Offensive tackle Arron Sears, who announced he will be back for the 2006 Vol season, believes Stephens' firing may have been more of a factor than Smith chose to admit publicly.
"I think that's what it was," he said, pausing before adding: "But I'm not for sure."
Sears was shocked by the news of his line mate's departure. In fact, he didn't believe the reports were true until he got confirmation straight from the horse's mouth, so to speak.
"I talked to Rob about a week ago, and asked about his decision," Sears recalled. "He said, ‘Yeah, I'm going to take my game to the next level.'"
Sears was saddened by the news but quickly shrugged it off. As he put it: "If he don't want to be here ... I told him, ‘Congratulations on your decision. I hope you do well.'"
Asked if he'll miss having Smith lined up next to him in the fall, Sears shrugged.
"I can't worry about what I don't got," he said. "I've got to worry about what I got. What I got is some young guys out there that are hungry and ready to play under a great coach, Coach (Greg) Adkins."