sports (2006-15)

Youngest brother’s rejection reflects poorly on UT football

Clausen’s Dis

by Tony Basilio

It’s been eight years, but it probably feels like a lifetime. During David I (as in David Cutcliffe’s first tour of Tennessee duty), Tennessee’s Vols were feared from coast to coast. They were an all-star team on offense. David I’s last couple of years during his first tour with the Big Orange featured skill position players named Manning, Peerless, Jamal, Travis and Jermaine. During his closing act before the curtain fell on David I at UT, he turned a Tee from a ball holder into a Tennessee legend.

Time will tell how many tricks Cutcliffe’s David II can turn with this group of Volunteers. Time has put a great distance between Phillip Fulmer’s golden orange era and what now awaits in the Fall of ’06. The vital signs aren’t trending in a positive vibe for a program once on the cusp of greatness.

Though members of the pandering local media will try to spin it otherwise, Jimmy Clausen’s decision to eliminate Tennessee from consideration in April of his junior year in high school is really embarrassing. It’s emblematic of a program that has slipped to the point where it is now fishing from a different pond than during Cutcliffe’s first orange tour.

Let’s look at the Clausen development from a couple of angles. First, it must be established that Jimmy Clausen is regarded as the top prospect, regardless of position, in the ’07 signing class. Many were raving that he may have such precocious skills that he would warrant a No. 1 ranking in the just completed ’06 class, as a junior! Obviously, the guy can play. More obviously, Tennessee really wanted him. They even retained his brother Rick (what a great college football player) as a graduate assistant this year to augment those chances.

OK. So put yourself in the youngest Clausen’s shoes. You’re No. 1 with a bullet. Everybody wants you. You are right where Peyton Manning was in ’94 and right where his brother Eli was in ’99. What would you do? Two words, David Cutcliffe. He developed both Mannings into millionaires. Not only did Peyton and Eli blossom under Cutcliffe, but they exploded into top picks in the NFL draft. Money, prestige and a proven track record await Cutcliffe’s next star pupil. Clausen knows that, yet it wasn’t enough to get Tennessee in the conversation. Not only did Clausen choose to not attend Tennessee, but he’s going to Notre Dame.

Now, name the last great professional quarterback to come out of Notre Dame. Rick Mirer was supposed to win three Heisman Trophies, wasn’t he, Beano Cook? How about Jarius Jackson? Or maybe even Blair Kiel? Here’s the point: Notre Dame hasn’t had a quarterback of consequence in professional football since the class of ’79, which yielded the great Joe Montana. Hasn’t anybody made this point with Jimmy C? 

There is no denying that Notre Dame and Tennessee appear to be ships passing in the night. We are heading out to sea while they are about to anchor on the shores of past glory. It is truly a sad thing to come to grips with. Jimmy Clausen didn’t even consider Tennessee a viable option because he obviously knows. His knowledge is of an insider variety. Tennessee’s program comes out of an injury-riddled spring with a football program in search of an identity and, following Clausen’s quick eschewing of a family legacy in Orange, one at a loss for credibility.

Clausen didn’t just say “no” to the Vols, he said “Hell, no!” Not only did Tennessee lose out on him, but it didn’t even make his select list of six final schools. Southern Cal, Michigan, LSU (Brother Rick’s old stomping grounds), South Carolina and Oklahoma all draw the distinction of finishing above Tennessee in the Clausen derby.

The local spin will be that the parting of the ways is great for both the Clausens and Tennessee—that the Clausen family wasn’t happy with the way Casey Clausen was treated by the fans and that Tennessee grew tired of the verbose nature of the Clausen clan. I’m not buyin’. When you’re talking about the top prospect to come out of prep football in years and the opportunity to pair with David Cutcliffe, and you can’t even get in the conversation, you see the state of things.

One positive outcome of this is a more localized football team. UT already has commitments from three Tennessee high school players for next year’s class. That colloquial approach is a nice change of pace. By the time the ’07 class is in the barn, UT could approach double figures with in-state prospects—a welcome turn of events indeed!

What may not be welcome is the aftermath wrought from the sudden dismissal of Tennessee by Jimmy C. Just as Manning’s decision to say yes to Fulmer 12 years ago was a harbinger of the golden era, one is left to wonder if Jimmy C just closed the curtain. In either case, it’s certain that Cutcliffe begins Act II at Tennessee with some bad actors!

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