Strange are the twists and turns of pro football. Here’s a little story about two Tennessee alums who belong in Believe It or Not.
We aren’t sure how quarterback Bo Hardegree got a scholarship to Tennessee but he stayed four years, appeared in one game and didn’t gain or lose a yard.
We know for a fact that the same Bo Hardegree is quarterback coach for the Las Vegas Raiders. We think he is on his way to fame and fortune.
Jarrett Guarantano, once No. 1 in the country among high school dual-threat quarterbacks, fell far below expectations, got embarrassed in public by one of his college coaches and was impolitely booed by Tennessee fans. For some strange reason, the Arizona Cardinals invited him to a tryout camp for undrafted free agents, appreciated something they saw and awarded him an NFL contract.
He threw a touchdown pass against Cincinnati in his first exhibition game. Vol fans may have fainted. Many thought Guarantano was a sure loser.
Bo came from Jackson in 2003. He might have been the second half of a package deal with big linebacker Daniel Brooks, a Parade All-American. Bo’s father, Jim, was their high school coach.
Daniel’s time at Tennessee was troubled. He was dismissed. Hardegree proved to be an exemplary young man, an excellent pre-med student, a good practice helper, career scout team, no statistics. He was awarded a letter in 2006 for keeping the faith.
He enjoyed college. He liked tennis, returned to that game after football and went undefeated in No. 3 singles. He was surprised to find what coaches could do if they were willing to work day and night.
Phillip Fulmer liked Bo. He became a graduate assistant coach. David Cutcliffe liked Bo. Maybe a better word is admired or respected. When the offensive coordinator of the Vols became head coach at Duke, Hardegree became a graduate assistant for the Blue Devils.
After that, Bo was an intern at LSU. In 2014, he became offensive quality control coach for the Denver Broncos. Another ex-Vol, Peyton Manning, was a bigger name there. Peyton liked Bo. They helped each other.
Hardegree continued his education as an offensive assistant for the Chicago Bears, then quarterback coach of the Miami Dolphins, offensive assistant of the New York Jets, offensive assistant of the New England Patriots and on to the Raiders as coach of quarterbacks.
Guarantano, from Lodi, New Jersey, was a Butch Jones recruiting coup in 2016.
A generation before, Jarrett’s dad, Jim, was a star receiver at Rutgers when Jones was a beginning coach there. Later, Jones was “Uncle Butch” to the Guarantano family. When Jones landed at Tennessee, recruiting the prep all-American was a given. Ohio State finished a distant second. Thirty-two other schools wanted the quarterback.
Brian Dohn, a national recruiting analyst, listed Jarrett’s strengths: actual dual-threat talent, can run really well, very strong arm, throws well on the run, can throw the deep ball.
“He’s tough, he’s physically and mentally tough, and he grasps the game.”
Multi-talented, confident, smart, popular with teammates – ideal identity.
Jarrett brought modest career goals. He hoped to become the best player in America, help the Vols win an SEC title and move on up to a national championship.
Guarantano arrived on a wave of optimism. He was next after Joshua Dobbs. The team failed to make good on preseason hype. In Guarantano’s first start, against South Carolina in October, he was sacked seven times. That was an omen of things to come.
Tough became the key word, a bad word. That he was too often knocked down and stepped on, that he absorbed beatings and kept getting up is not what you want to hear about your quarterback.
Butch went away late in the 2017 season. Chaos erupted. Jeremy Pruitt was chosen to restore order. Optimism, what Jarrett was going to do, became a cruel joke. The makeshift offensive line led the league in tackles for losses. Eventually, the goal became keeping the quarterback in one piece. Tennessee even lost to Vanderbilt.
Why did Jarrett Guarantano stay? There was more than enough adversity and criticism to send even a loyalist scurrying to some safer place.
He said he stayed because Tennessee was where he wanted to be.
Guarantano never gave up. He invested Christmas holidays in work with personal coaches. Peyton became a resource. Jarrett saw hope when Jim Chaney was offensive coordinator.
Chris Weinke advocated strong leadership by the QB, out front for others to follow. Jarrett tried. He was knocked out of four games.
Pruitt wanted to help
“He’s our quarterback. I believe in Jarrett.”
Pruitt and staff struggled in 2020. Fans blamed Guarantano. Sometimes he held onto the football too long. Sometimes there were break-ins and he was mugged.
The SEC Network helped a little. It replayed the 2019 victory at Missouri, Jarrett’s happy game, 415 yards and two touchdowns.
That was past tense. It didn’t help the new now, the 3-7 disaster. The game-deciding debacle at Alabama was unforgettable. Jarrett called an audible, switched from the coach’s play, and fumbled near the goal. Pruitt lost his cool, delivered a tongue-lashing, tugged on Jarrett’s face mask and gave his head a little shake.
Sad scene, sad indeed.
Other hurtful things happened. Jarrett was benched. He suffered a broken left hand. He received death threats. He seemed surprised that 10 people were fired in the recruiting investigation.
Small wonder that he finally chose to relocate – to Washington State.
Starting over? Some Tennessee fans snickered. Others thought Jarrett had given the Vols everything he had. It often wasn’t enough, but lack of effort or courage or desire never was the issue.
His record wasn’t awful, 6,000-plus yards with 38 touchdowns and 17 interceptions. He went to school, earned a degree in psychology and a master’s in agriculture.
The dark cloud followed him to Pullman. In the spring game, first play, his right hand struck a helmet. The pass was picked off.
Second quarter of first game, sacked in the end zone, left knee injured.
Season numbers: two games, 49 pass attempts, 33 completions, 304 yards, one TD, three interceptions.
No shock that he wasn’t drafted. Pleasant surprise that Arizona showed an interest. Contract value was $2,560,000 if he made the team. The money was not guaranteed.
He didn’t make the team. He was released. But a quarterback was injured. Jarrett got another contract. He became a practice pro. That lasted until last October. He kept his phone nearby, just in case.
Another quarterback was injured. Jarrett got another call. He was reactivated. He sat on the bench but, believe it or not, the checks said Arizona Cardinals, NFL.
After that, Denver got him. After that, Arizona tried to get him back. After that, Denver promoted Jarrett to the active roster to protect their investment for the off-season.
Interesting connection: Broncos wide receivers coach Zach Azzanni was a Tennessee assistant when Guarantano was recruited to play for the Vols.
Believe it or not.
Marvin West welcomes comments or questions from readers. His address is [email protected]