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Tennessee Football: What Does It Take To Be VFL Nowadays?

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The cold, hard reality of modern-day college football is bereft of sympathy. As players come and go at will, there will be no compassion for those that are forced to leave their chosen, beloved school.

It seems former Tennessee quarterback Brian Maurer is among those that were asked to move on once head coach Josh Heupel took over following the 2020 season. Maurer is currently at Stephen F. Austin and saw time in backup duty last season for the Lumberjacks as the Vols challenged the top teams in the nation for a chance at a national championship. Who do you think had more fun?

Here is what Maurer tweeted on Friday:

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Just like the NFL, every coach wants his own quarterback. Heupel certainly felt that way when he arrived on UT’s campus. The Vols were a train wreck so a complete overhaul made sense. That can result in casualties. Maurer was one.

Twitter was chirping on Friday after Maurer, who signed with former Tennessee head coach Jeremy Pruitt, asked the question that shows the business side of college football nowadays. Should players still be a part of the family if they were asked to leave purely based on ability?

When coaches come in to a bereft program, they’ll want a roster spot over a player that doesn’t fit their style or that isn’t deemed as good enough. Maurer had to be in one of those two categories despite being ranked as a four-star prospect out of high school and starting four games as a true freshman in 2019 and playing sparingly 2020. 

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Maurer’s ranking and college experience wasn’t enough for him to stay around in Knoxville. Was that his choice or Heupel’s? Probably the latter. Sound harsh? Sure. Damning for the Heupel administration? Nope. Not anymore. Players are now paid and have the ability to transfer at will. Them’s the breaks.

It’s worth noting that Maurer lists himself as a “professional athlete” on his Twitter account. While I have no idea what Maurer might be making at Stephen F. Austin, his self description is the truth nowadays. The days of recruiting repercussions are over. When a coach comes into a new program, he can more easily clean house than ever before. In fact, don’t be surprised if there’s a National Cut Day in the near future. NIL has fans looking at college athletes much differently than ever before. They’re paid after all.

Maurer has no retort if he was forced out by Heupel, who doesn’t have to answer any questions about pushing players out the door. In days past, that reputation would hurt a coach in recruiting. Nowadays, it’s just a normal occurrence.

I’m certainly not criticizing Heupel nor any coach in his position. Let’s keep in mind that if Heupel doesn’t make things work at Tennessee, there will be another massive roster overhaul that will upend another roster full of players. College football has helped athletes via NIL deals and the transfer portal, but the sport has never been more cutthroat.

Gone are the days that a player can hang around without playing and enjoy the benefits of being a “VFL” or whatever “FL” he might be. If you can’t play for your chosen school within a year, you need to start looking at other options. Sure, there are exceptions, but the eligibility clock is ticking and a player only has so long to make an impact before a coach might say bon voyage. Also, be careful who you pledge your allegiance to. Ex. Jeremy Pruitt.

Forgive me if I still root for Maurer from afar. He may not be a VFL, but he was willing to sign up to play for the Vols when they were really, really low. Things didn’t work out for Maurer with Heupel, but he should still be a VFL for anyone who roots for the Vols.

Not all deserve that homage. Linebacker Henry To’oTo’o was clearly good enough to play for Heupel or any other coach in the nation. He bolted once he saw that Pruitt was, well, Pruitt. Who could blame To’oTo’o for choosing a sure thing in Alabama over a coach he had never met in Heupel? He can enjoy whatever fringe benefits that come with playing for Alabama after a standout career there. He doesn’t need a VFL card anymore.

That’s where some clarification would be helpful. All coaches should have to announce what players will not have their scholarships renewed. It shouldn’t be up to social media posts to figure out if a particular player was loyal or not. That’s not going to happen. Maurer is just one of thousands of players that got caught up in the jet wash as college football soars from tradition to becoming one of the biggest businesses in sports entertainment. 

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