I recently spent several hours with a former Power Five FB assistant coach (almost twenty years with two top twenty programs). It was a “catching-up” lunch that included a mutual friend.
WARNING: A rather long (incredibly insightful) diatribe that deals with yucky crap. The individual in that title picture is not connected to any local FB program…. simply an example found by googling “Football Player Arrested”. There were many to choose from.
Our conversation juxtaposed with four Quirky News stories from this past week. Those four Quirkies are (1) Maurice Clarett’s scared straight talks…. (2) Art Briles’ coach said / coach said mess…. (3) Atheists against team chaplains…. (4) Cris Carter’s Fall Guy fiasco. You might want to reread those after you finish this….. My conversation with the veteran coach preceded those news stories. He is now an executive in sports administration.
I asked him one of my favorite questions.
In Big Time College Football, when recruiting a “blue-chipper”, can you usually tell when you’re dealing with a loose hand grenade a/k/a a hard-case?”
“Sure, it’s in his body language, the questions he asks / doesn’t ask, his appearance; all that, plus what you already know about his home situation and school records.” If the kid has all the football athletic skills you are looking for….. you discount all the “loose hand grenade” signs with the cliché catch-all:
…. “He’ll be OK once when we get him in our program.”
Every Power Five football program (basketball too, but today is about football) thinks they have a system in place to rehabilitate “hard cases” and prevent them from “going BOOM”….. Especially “hard cases” that could be real on-field difference-makers for their program.
IF that were true, why were Cris Carter and Warren Sapp telling alums of those programs to “have a fall guy”?? LINK.
It is a long-standing cliché at Monday morning staff meetings after the assistants have been out on recruiting look-sees. Each assistant gives a thumbnail appraisal of his prospect including a comment about “character issues” along the lines of
“….. a bit of a chip on his shoulder, the usual issues with authority figures, a few run-ins with the local cops BUT no felonies…. nothing that we can’t control….. once we get him in our program.”
Within each staff, that caveat seems to be standard with certain coaches. The head coach hesitates moving along until he hears that magic phrase. It becomes the standing joke that the whole staff “gets”.
“So, is he like X, Y, and Z who claimed all of their victims was consensual and they never knew how those 9mm and the baggies of grass kept showing up in their SUVs which no one ever knew how they afforded with their grandmother on welfare. ….. is this one like all those guys you signed?”.... who somehow managed to create PR nightmares for the Head Coach, the program and the institution.
“Hey, gimmee a break”, the embarrassed assistant coach retorts, “even Babe Ruth swung and missed on a few. This kid is different…..”. And so it goes behind the scenes in Big Time College Football.
Staffs DO keep records of assistants’ “track records” in evaluating recruits as their hard-cases matriculate. When a high profile celebrity coach is being grilled by media about the latest “crime spree” by one or more of his “student-athletes” he is remembering the assistant who assured him “I can keep this kid out of trouble once he gets on-campus.”
At any one time, each assistant has a dozen or so players on their roster that are “his responsibility”. They might not be in his position category but he recruited them so they are “his”. Everyone on the staff knows it. When a program in “under siege” for a bad boy incident all his peers recall him saying ….. “he’ll be OK once we get him in our program.”
Football coaches at the major college / pro level want to “coach football”. They want to breakdown film…. devise schemes….. create situation personnel groups….. drill fundamentals….. blow whistles and yell a lot. They do NOT want to play parish priests and parole officers.
They are not trained for nor interested in “rehabbing problem children”. Just as they leave injury treatment to the trainer / medical staff, they want to abdicate responsibility for “bad boyz” to someone else “within our program”.
They ALL realize “you can’t win at ‘this level’ with a roster of boy scouts”. Requoting Lane Kiffin – “Angels don’t play football…. so we don’t recruit angels.”
The Head Coach knows that. His staff of aspiring heads coach wanna-bees all know it. The inner circle of Fat Cats know it. The school admins are totally clueless. Some fans know it, but most fans don’t care one way or the other…. all they want is “bragging rights” on Monday morning.
