Archive for Saturday, September 8, 2001

It’s past time for coaches to get tough

September 8, 2001


OK, how long before more college coaches in all sports adopt a "Be good or be gone!" attitude about athletes, and make it stick? Such is overdue all over the map.

First time I heard that, Alabama football legend Bear Bryant got the credit. The Bear was a lot more interested in performance than sheer morality, as witness his coddling of Kenny Stabler and Joe Namath who just happened to be very fine players. But Bryant also demanded that his jocks keep their noses clean enough to stay in the ranks. His scandals were reasonably minimal. When you're winning a lot, it's easier to sweep indiscretions under the rug.

Further, young men were more disciplined and manageable then, and didn't stray as often or as far.

Kansas clearly is not yet winning enough, a la Bear's 'Bama, to make people choke down off-field silliness without challenge.

Got a number of calls and e-mails the past week following the most recent embarrassments for the Kansas athletics department. Time was when fans would rush to the defense of jocks in various kinds of trouble, paying no attention to the fact they are supposed to be responsible for their own behavior. Many needed to be taken to the woodshed but were sheltered instead.

Not so this go-around. There was only one complaint about my last column, a rip about the verbal treatment of "two wonderful kids."

All the rest clamored for a hard-nose coaching tone that refuses to put up with the kind of nonsense for which quarterback Mario Kinsey and Reggie Duncan have accrued notoriety. You'd be amazed at the number of people who thought coach Terry Allen should "run 'em off." One guy said he's still disappointed basketball coach Roy Williams tolerated controversial transfer Lester Earl so long. He added that Roy was far sharper in noting early that Kinsey would be better off concentrating on academics rather than basketball.

In the absence of major football victories, KU sports fans too frequently in recent times have been subjected to charges of physical assault, indecent exposure, theft, drug suspicion and questionable behavior at a drive-in (though at least the Chalupa King had paid for the food he went after).

The general reaction, mainly one of disgust, really surprised me considering how quickly people once defended athletes in knee-jerk fashion. A number of respondents said they are tired of being embarrased as KU fans by a program that should be better. Another longtime, and generous, KU backer said that he, his family and every other KU rooter deserve better.

How quickly this might change is anyone's guess, but there's work to be done in the pineapple fields of deportment and decorum. Possibly it's going to take some run-offs to get across to present and future people that this is a major university and not Boy's Town where Mickey Rooney can always be salvaged by Father Flanigan. And emerge as a gold-plated role model.

It's into this edgy climate that athletics director Al Bohl has stepped. If I've heard from some of the displeased, you can be sure he has, along with Terry Allen and all the rest. There's a lot of fence-mending needed not only in the area of competition but in the venue of citizenship. If KU were winning as big as is Kansas State, maybe the focus would be on that rather than miscreancy.

But for now, if the "alumni" are not yet mutinous, they're sure-in-hell sullen.

Bohl, of course, obviously left the gridiron cupboard well-stocked at Fresno State, where coach Pat Hill and a sensational quarterback named David Carr got off to a tremendous start with upsets of Colorado and Oregon State. Hopes are high, of course, that Al can get things at Kansas in similar shape.

Naturally, after KU earned no better than a C grade with its sputtering victory over Southwest Missouri, there was muttering that Bohl eventually might wind up firing Terry Allen and bringing Hill east.

First off, there are 10 KU games left. While the prospects are grim, no decision will be made right away. As for Hill, he has a Fresno background, knows the territory and has five million people in a productive collegiate radius. He doubtless finds recruiting in that talent-rich region a lot easier than it would be here.

Further, if the notorious Jerry Tarkanian can hold sway as basketball coach, you might tend to question the stringency of academic demands for Bulldog jocks. Demands that might be a lot tougher at Kansas. Then again, look at the recruiting Bill Snyder has been able to do at Kansas State. It can be done.

Right now, however, there seems to be more focus on the errant behavior of some KU athletes than on how good the team might be, how the coaching situation will play out and whether the tailgate drinking policy will lend itself to bigger crowds.

All this is likely to blow over if there aren't any more warts discovered on the Jayhawk beak. Particularly if football produces some pleasant surprises and Roy Williams's basketeers produce another banner season. Which I think they will.

Meanwhile, it might behoove the athletics department coaches to adopt a somewhat-reversed approach to the Bear Bryant demand. That means the jocks and halter-tops need to be decent as people as well as performers or else they're outta here.

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