John Calipari is famous for reminding the media his name never appeared in infractions reports that led to his UMass and Memphis teams having to vacate Final Four appearances.
The same for Pete Carroll, whose name you will not find among the details of USC’s NCAA penalties from 6 ½ years ago.
Basically, those two national championship coaches claimed to be deaf, dumb and blind to what was going on around them. Would the NCAA buy that excuse today? Therein lies the issue for Hugh Freeze and Ole Miss football.
“These [coaches] generally know every time somebody sneezes on their team,” said Tom Yeager, who spent nine years on the NCAA infractions committee judging wrongdoers.
“You get to the point that something is significantly important to the team and they don’t know anything about it?”
The school and the coach contend Freeze didn’t know about the alleged wide-ranging wrongdoing within the program. But the NCAA has put in play a newly amended rule that says even if Freeze didn’t know, he should have known.
Following the Feb. 22 release of the school’s amended notice of allegations, Freeze became not only the first football coach who could be suspended for lack of oversight, he is believed to be the first FBS coach to be charged with violating NCAA bylaw 18.104.22.168 in its new form.
The so-called “coach responsibility rule” is written as follows:
… a head coach is presumed to be responsible for the actions of all staff members who report, directly or indirectly, to the head coach. The head coach will be held accountable for violations in the program unless he or she can rebut the presumption of responsibility.
At stake is at least Freeze’s reputation, if not his job.
The belief by some that Ole Miss got too good too quickly ---- won’t go away.
“There really wasn’t any mechanism to hold the people responsible, responsible. This [rule] does it,” said Yeager, who spent 31 years as the Colonial Athletic Association commissioner.
“You can use some of the analogies … like organized crime or something where the underlings -- the assistant coaches, the head coach -- clearly sets the message.
“It would be just like, ‘Dennis, just get it done.’”
Wait, do I need to lawyer up. too?
Ole Miss said in this video that it is has been accused of 21 total violations, 15 of which are Level I -- the most serious.
Among the allegations: more than $20,000 in cash, food and benefits changed hands between boosters and prospects. The school has been charged with lack of institutional control, one of the NCAA’s most serious allegations.
If found guilty of lack of oversight, Freeze could be suspended for as much as a full season. Such penalties have been applied recently in basketball. Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim and SMU’s Larry Brown were both handed nine-game suspensions in 2015.
But the suspension of a head football coach, in a sport with a shorter season and thus more important games, would have a much bigger impact.
How it came to that point in 2012 back when the bylaw was amended has as its roots buried in the plausible deniability of Calipari and Carroll. Precise language was added that year to the original 2005 bylaw stating a coach “is presumed to be responsible” for wrongdoing in his program.
The how-could-they-not-know accusation has pointed the finger at everyone from Oklahoma’s Barry Switzer to Joe Paterno in the Jerry Sandusky scandal at Penn State.
The NCAA membership apparently got tired of hearing the same old excuses.
“Over time and specific instances, it came to the point where the membership just realized that you can’t hide behind the old, ‘I don’t know what happened’ [excuse],” Yeager said.
He was speaking in general terms, but Yeager went on to provide as close a inside look at the Ole Miss investigation as there is at the moment.
Ole Miss is well represented because it has retained Mike Glazier. The longtime NCAA troubleshooting attorney at Bond, Schoeneck and King has a sterling reputation both among schools and the NCAA. Glazier is a former NCAA investigator.
“He doesn’t manufacture information,” said Yeager, who heard cases with Glazier representing schools. “He’s good because he’s credible. He’s not a strict defense attorney in a lot of ways. He’s the kind of guy [who says], ‘If we want to get to the truth …,’ he does it. And [sometimes] it’s painful.”
There is wriggle room in that coach responsibility bylaw. The levels of coach responsibility can be “aggravated” (50-100 percent season suspension), “standard” (30-50 percent) and “mitigated” (0-30 percent).
Ole Miss’ self-imposed penalties should make a difference as well. Yeager said the committee in general looks favorably upon such proactive action. Ole Miss has banned itself from a bowl in 2017 and reduced 11 scholarships over four years. Will that be enough?
“That’s where an experienced counsel comes in,” Yeager said. “‘We’re admitting this, this, this and this. In that case, we want to demonstrate to the committee we’re serious about this.’”
There is no presumption here Calipari or Carroll was guilty. Freeze’s name apparently doesn’t appear in specific allegations either but more than his reputation may be on the line.
“It’s like Tony Soprano sending a message to the academic coordinator [to cheat], ‘Here, get it done,’” Yeager said, again, not speaking specifically about Ole Miss.
On National Signing Day, Freeze said the following of his new recruiting class: “It was a penalty to be under the cloud we’re under.”
Yeah, that’s real encouraging to the players who actually signed on with Ole Miss during these troubled times.
Like the public, they haven’t seen a paper record of the amended notice. Ole Miss hasn’t released it. So far, the school’s general counsel hasn’t responded to a Freedom of Information open records request from CBS Sports.
“It is presumed [Freeze] is responsible because of the actions of his staff,” Ole Miss athletic director Ross Bjork said in that video.
The school intends to vigorously fight the Freeze charges, but how’s this for a cloud? Considering the presumed timeline, Ole Miss’ penalties should be announced during the 2017 season.
On the (hiring) hot seat
Recent athletic director comings and goings put these individuals on track to perhaps making life-changing athletic decisions.
- One of the first orders of business for new Tennessee AD John Currie is to evaluate coach Butch Jones, who is in a tenuous position after losing the AD that hired him (Dave Hart Jr.). That was after losing the SEC East, despite being the prohibitive favorite in 2016. Jones comes into Year 5 at Tennessee with a 30-21 record -- 18-8 in the last two seasons.
- Whoever is hired as the next AD at Kansas State, he or she faces the significant task of soon replacing Bill Snyder. It is well known Snyder wants his son, Sean, to replace him. Sean is a special teams maven but has not been a coordinator. Bill likes saying Sean has been at K-State (as a player and coach) longer than him, but experience has to count at some point. Complicating matters, Laird Veatch -- a member of Snyder’s first recruiting class in 1989 -- is the interim AD in place of Currie. Snyder is expected to surface next in late March when spring practice opens. The 77-year-old coach has been fighting throat cancer.
- Don’t forget new Alabama AD Greg Byrne. His assignment -- if he chooses to accept it -- is to replace Nick Saban … .
Against the oddities
We know about P.J. Fleck’s coaching and marketing abilities. But what are his chances of succeeding at Minnesota? Not good if you believe in MAC/Big Ten history. Name the last MAC coach to go directly to a Big Ten program then leave that school with a winning record.