Thursday, February 03, 2005

"I'm just praying for a misdemeanor" | by Mike

A common argument among certain media halfwits (I'm looking in your direction, Wilbon, Dodd, and Caple) in the wake of the Willingham firing amounted largely to this:

Tyrone Willingham may not be able to win football games, but Notre Dame is obligated to retain him because he recruits high-quality individuals and he graduates them.

The flaw in this argument is obvious to all Notre Dame fans - at Notre Dame, on- and off-field success are not viewed as mutually exclusive. The university's goal is to deliver both.

However, setting this misconception aside for the moment, I still remain puzzled by another of the argument's premises. Namely, Willingham's reputation as the man responsible for those high graduation rates and high character student-athletes. Willingham developed this reputation while serving as the head coach of Stanford and Notre Dame, two of America's most prestigious private universities. Graduation and proper conduct off the field have always been non-negotiable at these schools. In other words, Willingham simply maintained the status quo at Notre Dame (well, off the field, anyway) and Stanford.

The aforementioned media twits were quick to claim that Notre Dame had sold its soul for football glory, while Washington had taken a righteous stand for integrity. Unfortunately for them, the early returns cannot support such an assertion.

Despite another rather time-consuming responsibility (perhaps you've heard of the Super Bowl?), a recent article reveals Charlie Weis has already addressed classroom performance with some of his Notre Dame players.

"Last Friday, I had six kids in my office who I hammered for missing class," said Weis, 48. "You can spread the word: Notre Dame's academic adviser just gained a new best friend."
And what has Willingham been up to? At this point, recall his reputation:
In College Football, Notre Dame fired Head Coach Ty Willingham who wasn't winning enough, but who was graduating all of his players (without any special favors from school professors) and keeping them out of the local crime blotter--and that's a full time job these days
Well, Tyrone Willingham, in his first month at a school other than an elite private university that demands high graduation rates and well-behaved players, has announced the signing of a recruit exiled from Nevada for a vicious assault.

As Ted Miller, of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer writes:
The character claim, however, is surprisingly debatable, considering Willingham was supposed to eliminate the too frequent embarrassing headlines about Huskies legal scrapes.

Chris Handy, a cornerback from Arcadia, Calif., who arrives via Pasadena Community College, is the only member of the class who already has competed in Husky Stadium. Playing for Nevada in 2003, he returned an interception 37 yards for a touchdown in the Wolf Pack's 28-17 humiliation of the Huskies.

He also was booted from Nevada because of his involvement in an off-campus assault in July 2003.

According to police reports, Handy and a buddy severely beat up a young man, kicking him in his face and head after he fell to the ground. The victim apparently had been flirting with the other assailant's 16-year-old girlfriend.

There is no justification for two guys kicking an already whipped guy while he languishes on the ground.
When reporters questioned Willingham over the decision to recruit such a player, Willingham offered a positively Bowden-esque rationalization.
"We did our homework and believe the young man is a fine, upstanding young man," Willingham said.

Willingham then noted that even he makes mistakes, confessing that he once got a parking ticket, before asserting, "I look at Chris' situation the same way."
Wow. I could re-read that quote all day and never see the similarity between the two situations.

Let me make clear, however, that my intent is not to indict Willingham (it is, after all, up to the University of Washington to decide what degree of character risk they are willing to tolerate in their student-athletes), but rather to debunk the notion - widespread among the media - that it was Willingham, and not the universities, that set such high standards at Notre Dame and Stanford. As Weis's statement suggests, Notre Dame's academic integrity did not walk out the door with Tyrone Willingham.