Friday, April 6, 2012

An Awkward Day for Coaches

Three events regarding American coaches were revealed on Thursday were so surreal I can't let them pass without offering a word about each.

In the NFL, the release of audio tape of Greg Williams, the former New Orleans Saints defensive coordinator, and now in all likelihood a former coach in all respects, presumably sealed not only WIlliams' fate but also that of his former bosses, the Saints and head coach Sean Payton, with regard to the fines and suspensions placed on them by the league in the wake of the bounty program that Williams installed and Payton not only tacitly allowed but actively tried to cover up.

Meanwhile, in the NBA, Orlando Magic head coach Stan Van Gundy had apparently decided enough was enough and outed his superstar, Dwight Howard, who has been working behind the scenes to get Van Gundy fired. In the height of awkward moments, immediately after Van Gundy had completed his comments to the media about Howard, Howard appeared at the press gathering and put his arm around Van Gundy.

And, finally, news came from Arkansas that the University's football coach, Bobby Petrino, hadn't been as forthcoming as Van Gundy in his recent dealings with the press. Petrino informed the press on Tuesday that he had been involved in a motorcycle accident Sunday. What he didn't tell the press (and in fact lied about) was that there was another rider on his bike. A 25 year-old female employee (and former volleyball player) at the school, with whom he was, according to the school which has now suspended him, engaged in an "inappropriate relationship."

Petrino at his press conference. One can only assume
that the neck brace and scrapes are from his accident,
not what his wife did to him when he got home.

If one were to pick one word to describe each of the three coaches and their unusual circumstances, the word I choose for Williams is arrogant. Stupid and evil would work too. While NFL players and commentators debate whether what Williams said in his "pep talk" went beyond the bounds of decency, or at least normality where the NFL is concerned, there's something more simple at play in my mind. 

Williams knew, or should have known at the time that he made the speech, that he and the Saints were under investigation for their bounty program. He knew that they had been told to stop offering money to defensive players for injuries to the opposing team. And Williams knew that there was an individual from outside of the team (filmmaker Sean Pamphilon, who was making a documentary on Saints player Steve Gleason) present during his speech.

All of which has to lead one to conclude that Williams thought he was above the law. After all, he had gotten away with his antics for years before, first with the Buffalo Bills, then with the Saints. It was pure arrogance that led Williams to conclude that it was business as usual when it came to his the defensive tactics his Saints would employ against the San Francisco 49ers. That arrogance will surely cost him any chance to ever coach again. And rightfully so.

Good riddance Mr. Williams

My word for Van Gundy is honest. Coaching and honesty don't always go hand-in-hand, and sometimes it is almost inevitable that the two cannot coexist. In preparing a team for a game a coach will often have to stretch or ignore the truth, whether to convince his or her team that they have a chance, or that the other team has a chance. It's the same in dealing with the media, when coaches often have to defuse tension within the team, or not say what's really on their mind ("the referees didn't cost us the game" comes to mind as a statement that is often the exact opposite of what a coach is really thinking).

Yet Van Gundy chose to confront a question about Howard in a straightforward and honest manner. He could have chosen to plead ignorance, simply ignore the question, or shoot the messenger, but he gave an honest answer and then an honest assessment of the situation. And he was absolutely right. Many of us don't particularly care for some of the people we work for or with, but it doesn't, or shouldn't, stop us from doing our jobs as best we can.

Slimy has to be the word for Petrino. Not because he was apparently engaged in an inappropriate relationship with a woman half his age with a wife and four kids at home (history is littered with men and women much better than Petrino who have done the same or worse). Not because he abandoned his previous employer, the Atlanta Falcons, in mid-season.

But because he lied about the accident, first to his boss and then to the media, and then by all appearances made an appearance that was meant to draw sympathy to him (or attention away from the circumstances that surrounded his mishap). And asked a Good Samaritan who drove by the scene of the crash not to call 911. And because the week before his companion was hired as his team's "student-athlete development coordinator."

Head football coaches, especially those at big state universities, expect to and can get away with a lot when they win. But the way Petrino handled this situation, in an apparently calculating manner from the moment it happened, can only be seen as the acts of a selfish, and, yes, slimy man.

One day, three unusual and awkward moments for three coaches, who can be described in three words. How can a blogger be so lucky?

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