Summer is the time of year that gives school officials headaches. With many student-athletes remaining on campus, and with a sudden burst of free time, trouble and bad decisions are always lurking around the next corner. College students getting into trouble is nothing new, and, to a certain extent, is almost expected. A more disturbing trend is beginning to emerge during the summer doldrums, and its occurrence comes courtesy of a group that not only has the age and wisdom to know better but also tends to be the highest paid employees of the universities they represent.
Brady Hoke, head coach of the University of Michigan, stood at a lectern in front of the West Michigan Sports Commission in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and stated Notre Dame is “chickening out” of its series with Michigan.
Thirteen-hundred miles to the south, Tim Davis, offensive line coach for the University of Florida, spoke at a booster club meeting in Melbourne, Florida, and called Nick Saban, head coach of the University of Alabama, the “devil himself.” Oddly enough, comparisons to Satan are not new for Saban, as James Franklin, head coach at Vanderbilt, informed a group of high school students at a sports banquet in Macon, Georgia, that “Nicky Satan” was a more apt title for the Alabama ball coach.
The verbal assaults did not stop short of being lobbed at opposing universities or rival coaches, however. LSU head coach, Les Miles, fresh of losing quarterback commitment Gunner Kiel (who decommitted from LSU, signed with Notre Dame and ultimately transferred to Cincinnati), decided to taunt a teenager by telling those in attendance at the Tiger Gridiron Club in Baton Rouge that Kiel lacked the “chest and the ability to lead a program.”
So, what’s the deal?
One thing is for certain: the allegations and verbal taunts are not based in fact. Notre Dame and Michigan both possessed the contractual right to opt out of their series, and Brian Kelly owns a 4-1 overall record against Hoke, with the only loss coming in 2011 after Notre Dame blew a 24-7 lead in spectacular fashion. Florida head coach, Will Muschamp, is 0-1 overall against Alabama, and Florida is 0-3 and has been outscored 101-29 against Nick Saban since their last victory against the Crimson Tide in 2008. Vanderbilt hasn’t defeated Alabama since 1984 when Saban was just a defensive backs coach at Michigan State.
The most likely culprit for such bizarre and inaccurate statements involves energizing the fan base. Coaches travel to different functions and use fiery rhetoric to get their fans mobilized and excited. But the world has changed, and just as every student-athlete has to be mindful of the notion camera phones are everywhere, coaches should be held accountable, too.
Brady Hoke definitely achieved his desired result if the objective was to energize the Michigan fan base. Living in Michigan, hearing or seeing comments such as a suggestion that Notre Dame should change its mascot to a part of the female anatomy was the general tone witnessed here, and ESPN even held a segment debating whether or not Notre Dame actually is chicken (though, strangely, no segment aired debating whether or not Saban actually is Lucifer).
But what effect did it really have? Witnessing a head football coach accuse another academic institution of being “chicken” when that same head coach lost the previous year to the team in question and posted a 5-loss season is the kind of bluster expected from reoccurring laughing stock and head coach of the New York Jets, Rex Ryan. It makes the university he represents look poorly, and a great academic institution such as Michigan should be embarrassed by his school yard taunts.
I attended a Notre Dame booster event in South Bend with my father and a family friend a few short months after Brian Kelly accepted the position as the new head coach of the Fighting Irish. Attendees were able to pose questions, and Kelly answered them with the kind of charm you would expect at such an event. When my father asked Kelly how he managed to get former Notre Dame quarterback and eventual Cincinnati transfer, Demetrius Jones, to ultimately play linebacker when he left ND due to his unwillingness to switch positions, Kelly immediately quipped, “I asked him, ‘Would you like to play or sit on the bench?’” to a roar of laughter. And Kelly mobilized the crowd, not by taking shots at other universities but by telling everyone Notre Dame’s name was in good standing on the recruiting trail, and that he expects to play championship-level football.
How should Notre Dame respond to such name-calling from another university? By saying nothing, as the university has done thus far. When someone you beat – and someone with a mediocre 8-5 record – makes an absurd statement, the best response is to let the statement stay suspended in space where all of its preposterousness can speak for itself.
Scott Janssen is a blogger for the Huffington Post and has authored several nationally-featured articles as well as co-founded a nationally-featured non-profit organization. In his spare time he takes his NCAA Football ’13 online dynasty way too seriously and alienates those around him by discussing football 24 hours a day. Scott can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.