Before some of you start gagging over the P.C. police gone wild in the Mike Leach case, let's all admit one thing. The Junction Boys would have never been tolerated in 2009. Bear Bryant would have been fired before the first player puked in the drought-ridden Texas hill country.
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Bryant's inhuman preseason training methods with Texas A&M 56 years ago were disgusting then and they're disgusting now. No water breaks in 100-degree heat. Only a fraction of the original 115 Aggies survived the brutal camp. Survived, as in made the roster. Bear's lucky no one died.
In one sense not much has changed since 1954: We still tend to romanticize the coaching profession. To a fault. We want to romanticize the game, sports as a whole. You can believe that Leach was railroaded by the Texas Tech administration when he was fired on Wednesday. But you also need to understand the top layer to be peeled away from this issue.
Leaders of men can, at times, also be horrible human beings. They can make bad decisions in the name of such intangibles as "discipline" and "motivation." Left unchecked, the likes of Woody Hayes freaks out and punches a Clemson linebacker. Mark Mangino allegedly makes a player crab walk on burning artificial turf. The lesson to be learned is beyond the obvious -- that second-degree burns really, really hurt.
We're a couple of days from the second decade of the 21st century. It's taken some time but we're starting to realize that giving a man a whistle doesn't give him liberties to demean players or bully his bosses.
Ask Leach's former Texas Tech buddy Bobby Knight who probably believes Leach was merely pulling a Neil Reed with Adam James. You know, just "positioning" the kid.
The Tech administration ultimately decided that putting a player in a darkened room for three hours was inhumane. That's not exactly a reach whether it's 1954 or two days from the second decade of the 21st century.
Leach became the second coach from the Big 12 Conference in the last month to leave because of player-treatment issues. See a pattern here? Like Mangino before him, it's unlikely that Leach will ever be head coach at a top-level BCS program again. On that point, I disagree with the distinguished Mr. Ratto.
This is where it ends. Earlier this decade, Mike Price still got hired after an unfortunate encounter at a strip joint. Rick Neuheisel was able to get work after suing his own employers. The line, it seems, is being drawn at player safety.
The sooner we all understand that an age is passing before our eyes, the better the sport will be. The likes of Bear, Woody and Bo couldn't have coached in this age. Not without changing. Not without some common human decency that shouldn't be ignored just because a coach has that whistle.
You can probably scroll down right about now and see a few responses about me "never having worn a jock." Only the Neanderthals out there will agree. The rest of us will realize that this season helped answer the question: What is that line for a coach's conduct and when is it crossed?
Mangino resigned at Kansas after multiple complaints from players. New Mexico's Mike Locksley barely kept his job after an assistant said he was choked by the rookie head coach. South Florida coach Jim Leavitt was accused of striking a player.
The player later recanted but a larger trend was revealed. It seems as if parents and players have become enlightened about and probably empowered against a coach's authority. For too long coaches have had it their way without question -- salaries bigger than their state's governor, courtesy cars, country club memberships. The student-athlete has to play his behind off year-to-year just to keep his scholarship. If he doesn't like the setup, there's always the option to transfer, if the coach releases him from that scholarship.
Sure, there's a free education in there somewhere. But nowhere in the scholarship papers does it say you might have to study at the 50-yard line in 30-degree weather. (See below)
It seems like this entire season has been defined off the field. Notre Dame went through yet another coaching change. Florida State officials mishandled the Bobby Bowden situation as much as Bowden himself didn't know when to leave. Urban Meyer played with his family's, his coach's and his player's emotions during last weekend's flip flop. In every case, coaches have been stealing the headlines for sometimes ridiculous reasons.
With Leach's firing, maybe a whole generation of coaches are being weeded out. Maybe a new generation behind them are getting the message. It's possible to win without being a jerk. Ask Pete Carroll. Ask Mark Richt.
In many ways, Leach hung himself. There were no terms of endearment when he constantly looked at other jobs and fought the administration over a salary extension. The man is as quirky, though, as he is brilliant. Having an academically deficient player study in freezing weather at the 50-yard line isn't weird, it's inhumane. Humiliating quarterback Taylor Potts was demeaning. Leach told Potts that his first name was not masculine enough and changed the player's jersey to read "Nick."
Still, he got away with all of it until the James family complained. It doesn't matter what some Red Raiders think of Adam James' character or that his father Craig James might be a "helicopter dad." Abuse, even the perception of it, is a problem.
Yeah, coaching is different -- blah, blah, blah. But real life has to figure in there somewhere and a $4 million contract doesn't give you the keys to a university. Too often that's what has happened. Coaches get away with this stuff with impunity because they can. Whether it's a third-world dictatorship or the SEC, it's unsettling to be reminded that absolute power corrupts absolutely.
Fourteen months ago, Leach's team was undefeated having beaten No. 1 Texas. A month later, he was the Big 12 Coach of the Year. This wasn't a case of losing enough to make it convenient for the administration to fire a guy. Far from it. Texas Tech might never again have a coach who averages 8½ wins per season over a decade. This might be the end of the Red Raiders being on the national stage.
That's the risk the administration is willing to take. For all his coaching talent, Mike Leach's coaching techniques got him fired. Let's hope the rest of the profession takes notice.