A Tale Of Two Coaches …

In last week’s Football Friday, I had this to say about the Texas A&M/Mississippi St. game:

“The Aggies need one more win for bowl eligibility.  If they lose this game at home in front of already disgruntled alums, I would suggest that Jimbo Fisher hire a food taster… “

Well, the situation in College Station was even worse than I thought.  The Aggies won the game handily by a score of 51-10; nonetheless, Jimbo Fisher was fired the next day.  According to ESPN.com, the school will buy out Fisher’s contract to the tune of $76M.

“According to the terms of the contract, Texas A&M will owe Fisher $19.2 million within 60 days and then pay him $7.2 annually through 2031. There is no offset or mitigation on those payments, and the annual payments start 120 days after termination.”

So, Fisher will get a lump sum payment by January and then get $7.2M annually for 8 years in exchange for not coaching football at Texas A&M.  This turn of events should be informative for anyone on the list of coaches to take the job at Texas A&M:

  • The administrators and the alums have VERY deep pockets.
  • The administrators and the alums want championships not just wins.
  • The next coach should expect to be paid very well – – and to fail to live up to expectations.

Let me move on to another topic involving a highly visible college football coach – – Jim Harbaugh.  Michigan beat Penn St. on Saturday to remain unbeaten in 2023 and is likely to remain in the Top-4 when the CFP Selection Committee announces its rankings later this week.  The team did this without Harbaugh prowling the sidelines because he has been suspended for 3 games related to an investigation of sign stealing by a person related to Michigan football.  I am conflicted on this matter; let me try to explain.

I have read about the allegations and read a compilation of evidence gathered to date.  From that reading, I am fully convinced that sign-stealing was ongoing and that it was planned and intentional.  Nowhere in my reading have I come across evidence that Jim Harbaugh was deeply involved.  It seems to me that he is being punished/suspended on the basis that the head coach is always responsible for improper activities that go on in the program.

I recognize that sort of “job jeopardy” exists in football, but it certainly is not commonplace in jurisprudence.  If a police officer commits a crime and is convicted of that crime, the city mayor is not thrown out of office because one of the people who “worked for him” ran afoul of the law.  So, I would prefer to know the depth of Jim Harbaugh’s involvement in this endeavor before punishing him.

It seems to me there are four levels of involvement here – – sort of like the circles of Hell in Dante’s Inferno.  Let me start with the worst and go to the least bad:

  • Level 1:  This was all Harbaugh’s idea; he assigned this as a task to one of his underlings.  If that is shown to be the case, throw the book at him; suspend him from coaching college football for a long enough time that he goes and gets an NFL job and ceases to pollute the sport of college football.  And Michigan should fire him for cause and not buy out his contract because he brought shame to the University of Michigan as an institution.
  • Level 2:  Harbaugh knew this was going on; and because he and the team benefited from it, he accepted the information and in doing so, he condoned what is a rules violation.  If that is shown to be the case, Michigan need not fire him, but he should be suspended for a significant period of time – – say 6 months – – and the team should lose a significant number of scholarships that it can issue for several years.
  • Level 3Harbaugh – and his assistant coaches – welcomed the input from the “sign stealers” because it was valuable, but they did not know how the “sign stealers” got so smart.  Maybe the “sign stealers” had developed their own AI algorithms to scope out opposition tendencies and choices.  Whatever …  At this level, Harbaugh, the assistant coaches and the players are passive beneficiaries of someone else’s transgressions.
  • Level 4:  Jim Harbaugh knew nothing of this sign stealing activity until stories about it broke in the newspapers and on ESPN.

Many people say that the idea of denying Michigan a spot in the CFP and or an invitation to a bowl game this year punishes the players who pretty clearly had nothing to do with the rule violation.  So, that seems less than fair.  At the same time, lots of people think it is OK to punish Jim Harbaugh before it is clearly shown where he belongs on the spectrum I outlined above.  The important words in that previous sentence are “clearly shown”.  It is easy to come up with logic chains about what must have been the case, but that is not sufficient.  There needs to be evidence to place Jim Harbaugh – – and maybe some of his assistants? – – on that spectrum so that innocent folks are protected, and guilty folks are punished.

One more important thing to keep in mind as this matter continues to evolve.  We all need to be aware of – and resist as best we can – the condition of “confirmation bias” wherein we selectively pick out nuggets of information that align with our previously held thoughts and conclusions and ignore information that contradicts those beliefs.

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………



2 thoughts on “A Tale Of Two Coaches …”

  1. Irrespective of the level of cheating and the true culprit, the players are among the beneficiaries. Why shouldn’t they suffer the loss of the benefits?

    1. Doug:

      The players are well down the “food chain” here in terms of beneficiaries. How might a linebacker distinguish between the assignment given to him on an upcoming play by his coach coming from sign-stealing as opposed to good coaching? I think most of the blame and therefore most of the punishment belongs at the coaching level.

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