The news of Michigan State head coach Bobby Williams’ termination has raised questions as to what is expected of a head coach. Specifically, the question is whether he is responsible for what happens to his players off the field to a degree that trumps what is otherwise considered the bottom line – wins and losses.
Michigan State lost two of its captains to off-field issues in the days leading up the firing of Coach Williams. Quarterback Jeff Smoker’s problems with substance abuse and tailback Dawan Moss’s arrest early Sunday morning for drunk driving added to the embarrassment of Michigan State’s on-field play.
On Sunday, Wisconsin wide receiver Lee Evans was picked up on marijuana possession charges and Wisconsin tailback Anthony Davis was stabbed by his girlfriend in a domestic dispute. Wisconsin coach Barry Alvarez had little to say on his players, but weighed in on the responsibilities of a coach.
“Everyone has to deal with these things at one time or another,” Alvarez said. “Nobody likes to, but you have to. Most importantly, try to get your team focused on the next opponent. That’s the staff’s responsibility.”
All the Big Ten coaches have different opinions on whether there are more off-the-field incidents now than in years past, or if the growth of the media and the speed of communication simply uncover more.
“It’s probably a little bit of both,” Alvarez said.
Alvarez’s colleague at Indiana, Gerry DiNardo, believes the problem comes from hypocritical college administrators.
“I think the numbers have increased, perhaps not as much as perception because it is communicated much quicker,” DiNardo said. “But I would suspect that if someone studied this, the percentages (today) would be much higher. I think it’s an institutional issue; I think the only ones who can control these things are the presidents, the CEOs, the board members that we work for. When they say that enough is enough, then we’ll toe the line. Until then, the message is clear that winning is the most important thing. I think that if it wants to be stopped, it’s stopped at the top.
DiNardo went on to discuss whether the timetable for a coach to succeed has changed. Williams had been at Michigan State just three seasons before being fired.
“I do think the timetable has changed,” DiNardo said. “It’s no longer connected to the academic and the educational experience. It’s purely financial, it’s purely fan base, it’s purely generated by money, by board members, by presidents that need the athletic department – specifically the football and basketball programs – to run smoothly so he or she can run the university. If football and basketball are not running smoothly, then he or she has too many distractions to run the English department and the math department.
“The education component has been taken out of coaching,” DiNardo said.