Coach Russell’s Summer Ruminations

College football hasn’t had the best run of PR over the course of this past spring and early summer –  and deservedly so. We’ve seen some truly horrific allegations come to light, and learned of some truly terrible decisions which were made within our profession.

As a coach, I’m willing to give the benefit of the doubt to other coaches, at least in terms of intent. I’ve got to believe, for my own sanity and belief in the greater mission of coaches, that the men in the center of these controversies were not out to intentionally ignore or discredit any claims of indiscretions against their athletes. That said, it has become apparent that some coaches did just that.

A major part of coaching, particularly at the college level where students live on campus, is receiving training so that you can respond appropriately to situations as they arise. When coaches get themselves into trouble is when they try to handle things “in house”. The days of the local police turning players over to the coach are over – and that’s a good thing. Your institution has procedures in place for good reason. Everyone needs their rights protected from accuser, to accused, to you. Attend training, pay attention, and follow the procedures. We live in a society where perception is reality. Do not allow yourself to be put in a situation where your intent can be perceived in any negative way. The reputations we’ve all built can be torn down in a second.

Looking deeper into the motivations behind these mistakes, I’ve got to believe that pressure played a big role. In my view, coaches have three roles. They have to mentor their athletes, they must help them achieve academically, and they also have to win. Winning, for better or worse, is part of the job. While we can never allow winning to overshadow the other two parts of the job, we also can’t ignore that it’s a critical component.

The pressure to win is higher now than ever. Coaches are being paid astronomical salaries, and the people writing those checks want results. The same people want their coaches to do the right thing – as they should. In my opinion, coaches find themselves at a moral crossroads when they believe doing the right thing could affect their ability to win. Ideally, this is an easy choice; you do the right thing and ride out the storm. Unfortunately, many coaches are not confident that they’ll be supported in this action. They are afraid to stake their livelihood on doing the right thing.

In no way is this meant as a defense of coaches in blanket terms. Ultimately, each coach must live with the decisions he or she makes and how others are affected. But I think it’s important to recognize that administrators are not innocent in this, and their actions can contribute to uncertainty.

If  you’re a coach, make sure you are on the same page with the administration. If you suspend or eliminate a player, and it affects the results on the field, are they going to support your decision?

If you’re an administrator, make sure your coaches know you will support them. Empower them to make the right decision without worrying about losing their jobs. A losing season is far better than the alternative, as we’ve seen all over sports television this summer.

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