On Private And Public Behavior


Over the weekend I posted an item at Awful Announcing regarding photos of Iowa Hawkeye football color commentator Ed Podolak surfacing from an Iowa State message board and being publicized via the Wiz of Odds last week. The photos showed Podolak drinking, looking down a woman’s shirt, etc., while in Tampa for the Outback Bowl and are fairly tame as far as photos of folks taken at bars go. I didn’t post one of the photos, mostly based on personal choice*, but I still thought it was a story.

Now, apparently Podolak decided to retire (or, if you believe, got urged to leave) as a commentator after Iowa AD Gary Barta expressed a rather downbeat tone about the whole matter, and it has spawned some spite towards the Wiz of Odds: Black Heart Gold Pants called editor Jay Christensen an assbag, Brian Cook called it “complete bullcrap” in the tags, and I can’t blame them for doing so. I think it’s a bit of an overreaction by Barta, but I’m not going to hold Christensen at fault for this — and if you think I’m completely, utterly wrong on this, don’t hesitate to tell me. I’m more than willing to change my mind.

As a publicly recognizable figure, both as a media figure and former pro athlete, Podolak has to know better.  I work with people who are on television. I am fortunate to call many of them friends and drinking buddies. They are recognizable faces in the community.  By no means are they shut-ins, but they know that they have to comport themselves in a certain way when they go out on the town. It’s a double standard, it’s not fair, but that is kind of implicitly agreed to when you sign a contract to be a media representative of a university, by extension (even though Podolak was hired through another company, technically.)

In Podolak’s case, this incident came after he got arrested for public intoxication previously with a .23 BAC a few years back in Iowa City. I don’t think it would have come to “resigning” had this been a first-time incident.  I hesitate to say Gary Barta has any real right to determine what Podolak can and cannot do with his off hours, but ultimately, media figures give up certain things when they sign on the dotted line — even in cases where the goalposts have moved. Iowa officials in 1997 said “charges” were necessary to trigger suspension or firing. Drunken photos aren’t that, and Barta is apparently tougher on broadcasters than he is on the players in his revenue programs, which doesn’t look particularly good either — especially when another writer at the FanHouse is noting that Podolak’s bar times were not exactly a secret. It seems selective by Barta rather than any sort of principled stance.

(*The reason I didn’t post one of the pictures is because the woman wasn’t identified and it was a little more sensitive in nature. This may be my personal brand of journalism ethics training kicking in. I have no compunction about grabbing images via Google with randoms [mostly people with athletes at charity events or signing autographs, etc., just for photos for live blogs], but this was a bit different in my mind.)

A Necessary Bloodletting

So long, and thanks for the Super Bowl titles.

So long, and thanks for the Super Bowl titles.

If the Rocky Mountain News is to be believed, the firing of Mike Shanahan after 14 years and back-to-back Super Bowls came down to an ultimatum over Broncos’ D-coordinator Bob Slowik. Owner Pat Bowlen wanted him out; the Rat Fink wouldn’t fire him, even after this horrendous defensive season. So, out goes the coach that helped John Elway and Terrell Davis take Denver to the Promised Land.

Truth is, it probably should have happened a couple of years ago. Maybe not the firing, but at least a reduction in the Fink’s authority; a removal of the exec VP of football ops title he held — with an Isiah-style plan, rebuild in one or two years or you’re done. The trends in the NFL have changed again; coaches who hold final personnel say are an endangered species. Only Coach Hobo continues to wield this power in New England; someone will give Bill Cowher similar power to return to the ranks, but that’s it.

When Shanahan fired GM Ted Sundquist last year (and I say Shanahan did it rather than Bowlen for a reason), all the focus went on him and a very visible inability to identify defensive talent and the right coaches to bring them along. Elvis Dumervil and D.J. Williams were the only two recent draft picks on defense that turned out ot be anything decent.  (Verdict’s still out on Marcus Thomas; Spencer Larsen could be really good.)

You never want to be the person pulling for the coach who won two titles to get fired, but I had come to that conclusion after watching seasons where the Fink blew through DCs every year with no defensive improvement; at the very least, he needed a GM to check and balance.

Shanahan wanted all the responsibility, accepted it, and did well with legendary talent. Now, he has to accept the loss of his job for sustained mediocrity. Such is life in the NFL, and maybe, just maybe, the Broncos needed to cut losses now and start over, because no matter how promising that offense looked with Jay Cutler, Brandon Marshall, Eddie Royal, and Tony Scheffler, the defense would have let them down — and after so many DCs, that goes straight to the man who wanted all that authority and responsibility.

So, thanks for the titles and the aggressive play-calling, Coach, but the franchise needs to go somewhere you can’t take it any more. It happens. Nothing can last forever when you go 1-4 in the playoffs in the 10 seasons after the glory years.

This Is The Business You Have Chosen

philfulmerIf Phillip Fulmer laments the way he is now going to leave the University of Tennessee, he has no one but himself to blame for how it ended. Not solely because of his team’s atrocious play this season; in past eras a season so poor might have slid under the table as an aberration. Now, a very public display of futility over the first 10 weeks of the college football season means the end of a coach who won a national championship a decade ago, and it may be even a little bit ironic considering how Johnny Majors was forced out.

