The leadership and values coaches instill in their players reflects on themselves and their universities.
In turn, players’ actions often reflect those coach’s values. Nick Saban has quietly brought discipline as well as new talent to Alabama, which left no room for those who did not behave as he expects.
The responses to two incidents in this young college football season are illuminating.
We all watched replays of Oregon’s top running back, LaGarrette Blount, sucker punch Boise State’s Byron Hout. Hout had yelled in Blount’s face, tapped him on the shoulder, and turned away.
Blount was apologetic after the game: “I just apologize to anyone watching that. I just apologize to all of our fans and all of Boise’s fans. That’s something I shouldn’t have done. I lost my head.”
Oregon’s first-year head coach and long-time offensive coordinator Chip Kelly said, “I did not see anything. I will see it on tape and make a decision on what we need to do with him. There is no place for that. I do not condone that. I will make that decision if that is the case.”
The next day, Kelly suspended Blount, a senior, who set an Oregon record of 17 TDs last year. “Football at the University of Oregon is a privilege, and with that privilege goes responsibilities.”
Pac-10 commissioner Larry Scott said, “we commend the University of Oregon and its leadership for taking swift and decisive action in response to this incident. The Pac-10 strongly emphasizes sportsmanship and fair play in all its athletic competitions and expects high standards of sportsmanship from all participants, including student-athletes.”
The University of Oregon’s President Richard Lariviere said, “We do not and will not tolerate the actions that were taken by our player. Oregon’s loyal fans expect and deserve better.”
Kelly made it clear he was not taking away his scholarship so Blount could achieve his education. Oregon would provide Blount with support, calling it a “teachable moment.”
“We will provide him with instruction necessary for him to succeed. He’s going to practice with this football team, he’s going to student support services, he’s going to class. We’re going to make sure LaGarrette gets the goods.”
After the second week’s games, video evidence surfaced that Michigan linebacker Jonas Mouton sucker punched Notre Dame center Eric Olsen during the second quarter of their game. Olsen was on his knees after the play was over.
Michigan coach, Rich Rodriguez, denied the incident happened to reporters.
“What are you talking about? I know they were talking about one incident on film, and I didn’t see anybody throw a punch or anything like that. The little bit I saw on the clip, I saw guys got tangled up together, and Jonas tried to free himself. There’s a whole lot of officials out there, and I’m sure if there was an infraction, then they’d call it.”
Olsen had done nothing to provoke such an attack. Michigan reviewed the video, but refused to discipline Mouton. The video was clear enough for Big Ten commissioner Jim Delaney, who determined Mouton struck Olsen and violated the league’s sportsmanlike conduct agreement.
In words similar to the Pac-10 commissioner’s, Delaney said, “The actions of Jonas Mouton during the Notre Dame game are unacceptable. Mouton’s behavior has no place in the sport of football or the Big Ten Conference.”
Punches of opponents after a play ends are not that big a deal to Rodriguez. Clearly, he had no intention of disciplining his player, especially if the officials had not seen it.
“I told the team, it should have been a penalty. It should have been a personal foul and maybe the officials didn’t see that part and I understand the league as a whole has to look at what they consider a non-football act and make their judgment accordingly.
"I don’t think for any instance or any stretch of the imagination that it was malicious and you should compare it with a windup punch like we saw earlier in the season (by Blount) in the Oregon game, but it’s an act the Big Ten is going to try to enforce and set a precedent with, so we accept that."
A punch after the whistle is “a non-football act” to Rodriguez and not his responsibility, certainly not “a teachable moment” about the responsibilities that come with the privilege of playing football for a university.
Rodriguez’s “acceptance” of the Big Ten’s reprimand came with a warning to the league and Commissioner Delaney.
“Now I will tell you, my conversation with the commissioner was that we will watch every Big Ten game very closely and any non-football act, whether it’s a six-inch jab or anything that’s not called for the game of football, we’re going to ask that person get the same type of punishment Jonas Mouton got. I’m sure the league will do that.”
Can you ever recall any player suspension by a league which was not first undertaken by a team—and so reluctantly “accepted?”
Can you ever recall a coach who warns his league’s commissioner that he will monitor all other league games for such violations?
Noticeably absent is any statement from the University of Michigan’s president, Mary Sue Coleman, about upholding Michigan’s sportsmanship values, not tolerating such actions, and the privileges and responsibilities of playing football. Mouton, unlike Blount, has not apologized.
Perhaps she has surrendered ultimate control of the athletic department. Or maybe the independent review of the recent allegations of Rodriguez’s program and the possibility of major NCAA infractions consumes her full attentions.
Are Chip Kelly, Larry Scott, and Jim Delaney wrong? Maybe there is a place in college football where those type of acts and values are acceptable by the coach.
The silence in Ann Arbor outside of Rich Rodriguez should speak volumes to the Big Ten and the rest of college football.