Head coach Derek Dooley appeared in Chattanooga Wednesday night to tout Tennessee football and reassure Vol fans that his program is on course for a return to glory.
Meanwhile, two hours north in Knoxville, negative vibes festered.
Cameron Clear, a backup tight end for the Vols, was released from jail Wednesday and promptly suspended indefinitely by Dooley. The sophomore was charged Tuesday with felony theft between $1,000 and $9,999 after being found in possession of a stolen laptop. He was originally taken into custody at Gate 2 of Neyland Stadium and held on bond set at $2,500.
Rolling into the Chattanooga Convention Center as a member of UT’s Big Orange Caravan promotional tour on Wednesday, Dooley faced immediate questions surrounding Clear’s status.
“I have a two year body of work in trying to deal with discipline situations,” Dooley said. “I’ve always sort of looked at it case by case. What I need is the facts and what comes out. ... We do the best we can to find out the accurate information and then take appropriate action.”
In Dooley’s first season on Rocky Top, some precedents were set.
In July 2010, he dismissed sophomore safety Darren Myles Jr. from the team and indefinitely suspended defensive tackle Marlon Walls and linebacker Greg King following a bar brawl involving several Vols players.
Despite the sweeping discipline, Myles was only one of two Tennessee players arrested. The other—then freshman receiver Da'Rick Rogers—was arrested on disorderly conduct and resisting arrest charges, but not suspended.
That October, defensive end Jacques Smith missed no games for a misdemeanor charge of simple assault following a bar altercation.
In February 2011, after the Vols finished 6-7 in year one of his tenure, Dooley suspended starting strong safety Brent Brewer indefinitely for a misdemeanor domestic assault charge.
As for Clear, Dooley avoided any definitive statements, despite handing out the suspension earlier in the day.
“I don’t really want to comment on all that anymore,” he said. “I’m disappointed in the charge, yeah. Any time one of your players has an incident—an accusation on him—you’re disappointed, but it’s just so important that you don’t rush into anything until you have a comfort level with all that has happened.”
Clear’s arrest stems from a May 19 incident in which Tennessee pitcher Jeffrey Brandon Zajac reported his MacBook Pro missing from his Lake Loudon Boulevard Room, reports have stated. Clear logged into the university’s wireless system Tuesday on the stolen laptop and was arrested.
Clear, a 6-foot-6, 283-pound tight end, caught one pass as a freshman last season and was expected to see his productivity rise as a backup to Mychal Rivera in 2012. He was rated as a 4-star prospect by Rivals, Scout and ESPN coming out of Central High School in Memphis.
In late March, following the fourth day of spring practices, Dooley said of Clear, “He has a great attitude and he is learning and I think he is going to be a really good football player."
Now his future is in question.
Asked Wednesday if Clear’s arrest and subsequent suspension indicates a stumble in his overall goal of changing the culture surrounding Tennessee football, Dooley said one incident doesn’t change anything.
“I don’t think that’s fair to say,” Dooley said. “When you’re talking about shaping a culture and developing a culture, it doesn’t mean you have 120 guys that never do anything wrong. The culture is about what the body of work over time looks like. It’s about what the attitude and the perception of the people around our players get and how they represent Tennessee.
“It doesn’t mean you’re never going to be without incident. ... That’s ultimately our goal, but when you’re shaping young people, you have to be prepared when things happen.”