Hiring coaches for life is the problem.
by John Furgele
It has happened again, like it always does. Something major happens, and the catcalls from the pundits begin and begin in earnest. When allegations surfaced that Brian Williams embellished some events, many immediately called for his head on a platter. Thankfully, NBC took the calm route, suspending him for six months so they can ponder over the damage instead of making a quick, hasty decision. They still might show Williams the door but it won’t be due to lack of thought.
On Friday, Jim Boeheim and Syracuse University learned the penalties for cheating. It was a ten year investigation, so nobody was thinking that the punishment would be light and it wasn’t. The team loses 12 scholarships over the next four years, Boeheim is suspended for 9 Atlantic Coast Conference games in 2015-2016 and he—and the team—will have to vacate over 100 wins where ineligible players were used. I find vacating wins to be troubling. To me, it’s like saying that Germany didn’t lose World War I. The games were played; they’re part of history, and to pretend that they didn’t happen, is silly. That said Boeheim will have to live with that.
Since the announcement Friday morning, there have been numerous columns and pieces written for Boeheim to step down, retire and so on. Some of the pundits have glanced over the 94 page NCAA report and note that the term “head basketball coach,” is littered in the findings and they cite that Boeheim didn’t control his program.
I will not take a side, because I don’t want to come off as that guy, the guy that wants to stoke flames by saying something bold just to get attention. We all know that there are deep problems in college athletics. We all know that Jim Boeheim is not the only one that has had this happen and we all know that like the drug wars our nation fights, that the NCAA doesn’t have the personnel to go after all 360 plus basketball teams and another 135 in football. And, the schools and the boosters know that, so they do things that are not always on the level.
There is one issue about college coaches that has always bothered me and Boeheim fits it to a tee. I’ve never been a big fan of the coach for life philosophy for many reasons. Boeheim has been the head basketball coach at Syracuse since the 1976-1977 campaign; 39 seasons. When coaches coach that long at one place, simply, too much happens and most of time, it doesn’t end well. The program did have one Final Four appearance under Roy Danforth in 1975, but Boeheim took it to the next level. The Orange played in three title games, winning in 2003 and every year they’re a perennial contender. They helped form the dominant basketball conference, the Big East in the 1980s, and took the conference tournament at Madison Square Garden to a new level. Boeheim was “in on all that,” and for that he is to be commended.
The pros to the coach for life are there too. He becomes the face of the program, the chief seller and fundraiser, the most popular and well known person on the college campus. Even if they stay humble and don’t become arrogant, deep down, they know they’re untouchable. Those calling for Boeheim to retire know darn well he won’t and that’s because of his inner arrogance. It’s not his fault. When you’re at a school for 39 years, win nearly 1,000 games and make the school money, help drive admissions and build endowments, you become quite secure in yourself. Boeheim, like Joe Paterno, Coach K, Bobby Knight, Bobby Bowden and others became so imbedded in their jobs that the thought of replacing them is never discussed. They point to Indiana, which has struggled since Bobby Knight was relieved of his duties after the 1999-2000 season and that scares the leaders of the institution. These leaders are known for their intellect and now they’re overseeing millions of dollars and they sometimes don’t know how to handle it.
At Syracuse, Boeheim wields incredible power. He has been there longer than his athletic director, the president and many of the chancellors combined. These people are afraid to fire him, not because Boeheim is a bully, but because they’re just afraid. Will the program suffer? Will the endowment decrease? Will the Carrier Dome see a drop in attendance? Will the team struggle to make the NCAA Tournament? Will the community backlash be so great that the risk of letting Boeheim walk be just too scary?
We all know what happened at Penn State. Even before the Sandusky story surfaced, there were many inside the athletic program that wanted Paterno to step away and ride into the sunset. But, they were too afraid to confront him and moreover, make him retire. He lingered on and on and even though he kept winning, the ending was sad and even atrocious.
Look at Bobby Knight. He didn’t just start throwing plants in the office in 1999, his behavior was tolerated for years because the Hoosiers were winning titles, making tournaments and the school was on the map. Knight had more power than the chancellors, the regents, the presidents and the athletic directors and when the late Myles Brand finally fired him, he was treated like a villain, even though there was the video of Knight choking the late Neil Reed in a practice
Duke and the nation continue to celebrate Coach K but even he has been at the university too long in my opinion. And, I’m sure if Duke was investigated, wrong doings would be discovered because the NCAA rule book is three times thicker than the original rule book, the Holy Bible.
It never ends well. Most coaches leave because they’re forced to, and even if Boeheim sticks around the place known as The Hill for another five or six years, his legacy has taken a hit, a big one. But, that’s college athletics. We know it’s all about money. Making West Virginia’s soccer team travel to Oklahoma for a Big 12 game is beyond absurd. Having conference games between Georgetown and St. John’s start at 9 pm ET on a Wednesday is absurd. Conferences used to be regional and sensible, but that baby went out with the bath water long ago. The Ivy League model, where schools play football on Saturday (maybe a Friday) and conference basketball games on Friday and Saturday when school is not in session, is long gone for the big boys. The horses have left the barn, and they’re not coming back, so I’ll spare you with sentimentality.
The problem remains the power and once Coach K, Boeheim and a few others step away, hopefully the days of coaches for life will end for good. If Boeheim leaves and Syracuse basketball struggles afterwards, so be it. Ditto for Duke. Ditto for North Carolina. It is okay to replace coaches and to have them move on to different jobs. Syracuse is in a tough spot. Boeheim will dig in and his toadies will either dig in with him or face the wrath. But, please, writing that he should resign one day after the punishment was handed down is nothing more than a mail-it-in column. It’s almost too easy to write. You can also save your morality play too. The writers, the talkers and the fans have created the monster and just because it goes rogue, you can’t be two faced. You can’t turn on the morality card one day, and then turn on the NCAA Tournament the next.