Firing of UTM coach surprises his colleagues

Wednesday, November 6, 2002

Ohio Valley Conference football coaches spent much of their weekly teleconference Monday praising Sam McCorkle and wondering why the Tennessee-Martin coach was fired last Thursday.

McCorkle, who by all accounts had done an admirable job in trying to breathe life into the Skyhawks' struggling program, was let go for what athletic director Phil Dane termed "philosophical differences" between McCorkle and the school's administration. Reportedly, McCorkle and Dane had clashed on more than one occasion.

Defensive line coach Johnny Jernigan took over as interim coach of the Skyhawks, who were 2-6 before McCorkle was fired and then suffered a 24-0 loss at Gardner-Webb Saturday.

Here's a sampling of what some of the league's coaches had to say about McCorkle's dismissal:

Eastern Kentucky's Roy Kidd: "I was surprised. I couldn't believe that, cause I thought they had improved, and if you don't give him what other people in the conference have in scholarships, I don't know how they can expect you to win. It's a shame they did that to Sam, particularly with the season still going on."

Murray State's Joe Pannunzio: "Sam's a great guy. It's a tough situation he has over there. I really feel like the film we've watched, they've gotten a lot better, they're making some progress. I think it's always unfortunate when you let a football coach go in the middle of the season. It's one of the hazards of our occupation."

Eastern Illinois' Bob Spoo: "What happened over there, I'm really sad about that. I don't know all the particulars, but Sam was an awful good man and a good coach. I hate to see that happen."

Southeast Missouri State's Tim Billings: "It was shocking to me, but I don't know the situation over there. But he's a great guy and he's done some good things for that program. They seemed to be on the upswing."

Jernigan, who was in his second season under McCorkle, said the firing took everybody in the program by surprise.

"We didn't expect it," Jernigan said. "We were getting ready to get on the road, making last-minute preparations. I really don't know much what went on with him and the athletic director. I don't know exactly the details about it."

Of taking over the program on an interim basis, Jernigan said, "It was a difficult thing, but in the coaching profession, you never know what happens. You always have to be prepared for things of this nature.

"I'm not saying I'm head coaching material, but I'm going to try my best to keep the ship in order, keep the kids positive and try to win one."

McCorkle was in his third season at Tennessee-Martin and he had a 5-25 record, which was actually an improvement over the four years prior to his arrival, when the Skyhawks went 3-41.

Tennessee-Martin has not won more than two games in a season since 1995 and the Skyhawks have suffered 39 straight OVC losses, their last conference victory coming in 1996.

Around the conference

Wild games were the order of the day around the conference Saturday.

Eastern Illinois scored late to break a tie and beat Tennessee State 54-48; Southeast Missouri scored on a blocked punt in the closing seconds to snap a tie and upend Tennessee Tech 36-30; and Eastern Kentucky ventured outside the league to post a 35-28 overtime victory over Liberty.

Also, Murray State pounded out a 54-17 non-conference win over Samford, which joins the OVC next season, in addition to Tennessee-Martin's loss to Gardner-Webb.

Eastern Illinois withstood a 675-yard offensive barrage by Tennessee State to avoid a major upset.

"We were very fortunate to win," Spoo said. "They had a good game plan and did about whatever they wanted to do."

The sixth-ranked Panthers can clinch at least a tie for their second straight conference title this Saturday as they host Tennessee-Martin.

Players of the week

Tennessee State's Charles Anthony won the OVC's offensive player of the week award as he rushed for 192 yards and three touchdowns against Eastern Illinois.

Southeast's Missouri cornerback Dimitri Patterson won the defensive award. He had eight tackles, broke up four passes and blocked the punt that resulted in the game-winning touchdown against Tennessee Tech.

Murray State's Shane Andrus was perfect on 10 kicks -- four field goals and six extra points -- against Samford to earn special teams honors.

Another Murray State player, wide receiver Deandre Green, captured newcomer of the week with 10 receptions for 180 yards and one touchdown.

Marty Mishow covers the OVC for the Southeast Missourian.

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