KNOXVILLE — Friday’s Times Free Press sports section will have a feature story on University of Tennessee senior offensive lineman Jarrod Shaw.
Shaw, who considered quitting football to focus on his Masters degree after getting benched early last season by former UT head coach Lane Kiffin, has quietly been a vital Volunteer under new head man Derek Dooley.
There’s a reason Shaw is on track to receive his Masters in May. He’s a smart guy. A very smart guy. He’s also refreshingly honest and candid, and he’s not afraid to speak his mind about his own faults — or perceived faults of some around him.
I picked Shaw for this week’s “Wednesdays with Wes” for a few reasons. Offensive linemen are usually some of the smartest and most important but under-appreciated players on any football team, but that’s not the biggest reason he got to fall on the interview sword this week. The biggest reason is Shaw once told the Twitter world that he thought I was terrible at my job.
Earlier this season, Dooley told assembled media on a Monday afternoon that he thought Shaw might split snaps with a younger teammate in UT’s next game. I asked Shaw about it after practice that day, and he hadn’t heard the plan. He collected his thoughts and calmly answered the question, but it was awkward. It’s always awkward when a player discovers from the media — instead of his coaches — that he’s lost his starting spot.
But that wasn’t the case in this story.
As it turned out, apparently there was a miscommunication, and either Dooley misspoke or we in the media incorrectly interpreted his comment. Shaw took to Twitter that night and said he’d cleared up everything with his coaches. Then he added that a certain reporter — me — had no idea how to do his job.
You don’t get into this business expecting people to like you, and everything is always the media’s fault, so you tend to let those things slide except in the most extreme circumstances. We’re the storytellers, not the story, and people don’t care about us. They care about the people we cover. Plus, we tend not to write the most flattering words or say the most flattering things when these coaches and players don’t meet expectations on or off the field, so why shouldn’t they be allowed to write or say whatever they want (within reason) about us? It’s only fair, isn’t it?
Anyway, Shaw started that week, as he’s done every week this season, and eventually the big guy and I shared a laugh about it. We in the media write and say things, and athletes and coaches say things, and those on both sides who learn to start every day with a clean slate tend to be the easiest to deal with on a daily basis.
There was only one way to eventually settle the score, though. I had to single out Shaw — who was recently called arguably the team’s most valuable offensive player by Dooley and coordinator Jim Chaney — for a Wednesdays with Wes interview. And here it is.
Q: What’s up, Shawdog?
SHAW: “You know I hate that name, man.”
Q: I know. You’ve told me that for a month now. Why are you anti-Shawdog?
SHAW: “Cause, man, it’s lame. It’s just lame, man. You can come up with something better than that.”
Q: I think it’s an awesome name.
SHAW: “Really? Why?”
Q: It sounds tough. It says, “dog.” I wish people called me Ruckdog.
SHAW: “Whatever. It’s lame.”
Q: No, it’s not.
SHAW: “Why not Shawmoney? Or Big Shawnasty?”
Q: Whoa, there, big guy. You think Big Shawnasty is better than Shawdog?
SHAW: “Yeah. Shawdog makes me sounds like a ... I don’t know. Something. But it’s not good.”
Q: Coaches don’t nickname players they don’t like.
SHAW: “True. I guess I should take it as a compliment.”
Q: Yes, you should. What about the young offensive linemen on the team calling you Uncle Shaw?
SHAW: “I don’t like that one, either. It makes me sound old. I’m only 22 years old.”
Q: But all the other O-linemen are like 18 or 19. Aren’t you the old man up front?
SHAW: “Yeah. But (offensive line) Coach (Harry) Hiestand is way older than me, and nobody calls him Uncle Hiestand.
Q: Nobody nicknames their coach “Uncle.” That’s just dumb, man. You ever nicknamed a coach?
SHAW: “No, but there’s an intern here named Blake, and we call him Blake the Snake.”
Q: What was the transition from (Lane) Kiffin to (Derek) Dooley like for you?
SHAW: “Everybody was kind of in shock. Some guys got real emotional. Some guys were happy. Just the whole change was crazy.”
Q: Were you happy or sad?
Q: Come on, man. They’re gone. It doesn’t matter. Speak your mind. I know where you stand on this. Just say it.
SHAW: “I was joyful, man.”
Q: So you were ready for a change?
Q: Why? I know why, but my readers probably don’t.
SHAW: “I knew I probably wouldn’t be playing a down here (under the Kiffin staff.)”
