Tennessee football: Kaidon Salter dismissal grandstanding by Josh Heupel

Tennessee Head Coach Josh Heupel calls at the Orange & White spring game at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville, Tenn. on Saturday, April 24, 2021.Kns Vols Spring Game
Tennessee Head Coach Josh Heupel calls at the Orange & White spring game at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville, Tenn. on Saturday, April 24, 2021.Kns Vols Spring Game /

Get ready for a week of positive coverage for new Tennessee football head coach Josh Heupel about how he is sending some sort of strong message of discipline after his most recent move. The Vols dismissed freshman quarterback Kaidon Salter, according to Patrick Brown of GoVols247, after his second off-field incident since he arrived on campus.

Salter was found in possession of marijuana last week at a traffic stop along with Amari McNeill, according to WBIR. That follows a possession charge, which was clearly marijuana, that he faced in an incident that got him suspended from spring practice along with Aaron Willis, Isaac Washington and Martavius French back in March, according to the Knoxville News Sentinel.

On the surface, this move may seem obvious. Salter has now been in trouble twice in three months. However, a deeper dive into this shows that his dismissal is nothing but pointless grandstanding by Heupel and probably the first wrong move he made since arriving on campus.

Let’s start with the obvious. There is plenty of debate over whether or not marijuana should even be banned, and while it’s illegal in the state of Tennessee, it’s legal recreationally in nearly 20 states now.

Still, since it’s illegal in the state, it’s fair to say players should be punished for possession, and each punishment should be harsher than the last. However, while Washington and Willis transferred, Salter and Willis were both reinstated with the Tennessee football program back in early June.

Taking that into account, their punishment for a first offense was just missing a month of practice and no games. How does that translate to being dismissed from the team with a second offense? Isn’t there a middle ground like a suspension for a few games, particularly when the player dismissed, Salter, was actually underage during the time of his first offense?

Sorry, but this new punishment seems like a leap, so you now have to ask why Heupel would do such a thing. Well, it actually seems pretty obvious. Salter is not as necessary anymore as he might have been when Heupel was hired a few months ago.

Right now, the Vols have a five-star drop-back passer who was the best performer in spring practice, Harrison Bailey. They have a dual-threat in Virginia Tech Hokies graduate transfer Hendon Hooker, who is a perfect fit to run Heupel’s offense. Brian Maurer is still there as well.

Then there are the players Heupel targeted specifically. Michigan Wolverines transfer Joe Milton, whom he targeted this offseason and actually recruited out of high school while offensive coordinator of the Missouri Tigers, has arrived. Tennessee football also has a commitment from 2022 four-star dual-threat Tayven Jackson.

Simply put, Heupel has three options, including two reliable ones, on his roster right now, he has another quarterback he particularly likes arriving in the fall, and he has found his quarterback for the future already on the recruiting trail. Taking all that into account, dismissing Salter is a win-win for him across the board.

Heupel is now able to dismiss a top 50 recruit who was a four-star and seemed like the perfect fit for his system at no cost to his program at all. He gets to build a reputation of discipline in the process and say all those flowery words about the program’s standards.

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Would Heupel have dismissed Willis if he had a second offense given Tennessee football’s desperate need at linebacker this year? That would have been an intriguing story. Dismissing Salter was an easy choice that really isn’t any cost to him on the field.