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Wednesday, August 24, 2011
Vols' Derek Dooley makes right choice

By Chris Low

I’ve yet to meet a coach who revels in kicking any kid off the team.

And when that kid just happens to be one of your most talented players, it’s all the more painful.

Janzen Jackson was one of Tennessee’s best players. He was one of the Vols’ most valuable players.

But all players are expendable, especially when their actions compromise the core values of a program.

It should be noted that Tennessee coach Derek Dooley didn’t just flippantly kick Jackson to the curb.

Rather, those in and around the Vols’ program will tell you that Dooley invested as much time and energy in trying to help Jackson as he has any player he’s ever coached.

Dooley was willing to go that extra mile with Jackson because Jackson had made a sincere effort to help himself. The junior safety had made progress, too, with his substance abuse issues and had reached out to Dooley and Tennessee officials for help.

Still, there were certain boundaries that Dooley simply wasn’t willing to compromise, even if it meant sending one of his best players packing.

There’s no question that Tennessee’s a better football team with Jackson on the field. He makes things go in that secondary.

So it wasn’t an easy decision for Dooley to part ways with Jackson.

It was, however, the right decision.

As much as Dooley wanted to help Jackson, he’s smart enough to realize that no single player is more important or bigger than the entire program.

In the short term, it’s going to hurt. Jackson’s a difference-maker on the field.

But in the long term -- and Dooley has been around the SEC long enough to know that there are no quick fixes in this league -- it’s the kind of decision that will serve the program well.

If his players didn’t already get it, I guarantee you they do now.

Here’s the other thing: It’s pretty much down to the players that Dooley has brought into the program.

Very few of the Phillip Fulmer holdovers remain, and only 11 of the 23 signees in Lane Kiffin’s 2009 signing class -- a class that was ranked No. 10 nationally -- are still on the roster.

Moreover, only four of those players from Kiffin's 2009 signing class are expected to play significant roles this season, and two are listed as projected starters -- Daniel Hood at defensive tackle and Marsalis Teague at cornerback.

In other words, this is truly Dooley’s team now.

He likes the last two classes that he’s assembled and feels like the Vols are pointed in the right direction.

Sounds like he's committed to get there by doing it the right way, too.