KNOXVILLE — Derek Dooley had to hand out some tough love on Wednesday, and it wasn’t to any of his players for making mistakes in the University of Tennessee football team’s mock game under the lights of Neyland Stadium.
The Volunteers’ football coach had to make the toughest decision of his 18-month tenure when he dismissed star safety Janzen Jackson from the team Wednesday morning just 10 days before UT’s season opener.
“It’s hard,” Dooley said. “When you’re the coach, when you’re a parent, the toughest form of love is tough love. That’s the hardest kind of love to dish out to a young person. As parents, we hate seeing our kids in pain, we hate seeing our kids cry and hurt, but sometimes that’s an important part of their growth, the pain.
“Pain is a part of life, disappointment is a part of life and sometimes the only way to really figure out how to get your life going in the right direction is by having some very difficult things happening to you. Was it difficult? Yes. But my responsibility is to this organization, and my responsibility is to these young people. I think the decision we made was in the best interest of both.”
Jackson’s teammates relayed a feeling of shock to the news.
“I was hurt,” said junior Prentiss Waggner, a fellow Louisianan. “With Janzen being like my little brother, a guy that I hosted on his official visit, it hurt me to my heart. I thought Janzen was going to be with us this season. We’ve just got to move on right now, guys have got to step up and just hopefully we can carry on with the season.”
Senior tailback Tauren Poole said that Jackson’s dismissal showed that Dooley means business.
“You’ve got to fess up to what you do in life. It’s tough,” he said. “I think it was just a warning that coach Dooley is not playing. If you’re going to do something, you’ve got to think about this organization’s reputation. We’ve got to make sure we’re representing it the right way. Guys that aren’t doing it, we’ll get rid of him and I respect that.
“Janzen always had a smile on his face. I’m going to miss his enthusiasm. He’s going to be great wherever he is.”
With Waggner sliding to Jackson’s spot at free safety where he played half of last season and during spring practice when Jackson had withdrawn from UT, that opens up cornerback spots for Marsalis Teague, freshman Justin Coleman and junior college transfer Izauea Lanier. Jackson’s departure also opens up the door for Eric Gordon at nickelback and Art Evans at cornerback.
“It hurts us back there, there’s no mistaking that,” Dooley said. “We’ll see if they can hold up, and if they can’t we’ll try to do something else.”
The Vols had been shuffling guys around at different positions all throughout preseason camp, and with their best player gone, others in UT’s secondary and on the defense overall must step up to fill the void.
“Right after we heard the news we told [defensive backs] coach [Terry] Joseph to leave the [meeting] room,” Waggner said, “and we had our own little bonding together as a unit. We just told ourselves that one of our leaders is gone from the team now and we’re just going to have to push ourselves each and every practice [to] make each other better.”
Dooley said Jackson was “shocked and crushed” at his dismissal. Substance abuse problems had long been part of Jackson’s personal issues, though Dooley declined again to go into the specifics of what he called Jackson’s “long drama.”
“The first thing you do as a parent is you look back and say, ‘What could I have done different?’” he said. “Of course I sat there and thought about a million things that maybe I could have done. At the end of the day, you do what you think is best and ultimately it’s up to the young person to either follow your lead of choose not to.
“I’m still here for Janzen and he knows it. I always will be. He may not want me to be, but I’m there.”
Patrick Brown has been the University of Tennessee beat writer since January 2011. A native of Memphis, Brown graduated from UT in May of 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism/Electronic Media and worked at the Knoxville News Sentinel for two years on the sports editorial staff and as a freelance contributor. If it’s the NBA, the NFL or SEC football and basketball, he’s probably reading about it or watching it on TV. Contact him ...