CARDINAL RULE: Our rivals’ hard-cases are all serial felonious thugs – Get A Rope! ….. “Ours” (who commit identical crimes) are “basically good kids” who just need a hug and 2nd, 3rd, 4th chances. ….. yawn; if you had a nickel every time a board monkey blurts THAT.
If an SEC school goes two years without a headline “thug-alete” incident, you can bet that program is LOSING. They don’t have the overly aggressive, 1,000-yard stare, hard-cases necessary to compete with the hard-cases across the line-of-scrimmage. The whole staff will be fired and a new one will come in that “understands what it takes to compete at this level”.
Which brings us to those gosh-darn controversial team chaplains. Big Time Programs have stumbled onto one element that actually DOES some good with “hard cases”. It is “the team chaplain”. Men such as NC State’s Al Byrd and UNC’s Mitch Mason shown below.
The coaches that routinely recruit the hard-cases don’t want to be “chaplains”. The “chaplains” DO want to be “chaplains”. The good experienced chaplains are very good at identifying “hard cases”.
The team chaplain concept, under the FCA funding umbrella as explained in that Quirky article (LINK), is becoming very common across Power Five World. Even if it wasn’t effective (in most cases it IS effective), it appeals to a recruit’s family which in more cases than not is a single mother / relative who has worked multiple jobs to provide for the recruit and his siblings. Now “her boy” is going off to college and leaving her daily influence however effective that has been.
The recruit likes the fancy “jock dorm” and the jumbotron and the local club scene.
Whoever raised him likes “that nice man” she met on their campus visit who was introduced as “our team chaplain”.
These chaplains are realists. They realize the inherent dangers of dropping an “at-risk” kid from a survive-or-die street environment into a white middle-class campus abundant in “temptations”. It is Russian Roulette for both predator and prey.
Yes, there is usually a low-key Christian component to the chaplain’s MO but the good ones know how to downplay that if it hinders him “being there” when a hard-case is about to fall into the Abyss. …. finding an abortion clinic when the linebacker’s girlfriend’s “stick turns blue” can create a bit of a theological dilemma.
Often the team chaplain is the only authority figure the hard-case “might” trust. Predominately white coaches are essentially “cops without guns” that the hard-cases have been hard-wired to distrust.
The vast majority of team chaplains are AfAm men with direct knowledge of the real world of semi-literate 18 y/os with ONE chance left
…. to barter their athletic ability into a legitimately marketable education – Their Only Way out of a dead-end life.
“Having a fall guy” is NOT the way out. A seven figure “signing bonus” can easily disappear before they are 25….. and left with no education and no team chaplain who cares. Maybe the only man he encountered that actually “gave a damn” beyond “what can he do for our program”.
Yes, I am cynical as hell about 97% of the hypocritical horse-crap that spews out of every pore of Big Time College Sports. The current “team chaplain” concept is a legitimate attempt to deal with a very real problem THAT IS ONLY GOING TO GET WORSE even with team chaplains.
If your school is in a Power Five conference, your coaches are NOT going to stop “rationalizing the recruiting” of hard-cases. The next dozen “he said / she saids…. the next dozen “DUI with a gun and drugs in his vehicle”….. are lined up like 747s over O’Hare at 5 PM.
Nothing is being done to stem the flow of “hard-cases” at the high school level. If anything….. the racial divide in America worsens by the day….. The Spectator / Gladiator Chasm.
Semi-literate 18 y/os grabbing ballcaps out of duffel bags while wearing t-shirts glorifying authority-hating rappers and sporting bad boy tatts are the present and foreseeable future of Big Time College Football. Today’s Ferguson / Baltimore street rioters are tomorrow’s BMOCs…. ouch!
If the God-hating atheists are successful in wiping out the “team chaplain” programs (LINK) that will be one less finger in the dike to slow down this flood of unadulterated cultural chaos.
Do you really think “paying each player” $3,000/year is going to make a difference? The local video game retailers really like that infusion of $$$$ by the way.
Wow…. that was a stressful column. I need to go trek the App Trail and see if I run into Bo Derek or Joey Heatherton. If I do, you’ll be the first to know.