We’ve got a story in our College Football Preview issue in Sunday’s Athens Banner-Herald on Jarvis Jones, Georgia’s All-American outside linebacker.
Jones had a breakout 2011 season after transferring from Southern California. USC didn’t clear him medically after he sustained a neck/spine injury.
Lane Kiffin was Southern Cal’s new coach when Jones had to sit out spring practice in 2010 following his freshman season.
I spoke to Kiffin in the last week of June about what he knew of Jones then and what he makes of how his career has taken off at Georgia. He also spoke about the SEC, Derek Dooley at Tennessee and a one-time Georgia commitment on his team now.
Q: On your first few months on the job after you got there from Tennessee, how did Jarvis Jones’ situation fit in on your radar with what was going on?
A: We were very excited about him. He had made some plays as a true freshman for the previous staff. I had cut some of that stuff up and watched him. We were excited and felt like he was going to be a phenomenal player.
Q: He played some as a freshman, but was not a frontline guy. Your team returned all of your starting linebackers from the ’09 team, Pete Carroll’s last team there. Did you look at it as a big blow when you learned about his medical situation given his upside.
A: Yeah. It was an extremely big deal. We were focused on rebuilding the defense and he was a great young player in the system and a great kid and we missed him a ton. In our first year our defense, and our linebackers specifically, we had a really bad year.
Q: What do you make of what he has done at Georgia? I guess you caught him a few times on TV, at least in the highlights. Have you wondered why he’s not playing for you guys?
A: Yeah, a lot. Especially when we saw one of the preseason draft (projections) I think it was in USA Today. The first three guys were Matt Barkley, Jarvis Jones and Robert Woods. They could all be on the same team. Yeah, it was a big blow. Obviously, we’re excited for him that he’s doing so well and it says a lot about him that he came back for another year even though he could have went and made a bunch of money. We’re happy for him, but obviously we’d love to have him. If you look at the last two seasons, we’ve played 25 games and we’ve had the lead in 24 of those 25 games in the second half. Obviously, a premier rusher like that especially to go along with our first-round pick Nick Perry would have been pretty exciting.
Q: What were you told about why he could not play? He’s talked about a compressed spine. You were quoted back then saying that “there’s a serious concern that hits or a number of hits could lead to permanent damage. Obviously, Jarvis’ safety is the No. 1 issue.” Is it a matter of different medical staffs having different reads on the situation?
A: Yeah. The law for student-athletes when they’re here and even when they’re gone really prohibits me from saying anything at all.
Q: The SEC has won six straight national titles. You were in the league for a year. Do you feel like they have a stranglehold on that or do you feel like you have the team to end that thing?
A: I think they definitely do. The facts are what they are. You just said it. The run of championships. Like anything until you knock somebody off, they’re the champs. The teams are so deep on defense, especially. That’s why it’s been difficult for anybody to beat them. The front seven.
Q: How did you get cornerback Nickell Robey away from Georgia. I know he’s made a big impact for you.
A: Yeah, he’s started all 25 games since he’s been here. It was a big deal. We felt like he was coming to Tennessee and when we came here, he followed us here. Great kid, phenomenal story. Probably his last year playing.
Q: Tennessee coach Derrek Dooley is getting on a lot of `hot seat’ things. Is it fair given he’s entering his third season? I don’t know how you felt you left the program.
A: It is the nature. It’s very unfair. You look at his situation; there’s been so much attrition from the roster from the day he got there to now. I don’t think it’s fair. He needs more time from all the changes and now all the coaching changes he’s gone through. He’s got to be able to have more time to show what he can do.”
–Please follow me at Twitter.com/marcweiszer