Crime and Punishment

At the academy we were taught that a typical burglar will commit an average of 15 break-ins before being apprehended the first time.

What academy is that you ask?

Sorry, that's classified.

What does this have to do with sports you ask?

Well frankly it has nothing to do with sports, but then neither do the headlines a lot of Vols have been making. The last three weekends the total stands at five arrests in four separate incidents.

That crime stat underscores just how difficult it is to get arrested, and it indicates the odds of these being the only Vol violators is astronomical. Now the odds are lowered somewhat for offenses that occur on campus, since the square miles are smaller than most individual zones and there's a separate campus police department to cover that area.

However only the most recent arrest took place on campus, while the other four arrests occurred in the city's jurisdiction. With that in mind it's highly improbable that these were the only UT players to break the law during that time span.

How many others got away?

What were their offenses?

Fortunately, or unfortunately depending on your frame of reference, those are questions that will never be answered, but until there is a sustained period of time with no off-field incidents concerns about the state of discipline in the program will persist. And it's certainly unfair that so many of the players walking the straight and narrow are cast in the shadow of suspicion.

One also has to wonder if the recent rash of problems is in anyway related to the absence of David Cutcliffe. He returned to UT two years ago for the expressed purpose of boosting a struggling offense and developing quarterback Erik Ainge, who had just completed a shaky sophomore season in which the Vols went 5-6.

What wasn't expressed, but is well known, is the role Cutcliffe was supposed to assume in the matter of improving team discipline and limiting the outbreak of incidents that led to multiple arrests, dismissals and enough bad publicity to last for the rest of the decade.

How effective Cutcliffe was is a matter of pure conjecture — after all the dismissals eliminated some of the most egregious offenders — but there is no question the embarrassing incidents slowed to a rate than was no worse than most major programs. There also seemed to be a carryover to the field where the mental mistakes that plagued the team throughout the 2005 campaign decreased dramatically in 2006.

Now the Duke of Discipline is riding herd over the Blue Devils while Phillip Fulmer is left to take on a task that has never been considered his strong suit. In fact, it is Fulmer's nature to much more reactive than proactive where problems are concerned. It's this lack recognition and anticipation that seems to be his achilles heel, and it often overshadows his achievements. History suggests he is slow to make adjustments and is resistant to change even when the warning signs are unmistakable.

This doesn't mean Fulmer is expected to know where all his players are all of the time or what they're doing. However it does isolate the need to get ahead of potential problems, particularly when the man you hired to clean things up is no longer available.

How much these incidents have hurt UT's recruiting is difficult to estimate. Suffice to say it hasn't help, as the late recruiting rally many Vol fans have been hoping for may never come to pass. Ironically, this may a case of Fulmer's weakness diluting his greatest strength which is consistently bringing in the best available football talent. Even with the staff changes Tennessee had plenty going for it, and it's highly unusual for Fulmer not to close several high-profile prospects down the stretch.

In final analysis being a successful head coach is not about being loved, hated or feared. It is about being respected and using that respect to inspire the best in your players and coaches.

Moreover, it is about being tuned in to your team and promoting the type of unity that Bear Bryant used to call "having one heartbeat." Granted that may be a tall order in a world far removed from the 1954 Junction Boys, but the sentiment still applies and pursuit of such singularity is both noble and empowering.

At the very least a sense of shared responsibility has to be embraced by each individual for sake of the team. It's something that has to be instilled instead of enacted or enforced. It has to become a state of mind and a matter of honor.

And it has to begin at the top, which is also where the buck stops.


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