How not to criticize a football coach

My and Mark’s employer has a new football coach–Rick Neuheisel, a former Bruin quarterback who also coached Colorado and Washington. And thereby hangs a tale that makes no one look good.

Neuheisel was fired from his last two jobs in circumstances that did not speak well of him. At Colorado, he committed a series of recruiting violations, mostly in terms of contacting high schoolers when he shouldn’t have. At Washington, he was axed after participating in what appears to have been a March Madness gambling pool.

The press reports are full of grave statements both from Neuheisel and UCLA athletic director Dan Guerrero about how Neuheisel has learned so much from these incidents, and he will never do them again. And then everything moves on as to how good a coach he is, etc. etc.

All of which shows how perverted college athletics has become. The NCAA can get itself into a tizzy about contacting high schoolers, and Washington can make a big deal about gambling, but no one seems to be asking the key question:

What percentage of scholarship football players graduated when Neuheisel coached them?

The vast majority of college football players won’t see a dime from the NFL: a football scholarship may be their only chance for a college degree. Otherwise, they are just used up and spit out.

When my wife was a grad student at a certain prestigious California state school, which I shall not name except to say that it is in the Bay Area and Mike O’Hare teaches there, she had the starting quarterback in her section. He never came to class and never did the work. She was told that if she was going to fail him, it had to be approved by the central administration. “I met him, and he was a pretty bright kid and not a jerk,” she told me. “But no one had ever told him that he had to go to class and do his work.” So he didn’t. He didn’t make the pros, and he’s probably pumping gasoline somewhere.

But no one cares about that. It’s bad enough that people aren’t concerned about what happens to players that are essentially fodder for major college athletic departments, but it’s even worse when they don’t care and pretend that they do. This should be a standard statistic for any coach: graduation rates. Maybe the boosters don’t care, but the press should. I’m not holding my breath.

Author: Jonathan Zasloff

Jonathan Zasloff teaches Torts, Land Use, Environmental Law, Comparative Urban Planning Law, Legal History, and Public Policy Clinic - Land Use, the Environment and Local Government. He grew up and still lives in the San Fernando Valley, about which he remains immensely proud (to the mystification of his friends and colleagues). After graduating from Yale Law School, and while clerking for a federal appeals court judge in Boston, he decided to return to Los Angeles shortly after the January 1994 Northridge earthquake, reasoning that he would gladly risk tremors in order to avoid the average New England wind chill temperature of negative 55 degrees. Professor Zasloff has a keen interest in world politics; he holds a PhD in the history of American foreign policy from Harvard and an M.Phil. in International Relations from Cambridge University. Much of his recent work concerns the influence of lawyers and legalism in US external relations, and has published articles on these subjects in the New York University Law Review and the Yale Law Journal. More generally, his recent interests focus on the response of public institutions to social problems, and the role of ideology in framing policy responses. Professor Zasloff has long been active in state and local politics and policy. He recently co-authored an article discussing the relationship of Proposition 13 (California's landmark tax limitation initiative) and school finance reform, and served for several years as a senior policy advisor to the Speaker of California Assembly. His practice background reflects these interests: for two years, he represented welfare recipients attempting to obtain child care benefits and microbusinesses in low income areas. He then practiced for two more years at one of Los Angeles' leading public interest environmental and land use firms, challenging poorly planned development and working to expand the network of the city's urban park system. He currently serves as a member of the boards of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy (a state agency charged with purchasing and protecting open space), the Los Angeles Center for Law and Justice (the leading legal service firm for low-income clients in east Los Angeles), and Friends of Israel's Environment. Professor Zasloff's other major activity consists in explaining the Triangle Offense to his very patient wife, Kathy.