Thursday, November 14, 2002

Miami suspends two assistant coaches

RedHawks fumble image at Marshall

By John Fay
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Miami football coach Terry Hoeppner speaks at a press conference about his two suspended assistants.
(AP Photo/Greg Perry)
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OXFORD - Miami University football coach Terry Hoeppner wanted to explain Wednesday how what should have been his team's finest hour turned so bad so quickly.

"At some point, we'll be able to give our side of the story," he said. "But that's neither appropriate nor possible with the legal proceedings. I would just ask that you withhold judgment until all the facts are in and this case has been tried in court and not the media."

Here are the known facts:

• Moments after Miami's heartbreaking 36-34 loss to Marshall in Huntington, W.Va., defensive coordinator Jon Wauford allegedly struck a Marshall fan. The fan fell to the turf and was taken off on a stretcher. He was treated and released at a hospital.

• The visiting coaches' box was damaged - a desk was broken and there were two large holes in the wall.

As a result of these incidents, Mr. Wauford and linebacker coach Taver Johnson, who accepted responsibility for the damage, were suspended with pay, pending an internal investigation. Miami also agreed to pay Marshall for the damage to the coaches' box.

Defensive coordinator Jon Wauford is led away in handcuffs from Marshall University Stadium by West Virginia State Police troopers Tuesday night.
(AP Photo/Greg Perry)
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Mr. Hoeppner is confident the investigation will lessen the blow to Miami's image, but it was an immediate public relations fiasco for a school that prides itself on academics and a clean athletic program.

The game was nationally televised on ESPN, a first for Miami. The sports network led its signature SportsCenter newscast with the story all day Wednesday. The video of Mr. Wauford being led away in handcuffs was shown repeatedly. The story was a major topic on sports talk radio locally and nationally.

Miami President James Garland felt the impact.

"I don't want to prejudge our investigation," he said in a phone interview with the Associated Press. "But I have to tell you, as president, to see one of my coaches led away in handcuffs was one of the most difficult things since I've been here."

Katie Gilliam, a 19-year-old sophomore, agreed.

"I was pretty shocked," she said. "It makes us look like sore losers. It's kind of embarrassing."

Mr. Hoeppner said Mr. Wauford was anxious to tell his side of the story, but Mr. Wauford and Mr. Johnson will not speak to the media while the investigation is going on.

While Mr. Hoeppner would not discuss the facts of what happened, he did say this was not a normal game as far as security.

At Mr. Hoeppner's request, two Miami police officers accompanied Miami to Huntington, essentially to protect Mr. Hoeppner because of pregame threats from fans.

"We've never done that before," Mr. Hoeppner said. "It's scary. I had more police protection around than I've ever had. That shouldn't be necessary."

After Marshall's last-second victory, fans charged on the field, as has become custom in college football. Mr. Wauford was leaving the field when Robert Flaugher was struck and hit his head on the field.

Mr. Wauford was released on $5,000 bond. He faces a Dec. 13 court hearing on a battery charge.

Mr. Flaugher wouldn't say if he'd take legal action.

"I want to clear the cobwebs from my head," he told the Huntington Herald-Dispatch.

Marshall athletic director Bob Marcum was satisfied with Miami's response to the incident, but he didn't think his school was at fault for allowing the fans on the field.

"Fans come on the field all over the country," he said. "But they don't get decked."

ESPN's Mike Gottfried, a former UC coach and an analyst on the broadcast, said he spoke to the Miami coaches after the game. Mr. Gottfried said Mr. Wauford told him he was trying to protect his players.

"We used to worry about fans tearing down the goalposts," acting Miami athletic director Steve Snyder said. "Now we have to worry about protecting players."

Mr. Hoeppner and Mr. Snyder met with Mr. Wauford and Mr. Johnson after the team returned to Oxford about 5:30 a.m. Wednesday.

The decision was quickly made to suspend the two coaches immediately.

Mr. Wauford "was OK with it," Mr. Snyder said, "as OK as you can be. I said to him, `Jon, you're a good man. Sometimes bad things happen to good people.'"

Mr. Wauford, a 1995 Miami graduate, has been defensive coordinator for three years. He was a three-time all-Mid-American Conference selection at defensive end.

Mr. Johnson has also been a Miami assistant for three years. He is a graduate of now-defunct CAPE High in Cincinnati and Wittenberg University.

Mr. Hoeppner, who had not slept since the night before the game, said the response he's been getting is overwhelmingly positive.

"I received my first phone call at 7:45 this morning," he said. "I've been overwhelmed with the positive responses I've gotten from those who understand college football and the emotion of the game. I've heard from people across the country."

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