KNOXVILLE, Tenn. | Tennessee football coach Derek Dooley says he is embarrassed by the recent arrests of some his players and has vowed to change the culture of the Volunteer program.
But those changes can't come soon enough.
Police continue to investigate the off-campus bar brawl involving several athletes. A seventh player, defensive tackle Chase Nelson, was named as a possible suspect in a Knoxville police report released Wednesday. Two players have already been arrested for their role in the incident.
Sophomore defensive back Darren Myles Jr. was charged Friday with assault, resisting arrest and evading arrest and has been dismissed from the team. Incoming freshman wide receiver Da'Rick Rogers was charged with disorderly conduct and resisting arrest, but remains on the team. More players could be charged.
“We're not going to let this incident ruin the positive changes that are happening,” Dooley said. “We're going to continue to build our structures so that we educate, we discipline, we support our players, and at the end of the day we're going to have a culture here that's not just going to be about winning but our fans will be proud of how we represent them.”
Rogers' attorney, Don Bosch, said Wednesday that his client denies assaulting anyone and “looks forward to demonstrating his innocence.”
Six players have been identified as being present at the bar during the fight – defensive tackle John Brown, linebacker Greg King, defensive tackle Montori Hughes, wide receiver Matt Milton, wide receiver Denarius Moore and defensive tackle Marlon Walls.
The brawl left off-duty police officer Robert Capouellez with a serious head injury after he tried to break up the fight. Police say Capouellez was hit in the head, knocked to the ground, kicked and left unconscious. He was released from a hospital Monday but has not returned to work.
Another victim, Gary Russell, told ESPN that he was attacked by a group of the players after accidentally bumping into Hughes. Hughes' attorney, Greg Isaacs, says Hughes was the victim of an unprovoked attack.
Last week's arrests weren't the first major discipline problems in the past year or even during this offseason. Myles was arrested at a nightclub in April and charged with public intoxication, disorderly conduct and resisting arrest.
Under former coach Lane Kiffin, three players were arrested after being accused of an attempted aggravated robbery at a Knoxville convenience store. Two of them – freshmen Nu'Keese Richardson and Mike Edwards – were dismissed from the team, pleaded guilty to lesser charges and were put on probation.
Kiffin's predecessor, Phillip Fulmer, also struggled with discipline issues before being fired in November 2008. Players were arrested throughout Fulmer's 16-year tenure, and eight were either arrested or disciplined in 2008 for violating team rules.
“There has been enough incidents to know that we can't just stick our head in the sand and say, ‘Oh, we're really OK. Just one or two guys did this,“’ Dooley said. “I don't ever stick my head in the sand, and we take responsibility for it and we're going to continue to change it.”
When four basketball players were arrested on gun and drug charges in January, Tennessee athletic director Mike Hamilton said his tolerance for criminal activity had dropped to zero and that it was time for a “gut check” with the athletes and coaches.
Since then Hamilton and the athletic department have reviewed the department's recruitment methods, discipline procedures and programs for helping athletes develop as adults. He also continues to spend time talking with other athletic directors, faculty members and the athletes to determine what is leading to so many arrests and what can be done to prevent them.
The athletic departed has decided to expand Tennessee's mentoring program beyond the peer-to-peer and professional mentoring programs already in place.
Dooley has also introduced a character education program for the football team that he calls “Vol for Life” and has hired former Vols defensive back Andre Lott to lead it.
However, changing the culture will take time.
And the Vols leadership wants the embarrassing arrests to stop now.
Hamilton said stability within the football program will help. Some of the current Vols have played for three different head coaches.
“There's been a lot of instability and uncertainty in the lives of these guys,” Hamilton said. “That doesn't absolve them from anything, but being around them you find that what they are is they're oversized kids. I have no doubt in my mind some stability will help and we've got the right guy leading the football program.”