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UT Sports

Will hiring Hart get Spurrier’s blood pumping?

September 8th, 2011 5:42 pm by Trey Williams

South Carolina visits Georgia on Saturday in both teams’ SEC opener, but USC coach Steve Spurrier probably has a sudden desire to spank Tennessee.

Dave Hart was announced Tuesday as Tennessee’s new athletic director. It was Hart, when he was athletic director at Florida State in 2001, who suggested Spurrier needed a spanking and needed to grow up.

Spurrier was angry after Florida State’s Darnell Dockett intentionally twisted running back Earnest Graham’s knee — allegedly — in the Seminoles’ 37-13 loss to Florida in 2001.

Spurrier turned in film of the play, among others. Hart criticized him publicly for complaining. It seemed like Spurrier’s AD, Jeremy Foley, wasn’t as vocal in supporting Spurrier’s case, although it was apparently crystal clear.

Jimmy Ray Stephens was Florida’s offensive line coach in 2001. Years later, while coaching at Tennessee, he said players were talking about how Dockett had bragged about his deed immediately after — and perhaps during — the game.

Graham missed the following week’s game, Florida’s home loss to Tennessee in the SEC regular season finale — the night Travis Stephens ran wild. It knocked Florida off its BCS title perch and put Tennessee on it, although LSU and assistant coach Derek Dooley cost the Vols a Rose Bowl berth and title shot with an upset in the SEC championship game.

Spurrier never coached another regular season game for Florida after the Grahamless loss to UT. He left despite having Rex Grossman returning, and Grossman was the Heisman Trophy runner-up behind Eric Crouch in 2001.

In fact, after he took the Washington Redskins job, Spurrier talked one day at the Johnson City Country Club about how the NFL had someone who policed cheap hits, Gene Washington. Incidentally, Washington once came to Johnson City in the 1970s for an appearance at Spurrier’s sporting goods store. They were teammates in San Francisco from 1969-75.

Hart’s comments were probably an accumulation of frustrations. Spurrier’s Gators beat the Seminoles, 52-20, for the 1996 national title and beat them in the regular season finale the following year when FSU was ranked No. 1. Spurrier also referred to FSU as “Free Shoes University” somewhere along the way.

Suddenly, you wonder if he’ll bring out some material for the Tennessee matchup this season.

• Aggie-nizing: Assuming lawsuits from Big 12 schools such as Baylor or Iowa State don’t derail the move, Texas A&M will move to the SEC next year. It seems like a pivotal moment in what will likely lead to four 16-team conferences.

Tennessee coach Derek Dooley, who coached under former East Tennessee State head coach Mike Cavan at SMU in the late ’90s when the Western Athletic Conference already had 16 teams, is wary of such expansion, at least for the SEC.

“I’m a little bit of a traditionalist,” Dooley said during the SEC teleconference Wednesday. “I think one thing that has always made this league special is the continuity that we’ve had over a long time. Even though we really work our tails off to whip each other, it’s a little bit like a family. And I think that’s one of the things that’s made it so well preserved over the years.

“And I think the other neat thing is when a player comes into the league — even with 12 teams — he has an opportunity to play every team in the league before he graduates. So I think that’s a special thing. I hope we don’t get too big.”
Too much can easily be made of Texas A&M helping the SEC’s recruiting in Texas, but it would certainly help. Tennessee currently has two commitments from Texas.

“What we hope is that it generates more exposure in Texas, which generates more players who are interested in leaving that part of the country,” Dooley said. “They have great high school programs, excellent high school coaches and great talent.”

In fact, Dooley recruited Texas by recruiting Tennessee when he was at Louisiana Tech. Running back Lennon Creer (Tatum, Texas) transferred from UT to Louisiana Tech with Ahmad Paige when Dooley was there, although Dooley left for Knoxville before they played.

Of course, expansion is mostly about reaching new markets, which fattens TV contracts, which helps athletic directors sign fat contracts. New UT athletic director Dave Hart reportedly has a base salary of $575,000 in his first year of a sixyear deal, which could increase by three percent annually, and will also include $150,000 each year for media appearances and a $50,000 annual retention bonus.

• Dog Goner: Georgia’s season-opening 35-21 loss to Boise State seems to have the vultures swirling above UGa coach Mark Richt like never before. Reporters seemed to be tap-dancing around a potential gravesite while discussing the Bulldogs’ upcoming home game with South Carolina.

A patient man who seems as well adjusted as any big-time football coach, Richt is trying to keep his sense of humor.

“I don’t even know specifically what’s swirling around,” Richt said. “Everybody says there’s stuff swirling around. … I usually find out what’s going on if my mom calls or if somebody when I go to church — if everybody says they’re praying extra hard for me, I assume it’s out there.”

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