Heath Shuler: from Congress back to Rocky Top… as Vols AD?

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It’s been nearly 20 years since Heath Shuler finished second in the Heisman Trophy voting as a Tennessee Volunteers quarterback.

According to at least one report, the rumor is that Shuler may have an interest in returning to Knoxville to run the Vols’ athletic department.  And the interest, per the speculation, was initiated and is being reciprocated by the school.

By way of a political website called Hotline On Call, a radio host in Knoxville, WLVZ’s Tony Basilio, wrote on his blog Monday that Shuler was approached by unnamed UT officials about becoming the school’s athletic director shortly after Mike Hamilton stepped down earlier this month.  Shuler was sufficiently intrigued by the interest that, Basilio wrote, the former Vol is doing “some personal due diligence”.

Shuler’s reportedly reached out to former UT football coaches Phillip Fulmer — rumored initially to be a candidate for the AD job as well — and Johnny Majors, and received their “blessing” and support in pursuing the opening.

And, apparently, another part of that due diligence involves sorting out which direction his current career is headed.

Shuler is currently a Democratic congressman, representing North Carolina in the U.S. House of Representatives.  He could, however, have a difficult time when the next election rolls around due to redistricting.

Shuler was elected to represent the GOP-leaning Asheville district in 2006, but his seat is one that is expected to be redrawn to be sharply more difficult for him in maps the GOP-led state legislature will release this Friday. Shuler is already facing a primary challenge from Asheville City Councilman Cecil Bothwell, and as Republicans have focused pressure on the dwindling Blue Dog Democrats in the House, two have already resigned or announced their intention to retire in 2012.

Certainly, a losing reelection bid would have Shuler at least looking at future employment opportunities.  For now, however, the Shuler camp will not hint that he’s interested in anything other than his current position.

“Congressman Shuler is focused on the very serious challenges facing our nation, including job creation and balancing our budget,” Shuler spokesperson Andrew Whalen told Hotline On Call when asked about the UT speculation. “He is currently and actively preparing for his next re-election campaign in 2012 and looks forward to continuing to fight for the working families of Western North Carolina in the years ahead.”

We’ve been told privately to not put too much stock in the speculation involving Shuler, so we’ll place this squarely in the “possible, but not very likely” rumor mill bin.  Then again, a similar scenario didn’t work out too bad for Nebraska and Tom Osborne, so we guess it shouldn’t be dismissed completely out of hand, however unlikely it may seem at the moment.

Georgia LB Natrez Patrick sees pot charge dropped; status for playoffs still uncertain

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Finally, there is some positive news off the field for the Georgia football program, even as some clarity on one player’s status moving forward is still needed.

According to ESPN.com‘s Mark Schlabach, the Barrow County district attorney’s office has decided to drop a marijuana possession charge against UGA linebacker Natrez Patrick. Earlier this month, Patrick was arrested for misdemeanor possession of marijuana.  That was the junior’s third marijuana-related arrest and fourth pot-related incident in a little over two years.

Patrick was arrested in early October of this year on a charge of possessing less than an ounce of marijuana and ultimately served a four-game suspension.  In November of 2015, Patrick was arrested on a charge of misdemeanor marijuana possession and suspended for one game per university policy.  A year later, Patrick and a teammate, Roquan Smith, were investigated by police for alleged pot use although no charges were ever filed.

In this latest incident, Patrick was a passenger in a vehicle driven by teammate Jayson Stanley that was pulled over for speeding shortly after the Bulldogs won the SEC championship.

“When you get into someone’s car, you’re not going to search it to see if there’s marijuana in the car,” Patrick’s attorney, William Healan III, told Schlabach. “My client didn’t know the marijuana was there. If you’re sitting on a little piece of marijuana that you didn’t know was there, you’re not knowingly in possession of it.”

As for Stanley, he saw a driving under the influence charge dropped.  In exchange, the little-used wide receiver pleaded guilty misdemeanor possession of marijuana and speeding.

