Violent Vols

The outlook for the Southeastern Conference's new Mentors in Violence Prevention (MVP) program is not encouraging. Tennessee football instituted a similar program 15 months ago, and the Vols haven't exactly been choirboys since that time.

The MVP program basically counsels athletes on handling volatile situations without resorting to violence. The SEC recently adopted it in response to a growing number of assaults involving the league's football and basketball players.

It turns out, though, that Tennessee already had a similar counseling program in place.

"We did that last spring," head coach Phillip Fulmer said of the MVP program. "We did a real quick poll of our kids, and they felt like it was a really good program.

"As it turned out, though, we had four or five kids that ended up getting in trouble, so how much impact did it really make?"

Not much, apparently.

Several Vols have been arrested in the past 15 months for their involvement in fights with fraternity members. Defensive tackle Tony McDaniel very nearly was dismissed from school after allegedly smashing a fellow student's face in a pickup basketball altercation. Earlier this week he accepted a plea agreement which allows him to rejoin the team without facing felony aggravated assault charges.

Not all of Tennessee's off-field problems in the past year have involved violence. Safety Brandon Johnson was dismissed for illegally discharging a firearm. Wide receiver James Banks was dismissed for a substance violation.

Whether a punch is thrown or not, however, these incidents leave UT's football program with a black eye. No one is more acutely aware of this than the man who oversees the program.

"I was really angry after a couple of things," Fulmer said at the recent SEC Media Days in Birmingham, "and I was venting to my wife. She said, ‘Yes, but think of all the guys you saved.' "

The Vol coach is justifiably proud of the players he has helped get on the right track but he still struggles with those whose lack of discipline brings disrepute to themselves, their families and their university.

"There are a lot of kids that we do great things for," Fulmer said. "But, unfortunately, sometimes the publicity comes to the ones that do poorly. We are all embarrassed about it. We hate it. We're going to continue to work on it."

No matter how hard he and his staff work, of course, there still will be some players who break rules and cross boundaries. Fulmer understands this.

"We would be really naive to stand here and think with 18 to 22-year-old kids, there's never going to be any problems or issues," he said. "But we have had more than our share and more than we intend to tolerate."

Fulmer has not yet found a solution to the problem of violent Vols but one thing appears certain: The MVP program isn't enough.


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