SHAW: “Yeah. You know it.”
Q: You waited a long time to play before last season, and you were named the starting right tackle in preseason, but you were benched by the fourth game. That had to be tough.
SHAW: “Oh, yeah. Honestly, when that moment came up, I was thinking about just finishing my graduate degree and starting to apply for jobs. I really didn’t know what was going to happen next.”
Q: How close did you come to quitting?
SHAW: “Not too close. It’s not like I talked to my mom or nothing about it. But it was going through my head. I talked to a couple of my teammates about it, but they just told me to stick with it.”
Q: Is “talking to mama” status the top status? It’s always been like that for me. I’m a total mama’s boy.
SHAW: “Oh, yeah. That’s, ‘I’m thinking about doing it. I’m about 50-50 on it, and I need you to confirm it for me.’”
Q: So you didn’t really think about it too much?
SHAW: “Not too much. I just talked to a couple of my teammates about it. I especially talked to (former Vols, current Indianapolis Colts guard) Jacques McClendon about it. Me and Jacques are real close, and he just told me to stick with it, and you never know what will happen.”
Q: What about starting this season 2-6? That didn’t seem like a banner start to your last year.
SHAW: “Yeah. It’s not fun. I wouldn’t wish that on nobody, man, especially for their senior year.”
Q: Why did you keep playing hard? You’ve had some of your best games just here recently. You don’t need football. You’re a smart guy.
SHAW: “You finish what you start, man. My parents instilled that in me since I was young. Plus, the young guys, you’ve got to set an example for those guys, especially because I know what they can do the next couple of years. You just can’t give up.”
Q: You said something the other day that guys don’t usually say until their careers are complete. You said you wished it hadn’t taken you five years to finally learn that you play in games as well or poorly as you practice during the week. Tell me more about that.
SHAW: “It’s just what coaches preach to you. Some guys choose to ignore it, some guys choose to embrace it, and I was one of those guys when I first got here that was like, ‘Yeah, right. I’m not going to go 100 percent on every down, every second in practice.’ But then, once you get out there in the game, it makes you better. I kind of went back to that toward the end of last year. And then this year, I didn’t do well the first couple of games, but I went back to it again, and I’ve been playing better the last few weeks.”
Q: So as a senior on a 2-6 football team — which, let’s be honest, isn’t competing for any championships this season — the light came back on? That’s weird timing.
SHAW: “I know. I feel like I’ve been playing well these last few weeks except the Alabama game. I didn’t do too good in that one.”
Q: Why not?
SHAW: “I was just off, man. I was really off.”
Q: Alabama’s pretty good on defense. That happens to lots of guys playing the Tide these days.
SHAW: “Yeah, that’s part on it. But really, I just didn’t have a good week in practice that week, and it showed in the game.”
Q: You said you already had your undergrad degree. What was your major?
SHAW: “Sports Management. December 2009.”
Q: You’re probably pretty close to your Masters, then, huh?
SHAW: “Yeah, I’ll be done in May.”
Q: In what?
SHAW: “(Laughter.) It’s in Agricultural Leadership.”
Q: Agricultural Leadership. What the (heck) is that? Do you teach people how to farm?
SHAW: “(Laughter.) No, man. It’s actually leadership studies. It’s kind of like a management degree without the business side. It’s managing organizations. It’s basically designed for non-profits. That’s what I want to do.”
Q: But “agricultural?” Explain that.
SHAW: “The only reason the Ag part is in it is that’s the college the program is part of. It has nothing to do with agriculture.”
Q: Whatever, Dr. Greenthumb.
Q: What are your goals after this season? Are you going to try to keep playing football?
SHAW: “If the opportunity presents itself, I’m definitely going to give it a shot. I’ve talked to a few guys. I pretty much have a feeling that I’ll at least get a shot. But if that doesn’t work out, I’m not going to be disappointed or anything. I’ll just finish my Masters degree here and I’ll start applying for jobs.”
Q: You can always plant trees, Mr. Agricultural Super Leader.
SHAW: “(Laughter.) Yeah, man. I’ll plant trees.”
(Other reporter stops by, asks questions for a few minutes. Shaw answers them.)
Q: OK, enough with the nonsense. Let’s get back to the serious questions.
Q: Who’s the smartest guy on this football team?
SHAW: “Um, I am. I’m the only one who is almost done with a Masters.”
Q: I wish you weren’t a liar.
