Football Coaches and Character

I don’t know if Eric Mangini — now the former on-the-field head sled of the Cleveland Browns — is a good football coach. If you go by wins and losses, then the answer in Cleveland points to no. Yet Mangini strikes me as a decent guy, someone who grew and matured in the job, treated his players with respect, and didn’t do anything at least this season to embarrass himself or the organization.

Even as he was being pushed out the door yesterday, Mangini was described by Mike Holgrem as “a hard-working, bright, caring guy.”

Wonder if Mangini could surface as a college coach?

Pro football — just like all other pro sports — is essentially a big business. I know there are complex emotional and community ties to pro teams –hey, even I watch the Steelers play this time of year clutching the original Terrible Towel in my cold, nearly dead hand as they begin their annual drive to the Super Bowl. But at some level, isn’t rooting for one pro team against another akin to hoping that Ford gains market share on General Motors?

So in the pros, head coaches are essentially CEOs, with wins and losses as their balance sheet. But in college football, coaches are many times the highly visible face of the university and its students — and that brings with it some obligations of trust, responsibility, integrity and character.

And yeah, the big dogs in college football — Alabama, Texas, Ohio State, Michigan, Florida and so on — want to win, and the dollars involved are huge. But I’ll bet most university presidents and athletic directors go to bed at night and have a wet dream that their team is advancing in the rankings, filling stadiums, gaining alumni and student support — but with someone like Joe Paterno pacing up and down the sidelines.

In college football, character matters.

Here’s an example: Pitt.

And I’ll take the easy route here and let Pete Thamel do the heavy lifting and writing, from his NYT article “Pitt Fires Its New Coach.”

The University of Pittsburgh fired Coach Mike Haywood on Saturday in the wake of his arrest on a charge of domestic battery in Indiana against the mother of his child. Pittsburgh hired Haywood, who was the coach at Miami (Ohio), on Dec. 16 to replace Dave Wannstedt.

Pittsburgh Chancellor Mark Nordenberg said in a statement that the decision “reflects a strong belief that moving forward with Mr. Haywood as our head coach is not possible under the existing circumstances.” The university said that Haywood had been informed of the decision Saturday afternoon.

The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reported that Haywood was released from St. Joseph County Jail on Saturday afternoon after posting bond. He told the newspaper in a telephone interview: “It isn’t fair. The truth will eventually come out.”

The firing and its aftermath are likely to place significant pressure on Athletic Director Steve Pederson, who hired Haywood and praised him at the time by saying, “Most importantly, Michael is a man of character and integrity.”

A man of character and integrity. That might be. And firing Heywood at this point may prove to be terribly unfair. But Pitt, like other colleges and universities, can’t take the risk these days of waiting to find out.

Hey, maybe the Pitt AD should call Eric Mangini.

 

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