Monday, December 18, 2006

Sports: The Springdale Three - A Trio of Crybabies

Sports? Yes I am writing about sports. More specifically, I am writing about football players and their parents having their respective heads so far up the Head Coach's ass that they feel they can call the shots. I have seen this behavior run rampent at the local level, which seems to be necessarily corrupt, and as all politics are local, this brand of politics is the bottom of the barrel. But I would have hoped that such behavior would not be the case at the University level. That turns out to be more than I could ask for.

In the Arkansas Times from December 17th is the following:

This is beyond ridiculous. Earlier this week we wrote about the distractions off the field related to the book “The Year of the Dog” by Kurt Voigt. That’s where we thought it would stop. We offered coach Nutt some advice about how to get out in front of this problem and, for the better of the State, the team and its fans. But we also, cautiously suggested that if coach Nutt couldn’t do what needed to be done then perhaps it was time to step aside for the good of everyone.

On Tuesday, rumors swirled around message boards about a meeting involving three prominent Springdale players, their parents and athletic director Frank Broyles. This morning, we woke up to a story on the front page of the Arkansas Democrat Gazette about this very meeting. Bob Holt confirmed the meeting and Rick Cleveland, father of Ben Cleveland, went on the record about its substance.

Parents, players, Broyles? For goodness sakes, people. What the hell is going on in Fayetteville?

Here’s the story, so far as we can surmise: Malzahn, as we know, was hired to help revitalize Arkansas’s pitiful offense, which ranked 11th and 12th in passing the two years before. As part of the recruiting process, Mitch Mustain and the rest of the Springdale Three (Cleveland and Damian Williams) were all promised that Arkansas’s offense would look like the offense orchestrated by Gus Malzahn when all were at Springdale. Cleveland and Williams withdraw their commitments to the University of Florida and pledge to come to Arkansas. Mustain commits to Arkansas, de-commits and then eventually signs with the Razorbacks. They all play, Arkansas wins, but the offense stays pretty much the same.

And therein lies the rub.

These players were upset because they were promised one thing and received another. Ok, we’ll give you that. After all, if it is true that these players came to Arkansas in reliance upon Nutt’s promises that Malzahn would have control the offense and that it would open up, then yes, they should be upset.

If, upon completion of the regular season, these players, sans momma and daddy, went to Nutt and expressed their concern we’d still think everything was fine. And if, after that conversation, these players determined that they could be better players elsewhere and left, that too would be fine. At least there would have been respect and courtesy coming from all sides. And at least these players would have acted like adults.

But none of that happened. Instead, the parents of these players, along with their sons, trotted into Broyles’ office and expressed their concern.

And what a poor, poor decision that was. As a result of this meeting, the parents have destroyed their sons’ credibility with the fans, the coaches and their teammates. They’ve made them look like whiners instead of the winners.

Hey, parents, this isn’t pee-wee football or even Springdale High School football. If your sons were unhappy then they, and not you, should have talked to the coach. If after talking to the coach, they still were unhappy, then they should have left and played elsewhere. It’s not as if they would have been the first players to leave a program.

But instead, as parents, you felt your obligation to protect them and, in turn, escalated their unhappiness into a shameful situation for the entire program.

Nice work.

What a mess. On Thursday morning it was reported than Damian Williams had chosen to leave Arkansas.Williams and his family, while attending the meeting, stayed away from the press. Our guess is that of the three, Williams is the most likely to come away from this untarnished.

Mustain and Cleveland, however, are going to stick around. That’s not surprising. After the stunt their parents pulled, neither was too attractive to other major D-1 program. What major college coach wants to deal with the nuisance that the parents of these two players have become?

Houston Nutt commented (finally) about this situation and said that he was glad Cleveland and Mustain were committed to the team and that from hereon out everyone was going to be very positive. As they all should be.

But that’s not enough because there’s the inherent problem of respect. Simply, these players had none for Houston Nutt, and for good reason. While their lack of respect doesn’t excuse their parents’ behavior, the fact remains that they were lied to. And that’s a problem. And Nutt, who won the public relations battle with his players (absurd, right?), couldn't leave well enough alone. At the press conference, Houston couldn't stop being Houston. He talked about how his seniors felt bad for him, and how he was the one that was being taken advantage of, and, ultimately, that he was the one apologized to. Nutt's the victim here. If you don't believe that, just ask him. Ronald Reagan once said, "You get much more accomplished if you don't care who gets the credit." Words to live by unless your ultimate goal is personal glory.

What impact will this event have on future recruits? After all, it was all over ESPN. Is Nutt a man of his word? Will recruits view him credibly when he comes into their homes?

A coach who cannot recruit may as well not even show up on Saturdays. Recruiting is the lifeblood of college football. Arkansas’s recruiting numbers are unimpressive at this point (39 by Rivals, 43 by Scout). How is a coach tainted by this going to get the 4 and 5-star players Arkansas desperately needs? (All of the recruits committed to Arkansas are 3-star or worse.) Is it even possible?

For us, this has exhausted our patience and our interest. There’s simply no way to enjoy the 10 wins or the SEC West crown. The program is a national joke and if we were in charge (and by in charge we mean the guy with Chancellor in front of his name) we’d wipe the entire slate clean.

A fresh start in 2007 might just be the appropriate remedy. After all, it has been before.

I would not have been so hard on Nutt, though his rhetoric is playing both ends against the middle. and he did promise three true freshmen the moon, the fool. But, the behavior of these three players and their parents is simply unacceptable.

Yes, that's the word, unacceptable.

And it is symptomatic of the professional sports problem of coaching control, hubris, and money (or the ultimate promise thereof). The only thing Nutt should have had to say is, "My Way or the Highway."

I care not what Nutt promised these three players. If he did not say somewhere what I hear every tin-horn coach locally say...that we are going to win and I am going to do whatever necessary to win..then he is as stupid and feckless as larger critics than this humble one have already said. In Nutt's defense, these players and parents should have realized this point from the get go.

Entirely too much time was spent blowing sunshine up the respective asses of Mitch Mustain, and Ben Cleveland, and Damian Williams. These misguided young men and their equally misguided parents felt they were entitled to play in spite of whether their play helped or hurt the team. Moreover, they tried to trump the head coach. What ever happened to the fact that the Head Coach is the Head Coach, even when he or she is wrong?

It is pathetic that it was not enough for these players and parents to be the part of the most successful Arkansas Razorbacks Football Team in over a decade. No they wanted to play more and wanted to play more their way when none of them proved worthy to even do that. They wanted to play more, when looking at their past performance, Arkansas would have been 5 and 8, rather than 10 and 3. That's really giving it up for the ole gipper.

This is not a meritocratic attitude, it is aristocratic, and that is funny considering that this is Northwest Arkansas and there is nothing aristocratic about Northwest Arkansas regardless of what dry goods store or chicken coop may be found there. Farewell, Damian Williams, I hope you have equal opportunity elsewhere. As for Mustain, Cleveland, think carefully before you (or your parent's) speak.

© Copyright, C. Michael Bailey, 2006