backs off and lets the man do what he was hired to do. Make football decisions.
Because I have a feeling if UT fans will just do that, they’re gonna like what they see.