There's No Excuse for Abusive Coaches
One professor asked of then Texas Tech president David Schmidly if the prospective new coach would be held to a different standard of conduct given his well-known history of being a hothead who verbally lashed out at those around him. Schmidly said the university would expect nothing from Knight that it wouldn't from other coaches and faculty.
"There is a clause in every contract that calls for termination for behavior that is detrimental to the university, to its employees or students," Schmidly stated. "That includes physical abuse."
So if it is true that Texas Tech football coach Mike Leach -- who I've known and enjoyed talking to and watching coach for years -- stuck a player, ESPN football analyst's Craig James' son Adam, in a closet after suffering a concussion, Leach, whom the school suspended Monday, should be fired. Period.
But the story shouldn't end there because, unfortunately, it seems we're hearing more and more of these stories.
As FanHouse's Brett McMurphy first reported earlier this month, several people in and around South Florida's football program said coach Jim Leavitt struck a player during halftime of a game. Leavitt has denied the allegation and the player who was said to be struck has since downgraded his story to say Leavitt only grabbed his shoulder pads.
That came on the heels of Kansas players accusing their coach, Mark Mangino, of physically and emotionally abusing them at practice and during games. Mangino resigned Dec. 3 as Kansas investigated the accusations.
Whatever happened to extra running as motivation to play better, or punishment for missing assignments? Are the stadium stairs no longer available at the end of practice? Has doing another set of six inches been legislated out?
This isn't just football coaches being football coaches. This isn't about football having gone soft.
This isn't about not being able to do it the way old coaches did it. The oldest of coaches, Penn State's Joe Paterno, disciplined his team a couple years ago by having it join the cleanup crew at their home stadium every Sunday after home games this fall.
No, this is about abject stupidity, and there shouldn't be any quarter for it in institutions of higher learning. Abuse isn't a part of pedagogy anymore than it is a part of anything else.
It is with trepidation that I offer this following observation because it was posited by the Women's Sports Foundation and, as such, will be summarily dismissed by chauvinists in men's sports, but the women have it right: "Abusive behavior of coaches and/or teammates toward other players undermines the professionalism of organized sport, taints the atmosphere of mutual trust and respect between coach and athlete and between teammates, and hinders the fulfillment of the overall educational mission of athletics."
Any coach who engages in this kind of foolishness should be shown the door, and any coach who stands quietly by and remains a mute witness should be escorted out too. This isn't about snitching; it's about doing the right thing.
After all, there is a more sacred contract involving coaches and players for which abusive behavior makes a mockery. It is the oath coaches make before the parents and guardians of the teenagers they recruit. It is the one they recite in different ways with so many sweet nothings they whisper in eager ears. It is the one that says before they walk out of the living room that the parents and guardians can entrust the care of their kids for the next four years, or whatever, to them.
What parent would sign up to have their kid -- as the Jameses said happened to their son under Leach's orders -- tossed into solitary confinement in a dark closet because he showed up to practice wearing shades after suffering a concussion? (Sensitivity to light is one of the symptoms of concussion. When Tim Tebow suffered his earlier this season, one of the things he was barred from was watching video.)
What guardian would expect their son to be threatened with being sent home to be shot like his "homies" as Mangino was accused of doing?
In a recent story in the Washington Post, some coaches suggested that how they go about doing their jobs isn't much different than parenting. They have to be harsh sometimes.
But I think coaching and parenting are considerably different unless the coach is also coaching his or her own progeny, or the parents or guardian of the player granted the coach rights to smack their kid around, too.
But these problems don't have to wait for a legislative remedy; a common sense one will do. There should be a zero-tolerance policy in every college athletic department as laid down by the administration against abusive tactics by coaches.
The American Football Coaches Association is scheduled to convene next month in Orlando. When it does, it should borrow a page from that Texas Tech Senate Faculty meeting in March 2001 and include discussion of expected conduct of coaches. And AFCA executive director Grant Teaff should let it be known that any school that doesn't dismiss an AFCA member who physically abuses a player is being derelict in its duty.