Big Orange Observations

It's somewhat sardonic to read Michael Munoz has given up on football, when the reality is football gave up on him.

Sure he could have tried the free agent route and may have caught on with a team looking for a low-cost resolution to O-line reinforcement. It would have taken an emotionally charged and supremely dedicated effort to make it. That may have been more than Munoz had left after suffering five years of setbacks in the form of injuries and surgeries. Apparently, it was more than he was willing to give.

He would also have needed some luck to make it in the NFL, every player does, and good fortune was in short supply for Munoz at Tennessee. He started from game one of the 2000 season and was named freshman all-American, but then sat out the entire second season following surgery to repair a genetic defect in his knees. He had problems with ankles, knees and shoulders the next three seasons, sitting out stretches and playing others in a diminished state. His career came to an ignoble end with a shoulder injury in the first half of the 2004 Vanderbilt game.

If Munoz's progress had been allowed to arc after his successful freshman season, he had the size, strength, technique and talent to become a first round draft choice. He was never going to be as good as his father, Anthony, but neither is any other offensive lineman these middle-aged eyes have seen.

The Munoz name and legacy was a lot to carry for an aspiring O-lineman, who happened to have an NFL Hall of Fame father regarded by most as the best ever at his position. Michael did that with pride and dignity. He fought the good fight and can set the load down without any sense of shame. Michael represented his family name very well at Tennessee, serving as two-time captain, excelling in the classroom and astutely dealing with the media.

STARTING OVER Overlooked to a degree was the retirement of Michael's sister, Michelle, from college basketball. Of course, she transferred from Tennessee to Ohio State where knee injuries plagued her as they did Michael. The former Lady Vol forward gave up the game the same week as her celebrated sibling.

A note of praise also goes the way of their parents, who set a great example of how you can be vitally interested in your child's career without being obsessive, you can be a supportive presence without being a suffocating one, you can be involved without interfering. There are too many sports parents that don't know the difference and, thereby, do their children a serious disservice.

Michael Munoz's story also speaks to the transient nature of athletic success, and it underscores how a sports career is so often short lived. That's why sports parents should never nourish the athlete while starving the individual.

And that's all I've got to say about that.

BRUCE THE PEARL

Say what you will about the loss of Tyler Smith, there's a lot to like about the manner new UT head basketball coach Bruce Pearl is going about his business.

From all appearances, he is moving forward with confidence but without compromise. To quote the cliché: He's planning his work and he's working his plan. He knows where he wants to go and he knows how to get there. He is disciplined, dedicated and decisive, plus he has the strength of his convictions. That's a powerful combination of components that can carry Pearl and the Vols a long way.

He realizes you can't go a long way by taking shortcuts, and there's no quick cure for what ails Tennessee basketball.

Patience is advised.

MOVING ON

Brent Schaeffer, who may be the most mobile QB in UT football history, is on the move after one turbulent season on the Hill, in which he became the first true freshman to start a season at quarterback for an SEC team in over half a century.

He eventually lost his starting job to fellow freshman Erik Ainge before being felled by a broken collarbone against South Carolina. He came back to play in the Cotton Bowl, but off-the-field troubles eventually caught up with the fleet-of-foot football star.

Schaeffer's athletic skills were unmistakable, but he never appeared comfortable in the pocket and his arm strength was a notch below adequate. It's hard for a signal caller to make a living in the SEC outside the pocket, and it runs contrary to UT's prostyle attack.

More significantly, Tennessee's staff couldn't entrust the offense to a player who couldn't stay out of trouble or find time to attend class. They were looking to utilize him at receiver or a return specialist which Schaeffer wasn't interested in doing.

In the right offense and against the right competition he may yet become a big-time quarterback. There's no shortage of athleticism and his arm strength could improve as he matures. However, wherever he goes he has to have his priorities straight, which is to say, his first obligation is to his God-given talent.


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