Q: (Senior kicker Daniel) Lincoln is, too. Also gets his in May.
SHAW: “For real? Is he?”
Q: Yep. A Masters in Public Administration. An MPA.
SHAW: “Cool. He’s a kicker, though.”
Q: And he can’t plant trees and stuff, either.
SHAW: “(Laughter.) Exactly. I win.”
Q: Lincoln’s the strongest kicker I’ve ever covered. He’s shattered every weight lifting record here for kickers.
SHAW: “Oh, yeah, he’s strong. Pretty strong, actually ... you know, for a kicker.”
Q: Who’s the dumbest guy on this team?
SHAW: (Loud laugher.)
Q: Are there any dumb guys on the offensive line?
SHAW: “No. Well ... no comment.” (Laughter.)
Q: You can’t be dumb and play there, though, right?
SHAW: “No, we’re not dumb at all. And if we were dumb, Coach Hiestand would still make sure you know your stuff.”
Q: I like you, so I’ll give you the chance to take back all those comments about smart offensive linemen before I disprove them.
SHAW: “Oh, really?”
Q: For serious. Remember the “Clawfense?” You guards and tackles had to switch sides sometimes. You guys had a really hard time with that.
(NOTE: The “Clawfense” was UT’s offense under coordinator Dave Clawson in 2008. It ... uh ... didn’t work so well, for myriad reasons.)
SHAW: “That was just confusing. It was really hard.”
Q: What was the basic concept of that line-flipping stuff?
SHAW: “The basic concept was you had a strong side and a quick side, and then ... I don’t know. I don’t even want to get into all that.”
Q: Dude, linebackers do that ALL THE TIME! Why couldn’t you guys figure it out?
SHAW: “Because, it’s like you have a strongside and weakside, and the play might be like, ‘strong left, zone right.’ Or you might have a, ‘strong left, zone left.’ It really wasn’t bad on zones, but it was messed up on the protections.”
Q: So basically, what you’re saying is that Dave Clawson would do better outside the South and in areas where football players are ... uh ... smarter?
SHAW: “(Laughter.) Yeah, I guess so.”
Q: The official roster says (true freshman quarterback) Tyler Bray weighs 210 pounds. Be honest with me. That’s a lie, isn’t it?
SHAW: “Maybe he weights 210 with his pads on.”
Q: Come on, Big Shawnasty. Let’s be real. I respect you fifth-year guys the most. What do you think? 185? That’s my best guess.
SHAW: “Maybe if he kept his pads on, he’d be 210.”
Q: And held dumbbells in both hands.
SHAW: “(Laughter.) Maybe.”
Q: First off, I didn’t steal your iPod, but if I did — and you’d NEVER recover it, by the way — what song would I hear when I pushed the play button?
SHAW: “I’m trying to think of the last song I listened to. Oh, (rapper) Lil Boosie.”
Q: That would be the first time I’ve listened to Lil Boosie.
SHAW: “People not from Louisiana think he’s annoying, but I love it.”
(NOTE: I plugged in “Lil Boosie” on my Pandora, and the first song that came up was “Better Believe It.” This song was played in its explicit form during a UT practice last season — UNEDITED — and Kiffin was embarrassed that practice visitors had to hear it before they could switch songs. All songs from that point had to be edited before being played on the field. Remembering that story, and Kiffin’s apology about playing that song during a practice, made me laugh for a while.)
Q: If you love Louisiana so much, why’d you leave it?
SHAW: “Because I had to come here. It’s great here. And, anyway, I had to do what I had to do to become a man — an American man.” (Laughter.)
Q: Now that you mention it, Louisiana is kind of its own country. But man, I love that country. It’s one of my favorite states, and I’m not just saying that because I’m talking to you. The food, the laid-back people, the women, the accents, the parties, ...awesome place. I should just go cover LSU, I guess.”
Q: Where would you have gone if you didn’t go to Tennessee?
SHAW: “Ole Miss, probably.”
Q: Is that why you wear No. 74, to honor (former Ole Miss, current Baltimore Ravens’ offensive tackle star) Michael Oher?
SHAW: “(Laughter.) Yeah, I probably wouldn’t have had No. 74 if I’d have went there.”
Q: The Beatles’ catalog finally came to iTunes this week. I’m pumped, man, Are you?
SHAW: “Uh ... no. Sorry, man. (Laughter.)”
Q: How many Beatles can you name?
SHAW: “I can’t. I can’t name one.”
