After what happened to Florida State in the Orange Bowl, much has been said about depleted teams and why some have suffered severe losses and others remained essentially intact.
There was one Tennessee roster change worthy of examination.
The foundation of Josh Heupel’s program is supposedly the culture, family feeling, togetherness, brotherhood, loyalty — all those good things.
Wonder where they went?
I remain thankful that this is still mostly a free country and that Tyler Baron can go where he chooses and when he wants to go. No problem if he had declared for the NFL draft with a year of eligibility remaining. Nobody would have said selfish out loud. The career clock is always ticking. Each man is his own timekeeper.
But, trading in Tennessee for Ole Miss raises questions. Did Baron, talented edge rusher, want more NIL money to stay and got more to go? Was there a conflict with a coach? There have been whispers of a personality clash with defensive coordinator Tim Banks. We know how demanding Rodney Garner can be – for the good of his players.
The heat is always on. College football includes some tension. It is different from Sunday school picnics.
I refuse to believe Lane Kiffin offers a better sense of direction to the pros than Heupel. Ambiance and atmosphere? Mississippi has The Grove. Tennessee has the Vol Walk and “Running through the T” and many thousands more in the audience.
The mass exodus of defensive backs is a different story. Some of the seven were probably encouraged to clear space for the next generation. One or two may honestly be searching for greener pastures, more playing time. One or two may have had enough of the criticism heaped onto the secondary. It was nowhere near good enough but participants may not have believed that.
Money might be a factor. Money makes sense.
I can’t imagine that anybody told Tyler Baron, 6-5 and 260, to “hit the road.” He was, by far, the most talent lost through the transfer portal. He had a pretty good year – six sacks, 31 other quarterback hurries and 10 tackles for losses, according to those who analyze every play on video.
He was SEC defensive lineman of the week after the Virginia game. He had two tackles for losses, scooped up a fumble and ran for a touchdown against Connecticut. He had TFLs against Kentucky, Missouri and Georgia.
Baron made progress.
“Not taking anything for granted,” he said. “Not saying I was doing it on purpose in the past but just emphasizing how important every day is and how important every detail is and making sure I do everything right.”
He ranked fifth among most effective edge rushers in the conference.
Baron did go through Senior Day prior to Tennessee’s concluding victory over Vanderbilt. That was a clue that he was finishing up as a Volunteer.
He was, however, among the last to leave Shields-Watkins Field when the action was finished. I was told he was fighting back tears. That didn’t fit his all-business image. He seemed restless in years past. He was previously in the transfer portal for a few minutes when his father, Patrick Abernathy, went away after eight years on the football support staff.
There were rumblings that Tyler might depart after last season. Some said he never was happy. I doubt that. He could play but, for three seasons, he fell short of expectations. There were questions about durability. Critics said he had more ability than determination.
Critics said, 70 years ago, that Doug Atkins took an occasional play off.
I recall Tyler Baron saying, maybe in September, that he had looked at the past and concluded that things hadn’t gone the way he wanted. He asked himself what he could do better, what he needed to stop doing or start doing?
He called it self-evaluation. Improvement showed. Garner had an explanation.
“Understanding it isn’t just about him, it’s about Tennessee and about everybody doing their job and how it affects others.”
Kiffin thinks it is ho-ho-ho funny that a Volunteer would rather be a Rebel. The coach pretends the decision is based on a more mature perspective. He intends to use the example in recruiting.
I consider Kiffin to be a make-believe scoundrel, a good coach and a very smart showman. I’m trying to decide what I think about Tyler Baron.
Marvin West welcomes comments or questions from readers. His address is firstname.lastname@example.org