Recently several college football coaches have made decisions to leave their current programs to move on to better opportunities for their professional careers.
Notable coaches on the move include former Wisconsin Head Coach, Bret Bielema, who left his Badgers for the University of Arkansas. As a football decision I can understand why Bielema made this choice. Arkansas is in the nation’s premier football conference (SEC), has more resources than its Big 10 counterpart and more importantly, even if you lose one game, you can still play for the BCS National Championship. In most other conferences a one loss season means that a National Title is out of the question, but not in the SEC. Alabama’s current scenario is just this when they face undefeated Notre Dame in the coming weeks.
Arkansas Athletic director, Jeff Long, had Bielema on the radar even before this season ended though because Bielema sent Long a letter last year to congratulate him on his handling of the Bobby Petrino scandal.
Some might say that Bielema was recruiting Arkansas’ brass last April and that may be fair.
However, I always think, “what about Bielema’s current players?” Did he tell them the right way? This of course is a question that should be asked of any coaching departing for another program.
We all have heard the story of Todd Graham, current Arizona State Head Coach, who left the University of Pittsburgh after less than a year. It wasn’t that he left which necessarily bothered people. How can any of us say we wouldn’t take our “dream job” which also happens to be closer to family? I don’t think we could.
However, for Graham to contact his players via text message is simply unprofessional. How can a coach (a.k.a. teacher) conduct himself like this? Quite frankly it is irresponsible and pitiful. He is supposed to be responsible for teaching the college students on his team how to act as men. Not how to take the easy road out of town.
I recall when I had to tell my team at Penn State Beaver when I decided to make the move to Clarion University in October of 2011. I interviewed in late September and revisited with my wife the following day to see what she thought of the school and people there. After accepting the position, I told my Athletic Director and Director of Student Affairs at Penn State that same day. I had a resignation letter ready for them, which I handed in person to them later that day. Then I called a meeting in our locker room which I told all of the players at Penn State that I was taking this position to better myself and my family. Although it was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do, it was the right way to tell them. The student-athletes deserved to be told the right way.
There is never a good time to leave a program, which I understand. In my case it was at the end of September, just a few weeks before the season began. However, I had two trusted assistants and a manager in place and felt comfortable in leaving the program I had built in their hands.
Even more recently, I had to tell my team at Clarion in November of 2012 that I was relocating with my wife to New Haven, Connecticut where she pursued her career in higher education at Yale University. In addition, we were expecting our first newborn and also sold our house. These factors were a blessing, but also complicated matters.
Although I was only afforded to notify my team two days before my last day of work by my administration and head coach, I was at least able to bring the team together after practice and tell them face-to-face. I saw many tears shed that day, but again it was the right thing to do.
Which brings me to Head Coach Gary Andersen. He recently took the Head Coaching job which was vacant at Wisconsin once Bielema left for Arkansas, despite reiterating to his administration and players that he was going to stay at Utah State. Since Utah State had already played its bowl game the players were already home for their holiday break when Andersen accepted at Wisconsin. Nevertheless, Andersen valued the student-athletes he recruited at Utah State enough as players and people to personally make a phone call to each of them to tell them of his decision to leave. His reported 106 phone calls that took him until 2:30 a.m. to complete should be praised.
Although it was not face-to-face, it was the best Andersen could do given his circumstances and for that I applaud him. Having spent some time in Logan, I have a feel for their basketball program a little bit. I know the level of dedication that the Aggie faithful feel for Coach Stew Morrill due to all of the success that Utah State Men’s Basketball program has had during his tenure. Likewise, I am sure it was difficult for the Aggies fans to see Andersen leave after such a successful season on the gridiron.
It is easy to run and hide under the cover of a new job, new responsibilites and a busy schedule. Moving your family, finding a new home, and jumping into your new program are all musts when taking over a new coaching job. Still, Andersen obviously learned from the previous mishandlings of his colleagues’ departures.
Or maybe he didn’t learn anything. Maybe he just did what was right because that is who he is and that is what he stands for.
Kudos, Coach Andersen! I will be cheering for you and your Wisconsin Badgers and I hope when the coaching carousel begins for college basketball coaches this spring they can learn from you.
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