Q: You can’t name a single freaking Beatle?
SHAW: “(Laughter.) No. Was Elton John a Beatle?”
Q: No, Shawdog. He wasn’t a Beatle. But here’s a hint: The biggest Beatle’s first name was John. John...
SHAW: “I’m sorry, man. I can’t name a Beatle.”
Q: JOHN FREAKING LENNON, MAN!!! You obviously didn’t take History of Rock at UT.
SHAW: “(Laughter.) I did take it. And I got an ‘A,’ man.”
Q: YOU TOOK THE FREAKING HISTORY OF ROCK IN COLLEGE AND DON’T KNOW A SINGLE FREAKING BEATLE?
SHAW: No. But you know what, man, ...let me tell you what we did in the History of Rock class. He put on...
Q: Tell me he had some crazy hair, or at least a goatee. You shouldn’t be allowed to teach History of Rock without a goatee.
SHAW: “Oh, yeah. He had one. He’d put on an album the whole time, and then we had to turn in worksheets every Monday.”
Q: I’m embarrassed. But it’s not your fault, Big Shawdognasty. I blame the system. The system has let you down.
SHAW: “(Laughter.) As long as it’s not my fault, we’re good. Like I said, man, I got an ‘A.’”
Q: What’s the easiest class you’ve taken at UT?
SHAW: “Counselor’s Ed., when I first got here in the summer of 2006. Basically, as long as you showed up, you were good.”
Q: What did this class teach you?
SHAW: “Nothing. It showed you how to study.”
Q: Please tell me you got only one credit hour for that class.
SHAW: “No. It’s worth three credits.”
Q: You’re joking. I never took anything like that class.
SHAW: “You should have taken it. You should come back to school and take it. It’s so easy, man.”
Q: Name me your short list of favorite movies.
SHAW: “’Friday,’ ‘Any Given Sunday,’ and what’s that movie with Denzel Washington as a cop, but a crooked cop?
Q: ‘Training Day.’
SHAW: “Yeah. That’s the one. That’s a real good one. And then let me give you on more. All the ‘Saw’ movies were great, except the last one. Don’t go see the last one.’”
Q: Did you guys ever find (German Field Marshal Erwin) Rommel?
SHAW: “(Laughter.) No. I’m just going to be honest with you, man. I don’t know the generals and other army guys from the German side (in World War II), so I didn’t have any idea who Rommel was. But seriously, man, I still don’t know why some people said they were offended.”
Q: I thought maybe you guys found him since you won the past two games.
SHAW: “(Laughter.) No, man. We just started playing better football.”
Q: If Rommel was an agricultural guy, though, I bet you’d know who he was.
SHAW: “Yeah, of course. And I could show him how to start a company.”
Q: Aside from playing NFL football — I’m not sure if that’s your dream job — what’s your dream job?
SHAW: “General manager of a team, or director of (football) operations here at UT.”
Q: So you’d like to stay around this area after your playing days?
SHAW: “I would like to go to maybe a bigger city for a while, but Knoxville’s a great place to raise your family and stuff like that. But it’s not like I have kids and stuff like that right now. But it’s a nice area. I could stay here and be fine.”
Q: So you’re one of the babies raising a baby around here?
Q: You’re a smart man, ShawAgNasty. Kids are great, but they tend to take up time.
SHAW: “Yeah. And they cost money, which I don’t have.”
Q: You’ll have money soon. You’ll have a Masters, man.
SHAW: “Yeah, I will.” (Big smile.)
Q: What big city do you want to live in for a while? Tons of the guys around here tell me Atlanta’s the place they want to be after college. Are you in that bunch?
Q: Where, then?
SHAW: “Houston is one city I like. And Nashville.”
Q: Wow. You just named two of the four cities where my ex-girlfriends live. Knoxville’s the third, but some city in Prince Edward Island, Canada is the fourth. If you’d said “Prince Edward Island, Canada,” you’d have weirded me out.
SHAW: “(Laughter.) No, man. You’re in luck. I don’t want to move to Canada. It’s too cold in Canada. Anywhere in Florida would be nice, except Miami. Miami is too dirty.”
Q: What? If you make enough money, you can live in the nice part of Miami, and the nice part of Miami is awesome.
SHAW: “You’re right about that.”
Q: One of my best friends went to “The U,” (University of Miami) and he met a rich buddy his freshman year, and they got to live in a high-rise condo on South Beach overlooking Star Island.