Despite the fact that the linebacker’s charge was dropped, Schlabach writes that “[i]t wasn’t immediately known whether Patrick would be available when the No. 3 Bulldogs take on No. 2 Oklahoma in a College Football Playoff semifinal at the Rose Bowl Game… on New Year’s Day.” The Macon Telegraph, meanwhile, writes that when “[a]sked if this decision meant Patrick would not be considered a third-time offender under the UGA student-athlete handbook, athletics director Greg McGarity declined to comment.” Three drug-related offenses are grounds for dismissal according to university policy.

Patrick started seven of the nine games in which he played at inside linebacker this season.  Even as he missed nearly one-third of the regular season, Patrick is still sixth on the Bulldogs in tackles with 35.

Rice makes hiring of Michigan assistant Brian Smith as DC official

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Rice’s new head coach has officially plucked an assistant from Jim Harbaugh‘s Michigan coaching staff to fill a key position on his first with the Owls.

The Conference USA football program confirmed Wednesday night that Brian Smith has been named by Mike Bloomgren as his first defensive coordinator. Smith spent the past two seasons as the Wolverines’ defensive backs coach.

The stint in Ann Arbor was Smith’s first coaching job at a Power Five program. His first coaching job at the FBS level came at his alma mater UMass, where he was linebackers coach in 2004 and wide receivers coach in 2005.

In between those two collegiate stints, Smith spent eight seasons (2007-14) with the NFL’s New York Jets, beginning as a quality control/offensive coach before moving up to help with the secondary his last couple of seasons with the organization.

In addition to Smith, Bloomgren, who came to Rice earlier this month after serving as offensive coordinator at Stanford, also announced the hiring of North Carolina Central University head coach Jerry Mack as his coordinator on that side of the ball. Mack had previously coached at this level as wide receivers coach at Memphis (2011) and South Alabama (2012-13).

In his four years heading the FCS program, Mack guided the Eagles to a 31-15 record and three Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference championships.

Two-time winner Dabo Swinney one of seven finalists for Bear Bryant coach award

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Not surprisingly, yet another coaching award has a decidedly familiar feel to it.

Wednesday, a group of seven finalists were announced for the 2017 Paul “Bear” Bryant Coach of the Year Award, one of the nation’s top award for college football coaches. Named in honor of the Alabama legend, those seven finalists are:

  • Paul Chryst — Wisconsin
  • Clay Helton — USC
  • Scott Frost — Nebraska, for his work at UCF
  • Gus Malzahn — Auburn
  • Jeff Monken — Army
  • Kirby Smart — Georgia
  • Dabo Swinney — Clemson

Swinney is looking to become the first coach in the 32-year history of the award to win it three consecutive years, after becoming the first to win it in back-to-back years. In January of 2017, Swinney joined Boise State’s Chris Petersen (2006, 2009) as the only two-time winners.

In addition to Swinney, one other College Football Playoff semifinalist, Smart, is up for the honor.

Smart, Swinney, Helton and Frost all led their respective teams to conference championships, while Chryst and Malzahn made it to their league title game. Monken guided the service academy to its best season in over two decades and has the chance to, with a bowl win, become just the second Black Knights coach (Bob Sutton, 1996) to reach 10 wins in a single season.

Reports: LSU line coach leaving to become OC at BYU

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A little over two weeks after replacing a playing legend at the university, BYU appears set to look to the SEC for some offensive help.

FootballScoop.com was the first to report, with the Baton Rouge Advocate and Salt Lake Tribune among others subsequently confirming, that BYU is set to hire LSU offensive line coach Jeff Grimes as its new offensive coordinator.  Grimes, in his fourth season with the Tigers, spent three years (2004-06) as the line coach for the Cougars.

The 49-year-old Grimes replaces Ty Detmer, who was fired a little over two weeks ago after just one season as his alma mater’s coordinator.

It’s expected that Grimes will remain at LSU through the Citrus Bowl against Notre Dame New Year’s day before moving on to his new/old home.  This will mark Grimes’ first job as offensive coordinator at any level, although he served as running-game coordinator at Arizona State (2001-03) and Colorado (2007-08).

Even as Grimes’ move to BYU is not yet official, it appears LSU has already found a replacement.