An embarrassing month for college football bears asking an important question: Are coaches out of control?
Look at the past month of college football and try not to be embarrassed.
We had Urban Meyer, who’s widely considered one the great coaches in college football history, suspended for his role in allowing an Ohio State assistant to stay on his staff despite several domestic violence incidents that he knew about.
We had Maryland coach D.J. Durkin put on administrative leave after an ESPN report detailed the “toxic culture” he allowed that former players and coaches believe played a part in the death of a player.
We had Jimbo Fisher, who just officially signed a fully guaranteed $75 million contract at Texas A&M, get accused by a former player of committing multiple NCAA violations before he even coached a game in College Station.
Shoot. We even had UNC Larry Fedora say that he fears football is “under attack” and that if the game becomes unrecognizable in 10 years, “our country goes down, too.”
Those incidents are all obviously wildly different degrees of severity. To say that they’d all have an equally lasting impact on the sport would be foolish.
But these issues do reflect a bigger issue, and it’s one that’s worth examining after the month that was.
Are coaches living in such a vacuum that they’ve lost control?
I realize that’s not an applicable question to every coach in America. My intent is not to paint with too broad of a brush. Rather, it’s to ask a question.
How did we get here?
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Let’s start with the basics. There has never been more money to make from winning, and there has never been more pressure to do so. If there wasn’t pressure, surely there would be more than 1 SEC coach who has been at his current job since 2012. But there isn’t. The only coach who can claim that is Nick Saban, who owns 5 of the past 9 national titles and naturally, the most lucrative contract in college football.
With those expectations, however, comes power. There’s control. There’s a belief that coaches are allowed to put morality on the back burner if it can yield a higher win total.
And who’s to stop them? We had administrators like Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith and Maryland president Wallace Loh speak about all of the damning actions that they unaware of until explosive media reports brought them to light.
Think about this: Durkin was put on administrative leave immediately after the ESPN report detailed his “bullying culture.” It wasn’t after a player died (died!) in a late May workout. ESPN reporters conducted a more thorough investigation of the program’s protocol than the university itself.
And Meyer? Oh, he was put on administrative leave immediately after Brett McMurphy’s bombshell report detailed how he was aware of Zach Smith’s domestic violence allegations and that he lied at B1G Media Days in an effort to throw off the scent. Meyer said he “didn’t know who makes up a story like that.”
Well, if McMurphy didn’t write that story, Zach Smith is still a coach at Ohio State (McMurphy’s first report of the 2015 incident prompted OSU to fire Smith 50 minutes later). Knowing what we know now after what Ohio State’s investigative team reported, that’s a scary thought. And if Meyer really believes his only wrongdoing was “not doing more,” then that’s a bigger problem that he was somehow oblivious to Smith’s inappropriate behavior.
People are willing to make excuses for coaches like Meyer because they win. Anyone suggesting that Ohio State would’ve taken on this mess for any random coach is naive.
But that’s what the university did. And that’s where we’re at.
There’s this strain right now between football coaches, the fans who root for them and the reports from journalists (and former players) that shed light on what’s really going on behind closed doors. As long as winning is the cure-all, that’s not changing. We’ve seen in the past month how that’s just become an even bigger strain.
Anyone who says anything against the program who’s outside the bubble that these coaches have created is “attacking.” I can’t confirm or deny the validity of Santino Marchiol’s claims against Texas A&M, and neither can former players like Trevor Knight. Without any knowledge of the situation, Knight tweeted that Marchiol should “put his head down and get to work.”
Can’t speak for all the accusations but my initial response to this is: Dude you’re embarrassing yourself. Appears as though you’re attempting to throw everyone under the bus for your lack of success. Just put your head down and get get to work. https://t.co/g6wfQtkZef
— Trevor Knight (@trevor_knight9) August 22, 2018
Obviously former players are going to want to defend their school. But it’s all about protecting the program and protecting the coach, even if they can’t disprove any of those claims. And even if fans and players do have the full story like we have after Ohio State released its findings of the Meyer investigation, they still want to protect the program. The administration does, too.
I mean, we probably should’ve expected that from a university whose then-president (E. Gordon Gee) said that he just hoped that the then-football coach (Jim Tressel) wouldn’t fire him, despite the fact that it was Tressel who lied to the NCAA about Tattoogate.
That was only 7 years ago. I’d argue the belief that football overrules everything has only gotten worse. We have a coach who thinks that the physicality of the sport of football is directly related to the well-being of the entire country.
Is it possible to be more tone deaf?
That’s what so many of these coaches suffer from. They come off so entrenched in their own worlds — where they’re allowed to abide by their own rules — that the thought of anything disrupting that is treated as a cosmic shift.
So what’s the solution to these coaches having more power and control than they’re capable of handling? Joel Klatt offered up an interesting opinion on that:
It has never been more apparent to me that we are in desperate need of a centralized governing body over CFB. It is abundantly clear that the individual schools and programs are ill-equipped and unwilling to hold themselves accountable in ALL cases.
— Joel Klatt (@joelklatt) August 23, 2018
There’s something to be said for that. As we’ve seen, not every wrongdoing in college football is subject to the NCAA. Perhaps having an unbiased centralized governing body over the sport would allow for better policing. That would shake up the checks and balances, which clearly isn’t working under this current system.
We’ve reached the point when the upside of standing for morality within the football program is trumped by the upside of potential revenue gained. Better yet, we’ve reached the point when that dynamic is being exposed.
We’re at a critical juncture in college football history and the way that it’s governed. What if nothing changes, you ask? I honestly don’t know.
Well, I do know something that won’t happen if the sport’s integrity continues to be “under attack.” Our country isn’t going down.
Rest easy knowing that, Larry Fedora.