Friday, November 2, 2007
Fulmer dismisses Coker day after suspending tailback
By Chris Low ESPN.com
Sophomore tailback LaMarcus Coker, who'd shown flashes of brilliance on the field during his brief Tennessee career, has run out of chances off the field.
Coker was dismissed from the team Friday after failing his fourth drug test, sources told ESPN.com. Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer first announced Coker's dismissal in a statement issued by the university and later expressed remorse that Coker had chosen this path despite an outpouring of support from several different people at Tennessee.
"I'm disappointed for him," Fulmer said following the Vols' practice. "This is his life, and I hope he gets straightened out and succeeds in whatever he chooses to do. I can lay my head on my pillow and know that, within the rules, we have done everything we can to help LaMarcus overcome his challenges.
"I take that very seriously when I sit in the living room with a family. I have spoken to his mother, and she is appreciative to everyone as is LaMarcus.
"I have regrets that he screwed it up."
Coker, one of the Vols' most explosive playmakers, had been suspended on Wednesday for this weekend's Louisiana-Lafayette game after missing multiple drug counseling sessions as required for offenders of Tennessee's drug-testing policy. As a result, he was ordered to submit to a drug test with the knowledge that he would be dismissed if the test came back positive. Those results were delivered to Tennessee officials today, and Coker was subsequently dismissed.
Fulmer and offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe were planning to meet with Coker Friday to discuss his playing options elsewhere, perhaps at the Division I-AA level. Coker had backed up junior Arian Foster at tailback this season and was the Vols' leading rusher in 2006. His 37-yard kickoff return last week against South Carolina set up the tying field goal to send that game into overtime.
"As a coach, my first obligation is to the growth of the young men with whom I'm entrusted," Fulmer said. "Sometimes, that means encouragement and mentoring. Sometimes it means helping them understand the consequences of their decisions. LaMarcus is a talented young man with a lot of life in front of him. It is my hope that he will look back at this one day as a life lesson that helped him get things straight for his future."
Tennessee earlier this year revamped its drug-testing policy, and in doing so, added a fourth strike for a positive marijuana test before an athlete was dismissed. The old policy stipulated that an athlete was booted on the third positive test. Marijuana is the only drug an athlete would be able to reach a fourth strike for under UT's new policy. Cocaine, heroin or anabolic steroids would be dealt with more harshly.
Coker was suspended for two weeks in the preseason and for the opener against California after testing positive a third time for marijuana, sources told ESPN.com. He spent time at an off-campus treatment center before returning to the team in late August. Under Tennessee's drug policy, athletics director Mike Hamilton has the final say on an athlete's reinstatement.
Fulmer said at the time that Coker was down to his last chance and understood that "a line has been drawn in the sand."
Coker was also suspended for part of the practices leading up to the Outback Bowl last year, although he was allowed to play in the game.
With Coker gone, the Vols' once deep tailback stable has suddenly thinned. Foster will remain the main cog, but sophomore Montario Hardesty is coming off an ankle injury suffered last week against South Carolina. True freshman Lennon Creer will also see his role increase, although he's experienced some recent soreness in his knee.