Monday, February 19, 2018
Colleges

Arrests give college football coaches fits

When Florida sophomore linebacker Antonio Morrison was arrested last week for the second time in 35 days, it once again put the national spotlight on Gainesville concerning discipline and player arrests.

Since Florida coach Will Muschamp was hired in December 2010, 14 players have been arrested. Five remain with the program. Janoris Jenkins, Chris Martin, Pop Saunders, Dee Finley, A.C. Leonard, Jafar Mann and Jessamen Dunker were dismissed. Charges against Morrison for interfering with a police animal — he was accused of barking at a police dog responding to a call — and resisting arrest were dropped for lack of evidence, but Muschamp suspended the him for the first two games of the season.

The Gators aren't alone with off-the-field conduct issues.

Over the past two weeks, football coaches from around the nation have gathered at their conference's annual media days, and conversations about player arrests have been as prevalent as discussions about the starting quarterbacks.

The coaches acknowledge it's a constant, frustrating struggle. Recent arrests have again raised the question: When schools have 80-plus athletes on a roster, how much responsibility falls on a head coach to keep up with them all and keep them out of trouble?

"You're 100 percent responsible," Muschamp said. "When you sign a student-athlete to come to the University of Florida, I look at his parents, guardians, and tell them it's my job to be an extension of what's already happened at home. But you're a hundred percent responsible for the young man, everything that happens."

Over the past four months, Washington has had two players arrested for DUI, wide receiver Kasen Williams and tight end Austin Seferian Jenkins. In June, Florida State receiver Greg Dent was suspended indefinitely after he was arrested and charged with felony sexual assault. Last week Ohio State coach Urban Meyer described himself as "furious" over the arrests of three players in 10 days. Two were suspended and one dismissed.

"It was very tough," Meyer said. "In the last 12 months we've had three legal issues, and it all happened in, I think, three or four days. … And it drives you insane that you have to deal with that nonsense. But that's part of the issue."

During the SEC's media days, Muschamp, Alabama's Nick Saban, LSU's Les Miles and even Vanderbilt's James Franklin faced questions about player arrests this offseason.

In June, four Vanderbilt players were dismissed from the team amid an investigation into an alleged sex crime that occurred in a campus dormitory. The Commodores are coming off their best season (9-4) since 1915. Franklin dismissed the suggestion he's recruiting more players of questionable character in an effort to win.

"I can't speak for other places or other institutions, but not at Vanderbilt," Franklin said. "It's never been that way in the past. It's not that way presently. It will never be in the future. That's not what we're all about."

Instead, Franklin said, he believes winning brings more scrutiny and the "more success you have, things are magnified."

LSU running back Jeremy Hill remains suspended from the team having pled guilty July 15 to a misdemeanor battery charge after he admitted punching a man in the head outside a bar in late April. Hill, who was already on probation, received a six-month suspended sentence and two years' probation.

Miles said he has "a strong track record of really disciplining my team," but he and other coaches say what they need is the ability to be able to coach and mentor year-around, something limited by the NCAA during the offseason.

"I think it's good to have that mentor, father figure, coach hanging around all the time," Miles said.

But even that might not be enough. In reality, Saban said, sometimes no matter how hard you try, or what you do, somebody is going to get into trouble.

In February, Saban dismissed four players who had been arrested on charges that included robbery and credit card fraud in a case in which the alleged victim was severely beaten.

"It's a tremendous responsibility to try to get young people to have the right guidance and inspire them to do the right things," Saban said. "I don't think that we're always going to bat a thousand percent when it comes to that. You could be the best professor in the world, be the best teacher, but someone still may cheat on the test. So we can be the moral compass for our young people, but we cannot always drive the ship."

Florida offensive lineman and St. Petersburg Catholic alumnus Jon Halapio agrees. "Your coach isn't going to be there every step that you take," he said. "The coach has to set team rules and set the standards. But at the end of the day, you have to be accountable for your own actions."

Muschamp and other coaches said they'll continue to set those standards, then hold players accountable for their actions. But ultimately, when something goes wrong, the failure will fall squarely on the head coach. As it should, Muschamp said.

"I can't possibly know everything that happens every single night with our football team," Muschamp said. "You also can't stick your head in the sand and pretend everything is okay, either. You need to be very aware of the kind of guys your guys are hanging out with. I encourage our assistants, our life skills coordinator to be with our guys, help them grow and mature. But you're 100 percent responsible for every student-athlete on your team."

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