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July 19, 2013

SEC coaches weigh talent vs. potential for trouble

(Continued)

Even the week of media days started with legal matters.

Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel of Texas A&M pleaded guilty on Monday to a misdemeanor of not identifying himself to a police officer following a 2012 altercation at a bar near campus. That day, Vanderbilt's James Franklin identified four players dismissed from school in June for an incident being investigated by police as a possible sex crime.

Franklin said he and Vandy won't sign players they believe have character issues for the sake of winning.

"I can't speak for other places or other institutions but not at Vanderbilt," Franklin said. "It's never been that way in the past. It's not that way presently. It will never be in the future. That's not what we're all about."

Sometimes seemingly chancy decisions pay huge dividends, sometimes not. First-year Auburn coach Gus Malzahn has been on both sides. He helped recruit quarterback Cam Newton, who had run into legal trouble at Florida, from junior college while the Tigers' offensive coordinator. Newton won a Heisman Trophy and led Auburn to a national title.

Malzahn also signed tailback Mike Dyer at Arkansas State after the BCS championship game MVP was dismissed from Auburn. Dyer was booted from the team without playing after being caught with a gun during a traffic stop.

"You have to weigh everything," Malzahn said. "Talent. You've got to weigh character. You've got to go with your gut instincts on what type of environment you want to have for your team."

Commissioner Mike Slive called it "a crushing disappointment" when a current or former SEC athlete runs afoul of the law. He said any perception outside the league that coaches or schools don't police or discipline athletes is inaccurate.

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