Fulmer is now the ultimate proof of how far the current cutthroat mentality has gone in Division I-A, but do not pity him or pine for any sort of Lost Age, as one of the last coaches with a tangible connection to his university beyond simply cashing its checks. Spending more than 40 years on campus as a player, student assistant, assistant coach, and head coach is a remarkble feat; it won’t happen again. But Fulmer’s exit is entirely of his own making, because high expectations thrive in Knoxville, and going 3-5 in your last eight bowl games, never mind the lack of SEC championships, will make the natives restless at any school with major D-IA pull.

Fulmer is the second coach in as many weeks to have to face the obivous humiliation of sitting in a press conference and announcing that he would not return the next season, in a decision clearly not of his choosing. While the circumstances are completely different than those of Ty Willingham at Washington, it is instructive to note just how nasty a trend this is: athletic directors are taking very proud men and essentially debasing them in front of the media, boosters, and thier own players by saying they will coach out a lame-duck season.

And yet, this will continue, because football has become such a big business for public and private universities at the D-IA level; it means more for donations that grow the campus in lean years. The salaries of the football coaches have reflected this mentality of being an investment toward future gains, and when the gains no longer match the contract extensions, a public end is coming. As unfair as it seems, no one can say it was not coming or undeserved.

To paraphrase Hyman Roth, this is the business Phillip Fulmer has chosen. It is interesting to note in Chris Low’s piece for ESPN how the current players reacted angrily, seething about Fulmer being forced out.  If anything else, this should be a learning moment for them, because if a long-tenured coach like Fulmer can be forced out, think of how the system will treat you when your usefulness to the program or an NFL team, should you be lucky and good enough to play on Sundays, runs out.

Willingham Gets The Zook Treatment

The ax was going to come sooner or later for Ty Willingham this season, and now that the University of Washington has given the condemned man the Ron Zook option, allowing him to finish this 0-7 season he has on his hands so far (and likely 0-8 after USC this weekend), it’s a good question to ask what happened to this coach after leaving Stanford for the job at Notre Dame.

It might be worth noting that his lone Pac-10 championship came at Stanford in 2000, as UCLA was declining after a run under Bob Toledo, and Pete Carroll hadn’t yet made his way to USC.  Willingham’s weakness seems to be the political aspects of being a college coach: not exactly media-freindly and, based on tales from the Notre Dame days, not as eager to pal around with boosters.

You’re more likely to get away with that at Stanford than you are at Notre Dame or Washington.  Not that Stanford doesn’t want to win Pac-10 titles, but it’s not quite the same goal and the point is to achieve while keeping high academic merit. (One coudl argue this about ND, but Stanford’s a different beast.)  Willingham’s recruiting classes got better, but the only stud player he brought in was Jake Locker.  If that is the only player you have that other teams would kill for, you have a recruiting issue, and it will turn into wins and losses on the field.

Now, Lane Kiffin has already thrown his hat in for interest, and I’m sure AD Scott Woodward has his own ideas and a list on hand, but it’s going to take a lot to get the state of Washington back to something resembling footblal competency.

A Good Suit Doesn’t Make A Good Team

Mike Nolan was essentially screwed by several things: a dysfunctional ownership in the York family that never seems to have anything resembling good timing when it comes to decisions, his own lousy attempts to improve the team’s defense, and the decision to take Alex Smith over Aaron Rodgers in the 2005 draft. Predictably, he is now out on the street and will be looking for another job as a defensive coordinator next season.

Sadly, the interim replacement, Mike Singletary, may not necessarily fare any better, having less than a week to get ready to play the Seattle Seahawks instead of a bye week in between, which is normally when these firing happens; the Rams waited until that bye to break off Scott Linehan and Al Davis did the same to Lane Kiffin in Oakland.  It doesn’t help that it’s possible that the offensive coordinator he inherits, Mike Martz, is seething — because, as Chronicle columnist Ray Ratto puts it, “Martz came to watch Nolan get fired so that he could inherit the job, and now he has been skipped for Singletary.”

Skipping over Martz for Singletary may have been one of the few smart moves Jed York has made, because after watching J.T. O’Sullivan throw ill-advised picks every Sunday (thank you, stupid NFL TV rules) and get crushed by an often non-existent offensive line, Martz hasn’t earned jack shit in terms of any shot at a head coaching job. If he can’t keep the quarterback protected and get him to not make idiotic mistakes, how much of an offensive guru is he?

Anyhow, Nolan’s spat with Alex Smith early in the season was a sign that he and the team were regretting their selection in the draft, and a sure sign of the rupture to come. This team will get worse before it gets better; it’s not set up to do well under an interim coach. Maybe the defense might improve slightly, but Martz’s offensive plan hasn’t insipred a whole lot of confidence other than when the QB will throw a crippling pick or two.

Nolan’s firing may actually save Smith in the Bay Area, oddly enough, because if Martz is gone too after the season (and if he doesn’t get the head coaching gig, he probably will be), there’s a realistic chance to see what’s left to salvage and maybe, just maybe, there will be a chance for him to learn one offensive system and stick with it, rather than have to learn everything all over again year in and year out.