Soap opera shaping up at Tennessee

Marvin Westwestwords

Speculation is rampant that a new soap opera is taking shape at the University of Tennessee.


The setting is said to be Stokely Hall.

Kaidon Salter

The dorm with the famous name fronts on Lake Loudoun Boulevard, where Gibbs Hall used to be, only a few feet removed from where historic Stokely Athletics Center once was, where Ernie and Bernie and Ron Widby and Jimmy England did their thing.

The new cast of characters will supposedly include football players, coaches, campus police, spin doctors and maybe an all-star attorney with no socks. Selected residents would be peripherals.

Potential title for the series is “Culture Change.”

It could be “Dumb and Dumber 4.”

Of course, the script will be fictional but, as you know, fiction often mirrors real life.

Speaking of real life, in the name of transparency, new coach Josh Heupel added fuel to the soap opera fire. When asked where the heck was freshman quarterback Kaidon Salter on the first day of spring practice, Josh told the guarded truth.

He said Salter is one of four Vols suspended indefinitely. Kaidon was not previously identified because he was a minor. The quarterback plus linebackers Martavius French and Aaron Willis and defensive lineman Isaac Washington are supposedly connected to a strange “incident” that is said to have happened at Stokely on March 10.

Details are fuzzy. Soap opera producers love drama that runs different directions.

Neither we nor the police know for sure why the football players entered a dorm room uninvited and what they allegedly took with them when they departed. An alleged witness reported some of the “facts.”

Soon thereafter, he and whoever else pays the rent on the suite stopped talking.

Police chose “misdemeanor drug possession” as the reason for arrests. If the charge doesn’t get any worse, “indefinite” might not be too long. The most convenient explanation for “misdemeanor drug possession” is limited use.

It takes a larger supply to do retailing – but fiction writers can create several worse things to make the soap opera more exciting.

This version is bad enough for Coach Heupel. He was already facing a difficult assignment. One of his stated goals upon arrival was culture change, a commitment to excellence, an acceptance of responsibility.

Having a quarterback candidate, a potential team leader, involved in anything outside the law is counter-productive. Salter could have spent his spare time memorizing the playbook and reviewing schematic video instead of doing a scenic tour of a campus dorm.

Oh, you say Kaidon is so young, only two months into his freshman year, subject to an occasional misstep, a simple error in judgement? I’ll buy part of that. Give him one. This is a serious reconstruction scene. My suggestion is that he henceforth avoid any hint of Johnny Manziel tendencies.

Starting now, if not sooner.

As for the young linebackers, their suspension is also hurting the team. There is a void at their position. And, Martavius and Aaron need all the on-the-job training they can get.

The soap opera may not help Tennessee recruiting. Prize prep stars may think the dorm visit was sort of funny but there are still some serious grandmothers out there who might question the apparent environment.

“But, everybody is doing it” is not yet an acceptable excuse for all.

Culture change, culture change.

Heupel is aware there is a higher power. The student conduct committee and university officials have a vote. If/when those accused are found innocent or not seriously guilty, they will still line up behind the proverbial 8-ball. They are missing practice. Teammates will be doing hard labor.

The coach did his best to say the correct things, starting with no timetable.

“There are high expectations, high standards to represent Tennessee football. And at the same time, we’re going to stay true to those kids and support them as they go through this process.”

I thought Heupel scored a touchdown for integrity when he answered the original Salter question without broken-field running. Some coaches don’t do that.

Once upon a time, Tennessee defensive tackle Shy Tuttle suffered an orbital bone injury that left his right eye badly blackened and swollen closed. The hot story was a fight with a teammate.

Oh no, said Butch Jones, make-believe coach at the time.

“Fake news. Shy landed on a helmet, and that’s the truth.”

Everybody knows there is a long list of agile college football players falling precisely face first on unoccupied helmets scattered all around. Happens all the time.

After that, Butch made it worse. He lectured the media on negative reporting.

“I love our kids. I’m going to protect our players. I’m going to protect our program. Sometimes the negativity is overwhelming.”

Credit Heupel with simply telling it like it is. No place for him in the soap opera.

Marvin West welcomes reader comments or questions. His address is marvinwest75@gmail.com

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