Maybe “The U” Needs To Get Away From Doing John Thompson’s Work

By Gregory Moore
Updated: October 17, 2006

SAN ANTONIO – At one time it was rather fashionable for college coaches to go into the inner city and give young men a chance at a better life. One of the best coaches at taking what many would call bad seeds and turning them into pretty good ball players and even better citizens in life was John Thompson. When Georgetown started making a higher education available to the very core of individuals who thought it was out of reach, Thompson was often called “St. John” by the many families who saw an avenue that was once a dead end when it came to an education for a child who may have been lost.

In many regards, the University of Miami and many of its former head coaches tried to do the same thing. Jimmy Johnson, Dennis Erickson, Butch Davis and Larry Coker all recruited from within Miami’s inner city and for the most part many of these young men who were from impoverished backgrounds and troubled pasts became very good citizens and went on to have professional careers in football and even continuing to make money after their playing days were over. But yet with the many problems that current head coach Coker is having since his tenure, and with the culmination of a brawl that took place on Saturday at the Orange Bowl, maybe the premise of going after the inner city kids is fast becoming a very bad idea.

The Hurricane nation has a reputation that they should not be proud of right now. Whenever something negative happens, the first instance is, “Aw hell. What did a Hurricane player do this time”? Maybe that’s a very bad misconception for a school that doesn’t have that many bad apples but the fact of the matter is that “The U” is known for having players of questionable character represent them and this current roster is chocked full of them. The evidence is on tape and in print from this Saturday’s game and Coker has some serious decisions to make before even he is let go at the end of the season. Dr. Donna Shalayla, Coach Coker and the board of directors have some serious discussions ahead of them and the biggest issue to discuss is one about the character issue in relationship to the student athlete.

The character issue is important because if you are going to bring in young men who have troubled or questionable backgrounds, you had better have a plan on how to make sure that character is paramount as a member of the school’s premiere team. Over the past few days, I have been in deep debates with various people who think that race has more to do with how the punishments were handed down. Many felt that the argument of holding parents accountable for how they raise their kids was really immaterial in the debate. But yet when we talk about an incident like what happened in Miami, invariably such suppositions will be coming forth. And in my own debates with people, those thoughts not only came out of my mouth, but they were the premise of a lot of hypothetical scenarios, formative thoughts and even clinical juxtapose statements that braved to be challenged. At the crux of every one of my points was the importance of good character in the wake of undesirable challenges in a position like this abhorrent situation.

What made Thompson so good at his job was the fact that he understood what these young men were going through. Butch Davis was probably the best Miami coach to understand that in order for this football team to win, it had to have character and also be in control of its own internal demons of wanting to vent, rage and destroy every opponent the team faced. Davis was able to control the aggression of his young lions and channel that rage into a winning program. He walked the tight rope but he also made sure that the team understood how important character was as a building block to a championship team. Now did this work all of the time? Probably not but yet it must have worked enough because his name is now being mentioned as Coker’s replacement.

No wants to see a great football team be dismantled because of a few bad apples. The football tradition at the “U” is one of the reasons why college football is great for the fans. But by the same token, the reputation that the “U” now has, whether deserving or not, is also the very reason why college football gets indicted as a bad product when a fight like this happens. Well I can’t indict all of college football just because two schools decided to act like Cro-Magnon refugees of the ice age. And I don’t want to see many inner city kids from Miami not be afforded the opportunity get a college education or at least a bridge to a better life than what they have. But something has got to change and it has to start with doing a better background check of future recruits for the Hurricane nation.

Coker is going to lose his job that’s a given. Hopefully he realizes the mistakes he has made in not being more of a disciplinarian. Whoever the next head coach is going to be, hopefully he will want players from the inner city who understand what the privilege of playing in the Orange Bowl is all about and not that it is a sports god given right of passage. Basically somebody needs to call up Big John and ask him how’d he did it at Georgetown and then perfect a system for Miami. Right now the sharks want this program to suffer but just because a few bad apples from the inner city have caused trouble and stirred up dissention in the ranks, this whole program shouldn’t be punished.

What this team needs is a coach who can reach all of them and he’s out there somewhere. Somewhere there is a ‘John Thompson’ of college football and the “U” is just waiting on the anointed time for him to arrive.