When a Coach Acts Badly, What Should A College/University Do?: Karen Gross (Originally posted August 26,, 2015)
I am have been focused for some time on the importance of role modeling for students across the educational pipeline. Hard to disagree with the notion that young people (across K --16) look up to athletes and coaches on every sports level -- for better or worse. When professional athletes act badly, it does impact kids and adults alike. And, for me, it raises the troubling divide between what athletes (or former athletes) do and what they say. Don't get me started on Cris Carter. And, then there is the further question of cover-up. Are those who make mistakes remorseful or do they seek to cover up or distort the wrongdoing?
Because of various roles I have held and appointments I have accepted in higher education, I have had my share of dealing with rogue coaches and less than top-notch coach/AD behavior. I know how hard these situations are, and they have wide reaching effects -- on other coaches, on student-athletes, on the coach and his/her family/career (current and future). These are situations that always left me asking the same set of related questions: Where was X person's judgment? Did it disappear? Seriously, it sometimes seems as if all rational thought and filtering has left the person. What were they thinking (or perhaps they were not thinking at all)?
USC football coach, Sarkisian, is the latest example. He appears to have combined drugs and alcohol and the consequently behavior at a booster event was not good. Apart from slurring words and using inappropriate words, he was certainly a sub-optimal role model for his athletes, for his fellow coaches, for his institution. Let's just say that if you want institutional publicity, this is not the way to get it. Win it on the field; don't lose it in the press.
How USC will handle this in the long and short term is unclear. How the coach will handle it in the long and short term is not a finished story: he has agreed to get help (although he seemed to think he did not need rehab); he asked his players to punish him as he would have punished them and he then completed the student-directed sweat inducing activities; he agreed to remove alcohol from his coaches' area where there was liquor to celebrate wins. Seriously?
More facts need to be known about the whole incident. What drugs were used? How much alcohol was consumed? Is there a pattern here (whether known or never previously identified)? Are there personal or medical issues occurring with the coach unbeknownst to the AD or the university President? I know that often the initial story is not the whole story. Experience has taught me that -- the hard way.
So, it seems to me that USC's leadership needs to learn the facts -- and not make a snap judgment. The behavior of the head football coach was unusual enough to merit an inquiry -- a broader one than just about what happened that evening. As with many things, a rush to judgment is not right. But, neither is ignoring behavior that puts many folks -- including students young and old -- in a bad place with respect to understanding judgment, truth and trust.