As Mike Haywood Falls, Pitt Proves It Stands for Something
The University of Pittsburgh might be proving that theory wrong.
That's too bad for Mike Haywood right now -- but then again, it might not be bad at all for him in the long run. Generations of coaches in every sport have justified their punishment for misbehaving players, after all. If a coach can't justify his own punishment the same way, then what good is he?
And what good is an institute of higher learning if its standards for the people it puts in charge of its young charges are kept anything but high?
Haywood is still innocent until proven guilty by the criminal justice system, so on his arrest on New Year's Eve in South Bend, Ind., on domestic battery charges, he can't be judged here. But Pitt has every right to judge him. It is fully entitled to. Most important, it's obligated to.
And if the young, fast-rising coach Pitt just hired two weeks ago really believes -- as he told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review Saturday night -- that his getting fired now "isn't fair,'' he might have as myopic a view of what college sports are supposed to be about as his superiors in the game generally do.
Without details of exactly what happened between him and the woman he is accused of assaulting -- the mother of his child, in a dispute related to custody, according to the police report -- it's hard to imagine what reason Haywood could have for believing Pitt would want to keep him as head coach after news of his arrest came out. Unless he thought that as long as he won, once the season began, he was safe, and that only losing, and thus costing the program money and prestige, would jeopardize his future. There are more than enough ex-coaches just this offseason to prove that.
The last football coach at a big-time school busted this publicly for wrongdoing and being run off before coaching a game, is now being celebrated for his "redemption'' at the school that snapped him up after a brief exile -- George O'Leary, the resume-fabricator who fooled Notre Dame nearly a decade ago and now has led Central Florida to an 11-win season.
Other coaches, albeit in other sports, have had their names tainted seemingly beyond the bounds of credibility and repair of reputation, yet have not only either found work again quickly or never lost it in the first place. Thus, the price Rick Pitino has had to pay for his misdeeds seems nonexistent, and he can still exert authority to his players when they commit far less humiliating acts.
Why would Haywood think he'd be treated any different -- beside the fact that he didn't have the track record others had built? Sadly, it's easy to wonder how Pitt would have reacted had this happened a year later, after a bowl win or a Big East championship. Would Pitt have moved so quickly with a coach after a rise in the standings as fast as the one Haywood generated in his second year at Miami of Ohio, from one win to a league title?
We'll never know. Even if, somewhere within the athletic department or the administration offices, Pitt has ulterior motives for nuking Haywood's coaching tenure almost before it began, it will never have to prove it. Haywood was to be the face of the Pitt football program, the engine that still runs sports on campus despite the basketball team's perennial success. The face looked pretty for two weeks. Now, regardless of where the legal case stands, it's filthy.
The program -- any program that wants to be about anything -- can't function with a man at its head who has a charge of putting his hands on a woman hanging over him. The school itself made that clear in its statement -- and it is no small thing that the statement came from the chancellor's office.
"This is a matter of real regret for the many people at Pitt who had looked forward to working with him,'' read the statement from Mark Nordenberg Saturday. "However, head coaches are among the University's most visible representatives and are expected to maintain high standards of personal conduct and to avoid situations that might reflect negatively on the University.''
It would have been far better for the Pitt athletic department to take that public stand, rather than the university itself. But to be that picky in this frontier-type, borderline-amoral atmosphere of college sports today might be asking too much.
Meanwhile, it's anyone's guess how Pitt will replace Haywood. Rich Rodriguez's name has been tossed around, tantalizing in light of his previous work at West Virginia, Pitt's sworn enemy and Big East rival. Of course, imagine what message that would send, in the wake of the one involving Haywood, by following him with a man who got entangled in a breach-of-conflict battle when he jumped to Michigan, was cited for NCAA violations once there, and sank like a rock in his three years on the job.
Still, as the chancellor's statement also read, the decision to fire Haywood now -- with him barely out on bond Saturday, a full day after his arrest -- "reflects a strong belief that moving forward with Mr. Haywood as our head coach is not possible under the existing circumstances.''
Any football player, at any school, under the same circumstances would be dealt with harshly, be made to suffer severe consequences, for the same reasons Pitt dealt harshly with Haywood -- because that player represents the school, the program, the student body, his fellow players. There would be a lesson to be learned, about good judgment, accountability, setting the bar high, not only because so many eyes are on the school because of the football team, but because it's a staple of moving from boyhood to manhood -- one for which any school and any program within it ought to take responsibility.
Yet most of the time, all the big-time athletes ever learn from their schools, their programs, from their coaches and administrators, is how to use others for your personal gain. Bowl season itself is the biggest example, and there's hardly a better individual example than the one being set at Ohio State.
The Jim Tressels can lecture the Terrell Pryors of the world about values, priorities and sacrifice because the rules that govern their world are out of whack with reality. Coaches get away with a world of misdeeds, hypocrisies and injustices and almost never get held accountable even by the people who put them in their positions of authority.
At least one won't, however. Good for Pittsburgh. One day, just as countless players over the years have been told, Haywood will find out how good it is for him, too.