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Controling college players

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Controling college players

MAINTAINING CONTROL
? A recent wave of off-field problems has put discipline in college football under scrutiny. ?
By MARCUS NELSON

Palm Beach Post Staff Writer

Sunday, August 07, 2005

It's the phone call every college football coach dreads.

An athlete is in trouble and the voice on the other end might be a policeman, athletic department official or the player himself. One of the next steps is for the coach to become judge, jury and punisher.

FSU coach Bobby Bowden prefers to avoid suspending players if possible. 'I can punish them more in other ways than a suspension,' he said.

Tennessee coach Phil Fulmer, whose program has been rocked by incidents, is desperate for solutions.

"It's not just a football issue or a college football thing, it's a societal issue and cultural issue that we better darn sure face," Fulmer said. "We'll take any help from anybody we can get. You would hope that young men who have the opportunities they have, to be on the stage they're on, would make better choices.

"Everyone hates when these things happen."

In the past 18 months, the Volunteers have had 20 off-field incidents ranging from failed drug tests to assault charges. But as training camps open across the nation, Tennessee isn't the only school coming off a tumultuous off-season.

There have been a combined 16 incidents at South Carolina and Georgia, and two Florida State players were arrested during the off-season.

"People have said to me, 'Boy, I bet this summer had been murder. How could you stand this summer?' But it happens all the time," FSU coach Bobby Bowden said. "If you had six kids, like me, you've had it in your own family. This is a sign of the times."

Urban Meyer, who took over as Florida's coach in January, has had a quiet off-season. He attributes that success to an aggressive approach of keeping in contact with his players.

"On Friday nights, as a coach, you go to sleep with one eye open," Meyer said. "Our coaches are responsible ? that means getting off your rear end and getting out of the office, walking over to the door and seeing the players. That's whether they come over to your house once in a while or they come up once in a while to your office.

"The best assistant coaches I have been around have always been around players."

At Miami, Butch Davis was credited with cleaning up a program notorious for unlawful behavior. But Davis' successor, Larry Coker, said the bad-boy image still hangs over the Hurricanes.

"We are still fighting that old perception, and it makes you do things the right way,'' Coker said. "That plays a role into what my decision would be and that's the way it would be all the way up the university. We're very image-conscious."

How coaches react to trouble is a topic that's scrutinized every time a player faces disciplinary measures. Bowden has been criticized for perceived leniency, since he sometimes opts for physical punishment ? early morning drills ? instead of suspensions.

"I've never liked suspending somebody," Bowden said. "I have suspended guys before and if they make it too bad, I have suspended them for one or two games. I don't like to if I can help. I can punish them more in other ways than a suspension."

Depending on the incident, Florida Atlantic coach Howard Schnellenberger also prefers to avoid suspensions.

"Suspension should be the last resort," said Schnellenberger, whose "Breakfast Clubs" at FAU require players to report before dawn to run until an assistant coach decides they've had enough. "It hurts the player, but it also hurts the people around him that are working hard and doing the right things. You have to do that sometimes if the offense warrants, but it would be wonderful if you could find something that doesn't hurt the other 100 players on the team."

Coker admits that the pressure to win might sometimes play into a coach's decision about punishment.

"You can think you did the right thing and these two guys or five guys aren't going to play," he said. "Then you lose the game. That you suspended (players) and that you're a stand-up guy is forgotten pretty quickly.

"It is a bottom-line business. Let's face it. Football coaches at this level have to win football games. It's something you have to take into account."

But at most schools, serious crimes are handled by university officials beyond the athletic department.

At FSU, the athletic department meets with each team to discuss penalties for criminal charges. FSU's "Student-Athlete Handbook" calls for a misdemeanor arrest to be handled by the athletic director and respective coach. But a felony arrest warrants an immediate suspension.

"We go over word-for-word what the penalties are so there is no confusion and no way they can say they didn't know," said Brian Battle, FSU's director of compliance.

While it seems more players are getting arrested than before, that may not be the case.

"There is no credible evidence that we've seen that shows there is more of it," said Peter Roby, the director of Northeastern University's Center for Sports in Society. "I think it's a function of having more outlets to have that information and more interest because of the role that sport has in our society. "

The bottom line for players, said FSU running back Leon Washington, is that they should know how to behave.

"When you are dealing with young men, period, you're going to make mistakes and you're going to have guys get injured, that's the game of football," he said.

Roby agrees that while coaches and athletic officials need to monitor their athletes, staying out of trouble is ultimately the players' responsibility.

"One of the things we are not advocating is college coaches and administrators being around the athletes 24 hours a day," Roby said. "If we do that, we're not teaching them anything. At some point when they are not under the watchful eye, they have to have a sense of right and wrong."

Coker's approach is to communicate a clear policy to his players.

"You have to be fair, but you also have to set the tone," Coker said. "Because what can happen if you don't do that is, one guy will say, 'Hey, this happened and that guy didn't get too bad a deal, so let me go and do my thing.' You potentially lose control of your program if you're not careful. But you have to be very judicious about it because it not only affects those two guys, it affects the entire team, the coaching staff and everybody involved in the program."

Staff writers Edgar Thompson and Jorge Milian contributed to this story.

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Controling college players

Someone better tell UF's Meyer that he's not in Utah anymore. Most of his quotes seem pretty confident or cocky. For his sake I hope he runs a clean ship for his tenure in Gainseville.

Interesting quote from Coach Schnell and UM's Coker, huh?
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