Update: Maurice Couch Won’t Travel to Oregon
Tennessee head coach Butch Jones said Maurice Couch will not travel to Oregon this weekend. The Vols are currently sifting through a report that alleges the senior received cash payments in 2012.
“The only thing I can comment on is what we’ve done since we’ve been here,” Jones said on his weekly “Vol Call” radio show. “Everybody has a track record, and I think our track record (on NCAA compliance) speaks for itself.”
Tennessee seemed scattershot on Wednesday following the report. UT’s sports information department reluctantly reacted to a scathing report that two of its players had received payments in 2012 from an intermediary acting on behalf of agents and financial advisors.
Initially, associate athletic director Jason Yellin told Tennessee Sports Radio that UT would have no comment on the Yahoo report that former UT quarterback Tyler Bray and current senior defensive tackle Maurice Couch received funds via Western Union from former Alabama player defensive end Luther Davis, who played for the Crimson Tide from 2007 to 2010.
Then, shortly after the Vols wrapped up their Wednesday practice, a statement was released concerning the report.
“The education of our student-athletes regarding NCAA rules and extra benefits is and will continue to be the central focus of our compliance efforts,” senior associate athletic director Jimmy Stanton said in a statement. “We are aware of the article and are examining all of the relevant facts, and we will not comment further.”
Head coach Butch Jones did not speak to the media following Wednesday’s practice. He traditionally doesn’t speak to reporters for the remainder of gameweek after his appearance on the SEC teleconference on Wednesday morning.
If the Yahoo report proves to be accurate, Couch could be deemed ineligible, even in retroactively. That would mean had he played on Saturday and were deemed ineligible, the Vols could have to forfeit if they were to upset the 27-point favorite Ducks.
The uncertainty around the Couch situation was curious as the Yahoo story said UT declined comment. Therefore, the Vols must have known about the pending report. Still, UT seemed taken aback.
Couch left practice early on Tuesday. Head coach Butch Jones said after that practice that Couch was “overheated” and that the situation was not serious. Couch has left practice several times before as he suffers from asthma.
Yahoo reported that it had confirmed payment to Bray and Couch via Western Union receipts. The report also stated that the payments were made primarily during the summer of 2012 but that at least one payment was sent to the UT players last fall. If it’s determined Couch received those payments, lost his amateurism status and was ineligible, the Vols could have to forfeit their five wins in 2012. Couch played in each of
UT’s 12 games. The Vols went 5-7 in Derek Dooley’s final season as head coach.
The Yahoo report also cited three other SEC players as having received money from Davis. Alabama offensive tackle D.J. Fluker, Mississippi State defensive tackle Fletcher Cox and Bulldog wideout Chad Bumphis were also named in the report.
Yahoo named three agents in its report: Andy Simms, Peter Schaffer and John Phillips. It also named three financial advisors as having been involved: Jason Jernigan, Mike Rowan and Hodge Brahmbhatt, who provided $45,500 to Davis. Yahoo reported that Simms, Schaffer, Phillips and Rowan confirmed providing money to Davis. However, they claimed they did not instruct him to provide it to players.
The report could be especially damaging to the Vols. UT is on NCAA probation until August 2015. That probation stemmed from former UT assistant Willie Mack Garza allegedly providing impermissible travel and lodging to a former prospect.
On the field, Couch would be a significant loss if he is deemed ineligible by UT or the NCAA this season. After overcoming various ailments in preseason camp, Couch was a productive defensive linemen. Despite playing a limited role in convincing wins against Austin Peay and Western Kentucky, Couch registered four tackles, two for a loss, including a sack.
The Vols will miss Couch’s productivity. Against the Ducks’ high-paced offense, UT will surely miss his ability to at least take up snaps so he and other players can remain fresh. The Vols could turn to two freshmen defensive tackles: Jason Carr and Jaylen Miller. Carr has played almost exclusively at tackle. Miller has played tackle and end.
“The true freshmen Carr and Miller that are playing in games, they are on the cusp,” defensive line coach Steve Stripling said. “They are being trained and you want to get them in and get them some game experience. Down the line if they need to be in there they will be ready to go.”
Another option could be playing defensive end Jacques Smith at tackle. The senior played inside last year in passing situations. Smith is expected to return this week from a fractured thumb suffered in preseason camp.
The best option for Tennessee at defensive tackle is still thought to be Daniel McCullers. However, the senior hasn’t responded to coaching as well as those around him had hoped. In two games against lessor opponents, McCullers has three tackles.
“I think it’s huge,” defensive coordinator John Jancek said when asked how important it is to get more production out of McCullers. “Dan is a big guy. I think he is primarily a run stopper right now. He’s got to become more active in pass rush. I don’t mind saying that because we’ve said that to his face. He knows that. He just has to make a decision to really focus on it and get better.”
Said Stripling, “It’s a process. Starting from camp, ‘Big Dan’ was identified by Coach Jones. He’ll take us as far as he can get. It’s a work in progress. He’s a very conscientious young man. He listens. We’re just going to keep grinding away until he’s where we need to be.”
With McCuller’s struggles, Couch’s contributions have been well received. So have the contributions made by defensive tackle Daniel Hood. The senior has just two tackles but also has a tackle for a loss, two passes defended a pass break-up and an interception.
“Daniel Hood, he has been the rock for us to be honest,” Stripling said. “He has been stable, highly intelligent, given us great leadership, and is the model of consistency. A lot of the players are still up-and-down. Hood is really consistent…He is the field general. He is a very intelligent young man. We talk in terms of level-two football, which is identifying back sets, recognizing run-pass, all of those different type of things.
“He is one of few that can do that.”
Jancek also praised Hood. Particularly, he’s been pleased with Hood’s practice habits.
“I love Dan,” Jancek said. “He does everything we ask him to do. He is very smart. He gets lined up perfectly all the time. He helps our other guys get lined up.”
When asked about Hood’s interception in the first quarter against Austin Peay, Jancek said, “I was really happy for him. I know he has worked really hard and had a long road up to this point and it great to see him playing and playing at a high level.”
On Saturday, that will be important when the Vols face the Ducks’ high-tempo offense, especially since Couch will be on the couch while his teammates are in Oregon.