Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Random Rabble: April 10

The idea of crooked coaches with screwed-up ideas of what constitutes discipline and leadership isn't really new to college sports, but the last few days have been another hit to the overall reputation of the profession.

It started early last week, when Arkansas football coach Bobby Petrino was in a motorcycle accident that landed him in the hospital with (thankfully) non-life threatening injuries. Of course, the story didn't end there.

The Razorbacks coach was put on paid administrative leave on Thursday night less than seven hours after his boss, athletic director Jeff Long, learned Petrino had failed to disclose he had been riding with a female employee half his age when his motorcycle skidded off the road over the weekend.

Petrino said he had been concerned about protecting his family and keeping an "inappropriate relationship from becoming public."

It was a stunning revelation for a highly successful coach who prides himself on complete control and intense privacy in his personal life. Petrino will now wait out his fate while Long conducts a review.


Petrino could be fired, and probably for cause, not because he's a married man with four kids who carried on an affair with a woman half his age. Instead, his employment could be in jeopardy because he lied to his boss and tried to cover up the fact she was riding with him when he crashed.

Of course, since it's the SEC, it's not as easy as logic dictates it should be. You see, Arkansas was 11-2 last season, and the Razorbacks are favored to be in the preseason top ten this summer. Why the hell would we care about Petrino lying to his bosses, or generally not being a trustworthy cat? He can win football games, and that's all that matters in that particular part of the country.

Well, until it comes to Election Day. Then, suddenly, morals matter when they fit the talking points.

Elsewhere in college football, Matt Hayes of Sporting News has a pretty impressive story on Urban Meyer's undoing at Florida. The new Ohio State coach has been the subject of much controversy already, which we'll get to in a second.

Hayes writes extensively about Meyer's inability and general unwillingness to institute any sort of discipline for his star players with the Gators. It's a culture that caused many a problem for the program after Meyer left and Will Muschamp took over.

Ironically, Florida’s downfall began at the height of Meyer’s success—the 2008 national championship season. Three seasons of enabling and pandering to elite players—what Meyer’s players called his “Circle of Trust”—began to tear away at what he’d put together.

“I’ve never heard of Circle of Trust before in my life,” Meyer said.

Former players, though, contend it was the foundation of Florida’s culture under Meyer. In the season opener against Hawaii, Meyer said a few elite players (including wideout Percy Harvin, linebacker Brandon Spikes and tight end Aaron Hernandez) would miss the game with injuries. According to multiple sources, the three players—all critical factors in Florida’s rise under Meyer—failed drug tests for marijuana and were sitting out as part of standard university punishment.

By publicly stating the three were injured and not being disciplined, former players say, Meyer was creating a divide between the haves and have-nots on the team.

“They were running with us on the first team all week in practice,” one former player said. “The next thing you know, they’re on the sidelines with a (walking) boot for the season opener like they were injured. Of course players see that and respond to it.”

It was Harvin, more than anyone, who epitomized the climate Meyer created. While former players say Harvin always was treated differently as a member of Meyer’s Circle of Trust, it was the beginning of his sophomore season—after he helped lead the Gators to the 2006 national title—that it became blatant. That's also when it began to contribute negatively toward team chemistry.

During offseason conditioning before the 2007 season, the team was running stadium steps and at one point, Harvin, according to sources, sat down and refused to run. When confronted by strength and conditioning coaches, Harvin—who failed to return calls and texts to his cell phone to comment on this story—said, “This (expletive) ends now.”

“The next day,” a former player said, “we were playing basketball as conditioning.”

It only got worse as Harvin’s career progressed. At one point during the 2008 season, multiple sources confirmed that Harvin, now a prominent member of the Minnesota Vikings, physically attacked wide receivers coach Billy Gonzales, grabbing him by the neck and throwing him to the ground. Harvin had to be pulled off Gonzales by two assistant coaches—but was never disciplined.

When asked about the Harvin incident, Gonzales—now offensive coordinator at Illinois—said, “I think it’s a little overblown. I mean, every great player wants his voice to be heard.”

Said Meyer: “Something did happen and something was handled. I don’t think it’s fair to Percy Harvin or Billy Gonzales to talk about it.”

I'm not one to judge, but it seems like Meyer had a tendency to play favorites at Florida. I'm not saying this doesn't happen elsewhere, but I'm going to guess Nick Saban doesn't pull this stuff at Alabama, and it's a big reason why he is able to win year after year.

I'm also not going to judge Harvin, but it's not like his NFL career has come without any problems.

Speaking of Meyer, do you remember the kerfluffle that Wisconsin created regarding his recruiting practices at Ohio State? Hayes' story, which I told you is extensive (and very long and very, very good, too), goes on to detail some of the things Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema was upset about.

Bielema, whose team hosts Ohio State on Nov. 17, has declined to offer specifics.

However, according to The Sporting News, UW officials accused Meyer of having former Ohio State players currently in the NFL call recruits. Such calls would be an NCAA violation.

In addition, UW officials accused Meyer and other Ohio State coaches of "bumping into" offensive line recruit Kyle Dodson during mandated dead periods. That would also be an NCAA violation. Dodson, from Cleveland, backed out of a commitment to UW and signed with the Buckeyes.

A college football source confirmed Monday those were the alleged violations that raised Bielema's ire long before signing day. Bielema's issues with Meyer were part of a larger look at how Meyer ran the Florida program.

"There's a few things that happened early on that I made people be aware of," Bielema said in February, "that I didn't want to see in this league that I had seen take place at other leagues . . . recruiting practices that are illegal.

"And I was very up front and was very pointed to the fact. I actually reached out to coach Meyer and shared my thoughts and concerns with him, and the situation got rectified."

I'm guessing Nov. 17 will be a very interesting day in Madison. Odds are that it'll be a prime-time game, and there's nothing like giving fans in Madison the whole day to lube up before a big game. I'm sure they'll treat Meyer wonderfully.

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