Q: Yep. We could see J-Lo’s house from his balcony.
SHAW: “For real? (Dang), he must have been high up there.”
Q: Oh, yeah. Like the 14th floor or something. It was the best college house in history. We went there for a few spring breaks. South Beach is nice. Very nice. But don’t accidentally bump into Warren Sapp at a bar, like I did. He’s a big dude.
Q: What are the most important things you’ve learned in your five years at UT?
SHAW: “The most important thing I learned is to never give up. Adversity builds character.”
Q: Well, Big ShawAgDogNasty, (UT men’s basketball coach) Bruce Pearl always says, “Adversity doesn’t build character. It reveals it.”
SHAW: “Yeah, that. That’s what I meant.”
Q: Seen some adversity here?
SHAW: “Oh, yeah. Tons of adversity. You’ve been here. You’ve seen it.”
Q: Do you regret coming to Tennessee, then?
SHAW: “Oh, no. I believe everything happens for a reason. I learned a lot of life lessons, and I’m coming out of this as a better person and a better man. And I met a lot of great people.”
Q: Every week I ask someone to name something really embarrassing about one of their teammates that no one knows. Every week, the answers have been great. Give me something.
SHAW: “OK, OK. I’ve heard about this. I’ll think of something. Does it have to be crazy?”
Q: As long as it’s funny and embarrassing, but not inappropriately funny or too embarrassing, you can say anything. For instance, (senior tight end Luke) Stocker told me (junior linebacker) Austin Johnson is the loudest snorer in the world.
SHAW: “That’s not true.”
Q: Who’s the worst, then?
SHAW: “(True freshman guard) Big Zach Fulton. Hands down.”
Q: He’s a big dude.
SHAW: “Yeah. He’s a real big dude.”
Q: Do you room with him on the road?
SHAW: “No, but even if you don’t room with him, if he’s anywhere between two or three rooms down, you can hear him snoring.”
Q: Who rooms with him?
SHAW: “I think it’s (sophomore offensive lineman) Carson Anderson.”
Q: He’s a UT legacy. That’s how they treat UT legacies? That’s awful.
SHAW: “(Laughter.) Yeah, Big Zach has one of those sleep apnea machines, and he still snores.”
Q: My dad has one of those. He sounds like Darth Vader when he sleeps. (Makes Darth Vader sound.)
SHAW: “(Lots and lots of loud laughter.)”
Q: Give me something else on someone else.
SHAW: “(Sophomore center) Darin Gooch doesn’t know who Patrick Ewing is. Or Scottie Pippen.”
Q: Wow. I think my mom knows who those guys are.
SHAW: “Yeah, Gooch doesn’t know anything besides college football.”
Q: Isn’t Gooch from some small, rural area?
SHAW: “No, man! He’s from Reno! And he doesn’t know who Patrick Ewing is.”
Q: Anything else? And it can’t be a (junior center) Cody Pope story. Everyone has a Cody Pope story.
SHAW: “I got lots of stories, but I can’t think of nothing else you can write. It’s hard to think of something you can write about. That’s all I’ve got for you, bro.”
Q: That many good stories?
SHAW: “Yeah, and none you can write about.”
Q: How often do you guys make fun of Gooch’s name?
SHAW: “We make fun of his name all the time. All. The. Time. He says he’s heard everything before, and it’s impossible to say something he’s never heard. But I guarantee you, as soon as I go into the locker room in a minute, we’ll all be trying to come up with a new one.”
Q: And he’s always heard them?
SHAW: “So far, yeah. Sometimes, we’ll think somebody has a new one, but then he’s always like, ‘Nope. Heard that three years ago.’”
Q: We always ask you guys questions, and you answer them. Sometimes I allow guys to simply say what they want to say. What would you like to say?
SHAW: “About what?”
Q: About anything. Football, class, friends, coaches, teachers, old friends, a girlfriend, an ex-girlfriend ... anything. You can say anything, and I’ll put in online, as long as you don’t cuss. The floor is yours.
SHAW: “I don’t know, man.”
Q: You’ve got five years of wisdom, Shawdog. Surely you’ve got something.
SHAW: “I miss having (former offensive line teammates) Ramone Johnson and Darius Myers here. Does that sound weird?”
Q: Naw, man. Those were your boys.
SHAW: “Exactly. And I miss them.”
Contact Wes Rucker at firstname.lastname@example.org or 865-851-9739.
Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/wesruckerCTFP or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/tfpvolsbeat.