Kiffin sends a message

All head coaches have to send the message "No one is bigger than the team" sooner or later. Tennessee head man Lane Kiffin chose sooner.

Four months after accepting the Vol reins Kiffin has dismissed standout senior safety Demetrice Morley from the program. It wasn't an easy decision but it was the right decision.

"Demetrice won't be part of our team anymore," Kiffin said following Tuesday's workout. "Like we have said from the beginning, this isn't easy. It's very demanding for guys to stay here and go through everything we do, to hold to our standards on and off the field, to be part of our culture. Demetrice could not do that and we wish him the best of luck."

A flashy playmaker, Morley started 10 games as a sophomore in 2006, spent 2007 in academic exile at Pellissippi State, then made a triumphant return to the Vols in '08, starting 11 of 12 games at free safety. He and Eric Berry combined last fall to form what former Vol defensive coordinator John Chavis called "the finest pair of safeties in college football."

Morley's story proved to be a rags-to-riches-to-rags saga, however. After a relatively incident-free 2008 season, he exhibited a decided disdain for discipline once Kiffin assumed command of the Volunteer army in December. Morley skipped team running work. He was late for team meetings. He missed practice without permission.

Eighty-four of Tennessee's 85 scholarship players have "bought in" to what Kiffin and the new coaching staff is selling: Be accountable. Be energetic. Be team-oriented. Clearly, Morley couldn't handle Step 1. Thus, he posed a serious threat to the incredible team chemistry the Vols have developed this spring.

Recognizing this, Kiffin wisely cut him loose. The head man confirmed the dismissal following Tuesday's practice. His voice was hushed but his action could not have sent a louder message if he had used the public-address system at Neyland Stadium.

Did the Vols get that message? You bet. Loud and clear.

"That gets everybody's attention right away," sophomore defensive back C. J. Fleming said. "Everybody tomorrow is going to be talking about how they put Demetrice off the team: 'That's Morley, that's our five-star No. 1 overall DB, down the drain.'"

Too many college coaches issue two sets of rules – one that applies to the standouts and one that applies to everyone else. By booting a player of Morley's caliber, Kiffin showed there is but one set of rules at Tennessee.

"It's real big that it's D-Mo, rather than just being somebody who's not really played," Fleming noted. "It's a starter taken right out of the lineup."

Ultimately, the Big Orange family will draw closer without this prodigal son.

"When you've got a guy that just ain't on the same page as everybody else, it's hard to call him part of the family," Fleming said. "It's unfortunate to lose him, and we're sad about it, but we've got to move on."

Berry believes the decisive action on Morley underscores the new staff's desire to set a stern disciplinary tone.

"They kinda got an emphasis on it," he said. "But they don't really stress it. It's just 'Be where you're supposed to be, and that's it. I don't want to hear nothing else about it. Just be where you're supposed to be and do what you're supposed to do.'"

Dismissing a player, especially one as talented and popular as Demetrice Morley, is a bold act. But it succeeded in moving the Vols one giant step closer to Kiffin's ultimate goal:

Becoming a team.


Inside Tennessee Top Stories