Sunday, May 4, 2003

Some college coaches can't be trusted

The (Westchester, N.Y.) Journal News

Mothers, don't let your sons grow up to be Division I athletes. Don't send them off to play for the lying, cheating hearts who profess to be professors in the major-college science of turning boys into men.

Save up your pennies; the scholarship isn't worth the pain. Coaches, you see, often major in self-gratification and minor in youth corruption services. If they must enter your living room, be sure to cover your mouth with a white mask. These low representatives of higher education really should come with a Surgeon General's warning attached.

In this racket, you can't even trust a 57-year-old grandfather who looks about as wild and crazy as Dick Cheney. So Alabama did what it had to do Saturday, firing a football coach who'd been on the job 15 minutes before he hired a topless dancer named Destiny and invited an unforgiving guest named fate.

Of course the man had to go, just like Larry (the Loser) Eustachy has to go, too. Iowa State recently accepted the resignation of Eustachy's assistant, Randy Brown, who faces federal pornography charges after allegedly using the Internet to solicit 15-year-old girls for sex. The school isn't about to spare Brown's boss after he partied with frat girls less than half his age.

Ah, but three isn't a crowd at Iowa State, where another Eustachy aide, Steve Barnes, has been suspended for allegedly threatening school officials in a phone call he made to a player's parents. There's apparently no end to the embarrassment in Ames, where Eustachy was found to have illegally paid players to make foul shots long before he blamed all his troubles on the bottle, Bob Packwood style.

But on the college wire, the immoral compass of big-time sport points to different datelines every other hour. Five months after Dennis Franchione lied to his Alabama players and ran a fast-break to Texas A&M without saying goodbye, and 15 months after the Crimson Tide were left crimson-faced by stiff NCAA sanctions and a brush with the death penalty, Tuscaloosa discovered that the Price of rehabbing its image was far too steep.

If you thought Mike Price was selfish when he insisted on coaching Washington State in the Rose Bowl after accepting the Alabama job, you were surely convinced when he ended up inside a Florida strip club and then inside a hotel room with a woman who wasn't his wife, a woman who charged $1,000 in room-service goodies to his bill.

A report also said Alabama was investigating whether Price had purchased alcohol for students, and the university president, Robert Witt, revealed that his new coach had been warned about his behavior before his fateful Florida trip.

"But most of the players thought he deserved a second chance," Ramzee Robinson, Alabama cornerback, said by phone. "Nobody's perfect. Coach could've redeemed himself. After he was fired, he met with the team for five minutes and just told us, 'I made a mistake, and I was hoping they'd let me prove I could become a better man because of it.' Then he broke down and started crying.

"At least he was honest with us; Coach Franchione wouldn't even look us in the eye. But after going through this twice, you tell me: What are we supposed to do?"

How about this: Don't ever again believe in a coach, particularly one who hires his sons as aides. Jerry Tarkanian had Danny, Jim Harrick Sr. had Jim Jr., and Mike Price had Aaron and Eric. Not that anyone should forget scandal's ultimate father-son tag team, Robert and Kort Wickenheiser of St. Bonaventure, the president and assistant coach who put a blow torch to their university's reputation by admitting a kid with a welding certificate.

Coaches can't stop littering their campuses and devaluing their schools' degrees. Just look around: Steve Alford declares innocent an Iowa player named Pierre Pierce, who ultimately pleads guilty to assaulting a woman. Quin Snyder keeps playing Ricky Clemons, who ultimately pleads guilty to assaulting a woman who alleged he choked her and bloodied her nose because she refused his request to watch "Roots."

Joe Paterno actually plays defensive back Anwar Phillips in the Capital One Bowl after Phillips is expelled from Penn State over an encounter with a female student that led to sexual assault charges. A far more ordinary Joe - Joe Mondragon of Western New Mexico - actually believes he's motivating African-American basketball players when he uses the most vile word in the English language to describe them on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

Coaches famous and obscure are forever dishonoring their responsibilities as teachers, guardians and role models. It's not just Bobby Knight being Bobby Knight, or George O'Leary living a lie. Sometimes it's a high school coach in Memphis selling a prospect named Albert Means to the University of Alabama for a six-figure sum.

The Tide has had a rough 10 years or so. Remember Wimp Sanderson, forced out after allegedly punching the face belonging to his secretary and longtime mistress? Mike DuBose had his own sexual discrimination case - one costing the university $350,000 - and enough NCAA violations on his watch to convince his successor, Franchione, that he shouldn't pay for the sins of others.

His heartless escape opened the door for this unseemly Mike Price case. The same school that has a star lineman refuse Playboy's invitation to attend its preseason all-American bash at an Arizona resort - "By attending I don't think I would be setting a good example," Wesley Britt said - now has a shamed ex-coach who tried to walk a mile in Hugh Hefner's slippers.

"I think President Witt is making a mistake," Price said after failing to save his job in an open hearing with university trustees and in a private meeting with Witt. "He's making an error in judgment."

An error in judgment? Look who's talking.

"I apologize to my wife, the team and my coaches," Price said. "I will learn from this."

He's already learned the hard way. Price was fired before he even signed his seven-year, $10-million contract, leaving Mal Moore, Alabama AD, to give it the ol' Knute Rockne try with a devastated and depressed team.

"He told us to stay eligible," Robinson reported. "He told us we shouldn't do anything that would hurt our families or embarrass ourselves."

This pep talk should've been given to the coaches, the ones who always lead the NCAA in embarrassment and hurt.

Locals win Flying Pig
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