Just like that, the excitement of Tennessee football enjoying a better than average class for a first-year head coach has faded. Two days after releasing four-star running back Cody Brown, the Vols have reportedly let another four-star 2021 signee, this time a defensive player from Alabama, out of his letter of intent.
According to Ryan Callahan of GoVols247, the Vols have given Dylan Brooks an unconditional release. The edge rusher, who is listed as a strongside defensive end on Rivals and an outside linebacker on 247Sports, stands at 6’5″ and weighs somewhere between 225 and 255 pounds.
Reportedly, however, Tennessee football initially conditioned the release of the elite signee out of Handley High School in Roanoke, Ala., stating that he can’t go to another SEC school. Ryan Brown, co-host of The JOX Roundtable at 94.5 WJOX-FM in Birmingham, tweeted that out Friday morning.
Handley star and @Vol_Football signee Dylan Brooks has now been released from his Letter of Intent by @Vol_Football only under the condition he not sign with another @SEC team. Extremely petty move by @coachjoshheupel and @AD_DannyWhite. @NCAA should not allow this to happen.
— Ryan Brown (@RyanBrownWJOX) February 19, 2021
Callahan and others reported later that day, though, that the release was unconditional. Why the decision changed is up in the air, but it’s possible the staff and administration did the moral thing due to public backlash.
There are a couple of ways to look at this. For starters, everybody close to the situation has known Brooks has wanted out of his letter of intent for a month now. It makes sense. He committed to Jeremy Pruitt back in April of last year and signed in December. As an edge rusher, he had every reason to believe he was going to the right situation.
Given those facts, Brown was right with his tweet. It was wrong and unfair for the Vols to play games and condition his release. However, the finger pointing should be at the NCAA, which lets schools pull offers all the time but also let’s them force players to keep their promises regardless of the circumstances around the signing.
At the same time, though, we have to note that this lack of care for the athlete is a game Alabama Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban has been playing for years. Nobody has abused the NCAA rules that favor the schools more.
As the Alabama dynasty was emerging, Saban would oversign. His number of commitments would exceed the maximum number of scholarships, and a 2010 Wall Street Journal article reported on how he would do things like push under-performing players to take a medical scholarship. He also would push them to delay their scholarship a semester at times.
Rocky Top alone has a history with Saban’s antics. Back in 2018, Brandon Kennedy was a graduate transfer, and according to Matt Zenitz of AL.com in May of that year, Saban was still trying to block Kennedy from going to Tennessee football or the Auburn Tigers. That was pure pettiness on the part of Saban, knowing he was just trying to punish Kennedy.
That wasn’t the first time either. In 2016, according to Seth Emerson of Dawg Nation, a Georgia Bulldogs site partnering with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Saban was blocking defensive back Maurice Smith’s attempt to transfer to the Georgia Bulldogs. Defensive coordinator Kirby Smart had just taken the head coaching job there, and Smith wanted to follow.
Saban didn’t just block the release. He was defiant about it, which you can read about here. Eventually, to be fair, his transfer request was granted, and he played his final season with UGA. Days later, Chris Low of ESPN reported that Saban said he was losing sleep over the situation.
Why is this all relevant to Tennessee football? Well, although what Josh Heupel and Danny White are reportedly doing initially was wrong, it’s hard for them to have an even playing field if people like Saban are going to play the same game. Again, the anger should be at the NCAA for allowing this rule, not UT or even Saban at that point.
Make no mistake, Brooks is a crucial loss for the Vols. Deandre Johnson transferred this past offseason, and Kivon Bennett was dismissed late in the year. Heupel needs more edge rushers on his first team, and Brooks would have provided that.
Maybe it’s a bit extreme to not let him transfer to any SEC school, but if the Vols wanted to play Saban’s game, they would have only been evening the playing field by not letting him transfer to Alabama or Georgia. Both of those schools could land Brooks.
In the end, though, Heupel decided to take a higher road than Saban ever would have. Tennessee football suffered a serious blow by letting Brooks out of his LOI unconditionally, but that is what was right. With the current rules, this is the only way the Vols can lessen the gap in the gigantic advantage Alabama has on the playing field right now.