It's become a neverending drama, the only headline-grabber this offseason that doesn't include bar-brawling Vols or USC recruits. Confusion has resonated within the Tennessee program, with different rumors swirling, pointing in all directions, like a giant question mark hanging over Neyland Stadium.
I'm talking, of course, about Bryce Brown.
Tennessee's would-be sophomore running back, a former No. 1 recruit in the nation snagged during Lane Kiffin's brief tenure on Rocky Top. Brown's commitment was a recruiting coup when you consider how the Vols had just fired one coaching staff and were breaking in another, unproven group of sideline prowlers.
Brown was the kind of recruit roped in to build the foundation of UT's return to prominence. He was the kind of player that could, once again, make fans excited for football time in Tennessee.
Then came that faithful January night. Kiffin bolted Tennessee, the program he'd once promised to ressurect, for his dream job on the shores of Southern Cal. Nevermind the impending NCAA violations potentially plaguing the Trojans. USC was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, especially for a California boy stuck in the depths of the Southeastern Conference.
(For the record, you can't blame Kiffin for jumping ship. But you CAN blame him for the manner in which he did so, with empty promises to both fans and recruits.)
When Kiffin departed Knoxville amid angry students and buring mattresses, Bryce Brown stood among the mobs in disbelief. What's happening, he had to wonder? Kiffin and his staff of NFL coaches were Brown's shot to the big-time. Forget Tennessee. Brown was in Knoxville to reach the pros, and Kiffin was his ticket to the promise land.
So in comes Derek Dooley, with all the pedigree and values of a character-driven coach but, in Brown's eyes, fewer opportunites to sell in the NFL. Immediately, a la Lane Kiffin, Brown's supposed "allegience" to the Tennessee family went stale. As many big-time players do nowadays, Brown signed on to play for a coaching staff. Not to play for a school.
Next, the Wichita, Kansas native went MIA. After citing personal issues, Brown sat out spring practice with all signs pointing to a transfer from Tennessee. But the talented running back made appearances on the sidelines during spring practice, bringing his questionable status into the spotlight once again.
Spring practice came and went with no definite decision from Brown. On the record, Dooley made it clear that he did not consider Brown part of the team. But if Bryce wanted back, Dooley said, he could work his way into the lineup and would be welcomed with open arms. Several players echoed this sentiment.
In mid-July, rumors pointed Brown to Kansas State to play with his brother, who is tranferring from Miami. A sit-down meeting was scheduled for July 26, but the alleged face-to-face session between Brown and Dooley came and went with Brown supposedly leaving town without a meeting with Dooley.
So here we sit, unable to fully grasp the Bryce Brown situation. The rising sophomore has a chance to return to Tennessee. He has a chance to be great on a national stage and a historically premier program. He has a chance to potentially start for the Vols and help make Dooley's first season in Knoxville a success.
But does he deserve that chance?
Brown's primma donna attitude throughout Tennessee's turbulant offseason sheds light on his own character. Like many well-known high school recruits, Brown was a two-to three-year college career away from NFL stardom. The big league was his goal, and Lane Kiffin promised to get him there.
But by the way things look, Brown doesn't have the same trust in Dooley. Can Dooley help Brown into an NFL jersey? Will the Vols be the laughingstock of the SEC East? Would Tennessee be a good fit for Bryce Brown anymore?
From the Vols perspective, one less Brown on the roster wouldn't leave a gaping hole in the depth chart. UT is deep enough at running back with Tauren Poole emerging as a star in spring practice and David Oku and Tony Williams lining the bench as solid backups.
Had he taken part in spring practice, Brown would almost certainly be the starter. But his lack of participation and conditioning would leave his current position on the depth chart in question.
But Dooley's wait-and-see game has gone on long enough. If Brown can't make his decision by now, his lack of loyalty is evident. Keeping the door slightly cracked gives Brown an option of return few players would have in the same situation. Unless there are unknown personal circumstances surrounding Brown's limbo, a glorious amount of favoratism is being displayed on the part of Dooley by allowing the running back this much leeway.
So let him go. Shut the door and lock it tight. Dooley should want players who live and breathe Tennessee football, who bleed orange and white and who yearn to run through the T amid the Pride of the Southland every Saturday afternoon.
Brown doesn't fit this mold. He wants a straight-shot to the NFL, not a glorified college career. And a mindset like that, with no matter how much talent, doesn't belong on Rocky Top.