Saturday, February 8, 2003

One and Done: Wauford ponders life's twists, turns


MU coordinator picks up pieces after losing job

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OXFORD - He'll be leaving soon. One false move is all you get, so Jon Wauford will pack up his career, his wife, his daughter and their four cats and move from the town where he wanted to spend his life and the school where he aspired to be the head football coach.

It was an accident. That's what Wauford said Nov. 12 when he refused to sign a police statement saying he struck Robert Flaugher after Miami lost at Marshall. It's what he says now. Flaugher, a 36-year-old lawyer from Pickerington and a 1989 Marshall graduate, ran onto the field, celebrating Marshall's last-second win. Wauford saw him coming. Wauford said he crouched slightly and raised his forearm.

"As he runs into me, he hits me on the shoulder and forearm with his chest," Wauford said this week. "He didn't see me. He never reacted. I did. I was ready for a collision and he wasn't. I didn't punch anybody, I didn't push anybody. I didn't lose control."

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Jon Wauford has resigned from Miami under pressure from his position as the assistant coach for Miami University after being accused of hitting a Marshall fan at the RedHawks loss to Marshall. His court case is unresolved.
(Steven M. Herppich photo)
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That's Wauford's version. West Virginia police claim Wauford punched Flaugher. There is a court case, West Virginia v. Jon Wauford, set for Feb. 26. The charge is misdemeanor battery, punishable by up to one year in jail.

"I'm guilty of nothing but doing my job, trying to get my players off the field," Wauford said.

Believe what you want. Miami accepted Wauford's resignation in late January. It wasn't Wauford's idea. MU president James Garland said: "We support athletics because of the message it sends about character. But these events suggest we've fallen short of our goal."

Miami spokesman Richard Little said Friday the school would have no further comment. "Coach Wauford chose to resign," Little said.

The game was on national TV, a first for Miami. The nation saw Wauford handcuffed and led off the field. The black eye to Miami's image apparently demanded some punishment. Whether the punishment fit the crime is open to debate.

One false move and a life is undone. No second chance. No waiting for a court's verdict. Jon Wauford, Miami '91, four years a starting defensive end, three times all-conference, a member of Miami's All Century Team, the youngest defensive coordinator in Division I-A when he was named three years ago, will sell his house in the woods a few miles from campus and move away.

Wauford met his wife at Miami. They wanted to get married in Kumler Chapel on campus but couldn't secure a date. Growing up in Findlay, he went five summers to Miami's hockey camp. He has a tattoo on his left leg: A skull beneath a football helmet, bearing the number 50, Wauford's number with the RedHawks.

"To say I loved Miami is not a stretch," Wauford said. "I wanted to be the head coach there."

Where do we draw the line? Wauford might have struck Flaugher; the two simply might have collided. That's in question. What isn't is this: If Flaugher weren't on the field, we wouldn't have this discussion.

When do we order that fans not be allowed on the field? Should coaches and players be held to higher standards of conduct than the people watching their games? If we demand the participants be civil, shouldn't we expect the same from fans?

If someone charged you in your workplace, how might you react?

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Wauford is led away in handcuffs from Marshall's field in Huntington, W.Va., by West Virginia State Police troopers on Nov. 12, 2002.
(AP file photo)
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"I made the decision that this person was attacking me," Wauford said. "He wasn't. But I should not have to make that decision. I feel terrible that somebody got hurt. He doesn't deserve this. He's laying on the ground unconscious because I decided that he was taking a run at me. But his story that he had no idea what happened is exactly correct."

Neither Flaugher nor his lawyer, Brett Pearson, returned numerous phone calls Friday. After the incident Flaugher said, "The last thing I remember is running with my brother, then waking up in an ambulance." Flaugher's brother, Todd, said: "I saw the coach clobber my brother with a forearm. He never saw it coming."

Wauford wasn't angry walking off the field. "I was dejected and demoralized," he said. "I was everything a Marshall fan wanted me to be. That game cost us everything. Conference championship, bowl game, everything. If (Flaugher) hadn't crossed my path, I'd have slinked into the locker room."

He has spoken once to Flaugher since. "Brief and cordial," Wauford described it. Wauford's lawyers worked on a deal by which Wauford and Flaugher would meet and shake hands. ESPN would have filmed the reconciliation. Flaugher was interested. His attorney advised him against it.

Assuming Flaugher doesn't ask that the case be dropped, the court will make a final decision. It'll be too late for Wauford, who already has made his.

His house will go on the market soon. Wauford wants to coach again, but there is little demand for a coach accused of slugging a fan. If he can't coach right away, Wauford will use his master's degree in special education and wait for the phone to ring.

"I don't want people's sympathy. I don't need it. I don't deserve it," Wauford said. "But here's one thing: I've always been a good sport. I defy anyone to say I haven't been. If you were on the other team, I'd hit you. But I always shook your hand when the game was over."

Was Wauford a good coach and a good man sacrificed on the altar of Miami's public image? Was he a victim of circumstance in a situation that demanded better fan behavior? Or did he intentionally level a fan in anger after a heartbreaking loss?

The court will decide. By then, Wauford will be gone.

"I've made my peace with everything," he said.

The last few months, Wauford has carried a medal in his pocket. The Distinguished Service Cross was his grandfather's, earned in World War II. Army 1st Lt. Paul S. Kinsey took two German bullets to keep open a road for his platoon. One of the wounds paralyzed one of Kinsey's hands.

"Perspective," Wauford said. "What happened to me was a tragedy. But it's nothing compared to what others have gone through. My life will not be judged on this incident."

It will be changed, though. Permanently. He'll be leaving soon. He has no choice.

E-mail pdaugherty@enquirer.com




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