Just a couple of months ago, the Tennessee athletic department got the news it had been hoping for when the NCAA accepted its self-imposed sanctions and decided not pile on more penalties.
So much for sighing with relief.
Yahoo! Sports reported last night that former Tennessee assistant coach Willie Mack Garza wired $1,500 to street-agent Willie Lyles in order to fund an unofficial recruiting trip by Lache Seastrunk and his mother in 2009.
As you likely know, Seastrunk and Lyles are at the center of Oregon’s current NCAA mess. LSU coaches have also been questioned about their connections to Lyles.
Garza — the coach in question — left Tennessee with Lane Kiffin just one year after arriving in Knoxville. Just prior to the start of this season, Garza resigned his position on Southern Cal’s staff saying that he had “some personal issues unrelated to USC that I need to address.”
Those issues apparently relate to Tennessee instead of Southern Cal.
Lyles used the money allegedly sent to him by Garza to pay for plane tickets from Texas to Knoxville for both Seastrunk and his mother. Lyles informed the NCAA of the payment last month.
And here’s the worrisome part for Tennessee — Lyles also told Yahoo! Sports that NCAA investigators were conducting a wide-ranging look into Tennessee recruiting practices.
“We are aware of the situation as is the conference office,” a UT spokesperson said. “We’ve been verbally contacted by the NCAA enforcement staff regarding a recruiting issue in 2009 related to the former coaching staff and a student-athlete who never attended Tennessee. We believe, as does the conference office, that this matter is not subject to the repeat offender provision.”
Judging from recent NCAA rulings — including those at UT this summer — it’s certainly possible that Garza or any other coaches involved in illegal recruiting activities would be punished more harshly than the school. Especially since those coaches are two years removed from Tennessee and the NCAA has already conducted one investigation into their actions.
However, as we say in every one of these cases… when the NCAA arrives on your campus, it’s never a good thing. There’s absolutely no telling where an investigation can lead.
This has to be particularly troubling for Derek Dooley. The second-year Volunteer coach admitted this summer that recruits had been worried about the black cloud hanging over the UT program since his arrival. Now, just as it appeared that cloud had dissipated, a new one has blown in.
One has to wonder if Tennessee will ever finish paying for the hire of Kiffin.