New approach on Rocky Top isn't right fit for everyone

John Moorehouse • May 3, 2009 at 12:00 AM

Perception is a funny thing.

After the Orange and White game, B.J. Coleman projected the image of a prototypical quarterback — willing to lead, content with the new coaching staff at Tennessee and supremely confident in his chance to claim the starting job.

Less than a week later, Coleman was on his way out of the program.

Then there’s offensive lineman Vladimir Richard, who provided one of the lasting memories for those in attendance at the news conference announcing Phillip Fulmer’s departure. On that day, Richard sobbed — loudly — and did so well before Fulmer even took to the podium.

And yet, Richard has bought in fully to the philosophy of new coach Lane Kiffin and his assistants.

“I was just upset, just because me and Coach Fulmer have a great bond — somewhat like a father figure,” Richard recalled after the spring game. “Change is tough. Because, it’s not the person that recruited you. They don’t know whether they wanted you or not. It’s just tough.”

“They want us to succeed,” Richard said of the new regime. “They are sincere about it and it was easy for us to buy in.

“When you have coaches who talk to you with respect, they might yell and what not, but it’s not just that they’re trying to chew you out and embarrass you. It’s to get you better.”

Coleman certainly got better over the course of spring practice, as indicated by his statistical performance in the major scrimmages and the spring game. Kiffin himself praised Coleman for his apparent makeup as a player who thrives on game day.

But now, Coleman will be making those game-day preparations for an undetermined team.

Add top returning rusher Lennon Creer and linemen Preston Bailey and Donald Langley to the list of individuals who chose to leave the Volunteers since Kiffin assumed control of the team.

The individuals who have left by choice are not lesser football players because of their decisions. It can come down to something as simple as personality traits. The new coaches bring high intensity and high energy to the practice field and the meeting room. Some people respond to such an approach. Others don’t.

Coleman said Kiffin twice delayed a meeting requested by the quarterback to determine where he stood in the battle for the starting job. Kiffin has said that the program wanted Coleman to stay. And the truth is, we’ll never know what went on in the meeting between quarterback and coach.

It’s just as true, though, that Coleman won’t be the last player, current or future, to leave the UT program by choice.

Maybe Kiffin’s approach will let the Vols succeed in the Southeastern Conference. Maybe it won’t.

Some six months in, it’s obvious that the Kiffin way’s not for everyone.

John Moorehouse covers University of Tennessee football for the Times-News. E-mail him at jmoorehouse@timesnews.net.

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