Lord John Dalberg-Acton could have been referring to college coaches when he wrote: “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
The men who steer the big-business football and basketball programs are the giants of college campuses, usually untouchable so long as they win and fill the coffers.
They answer to no one, really, not a university’s president and certainly not an athletic director whose fate depends on bowl bids, Top 25 rankings and NCAA tournament appearances.
It can be a head-turning existence. Boosters, assistants, players, students and the local media hang on your every word. You are feted on the rubber-chicken circuit during the offseason. Even your lamest jokes draw a laugh. And you are compensated in a manner that elicits envy in tenured professors.
You dismiss the objections, of course, pointing out that no tenured professor routinely fills a stadium or an arena. You bring a spirit to the campus. Your program is a focal point of college life, the break in the tedium of a semester. It is your world, and those around you make it plain that they are happy to live in it.
In this context, it is not too hard to understand how a coach could lose his grounding, could start to think he is this all-knowing, all-powerful person who is not held to the same standards of comportment as everyone else, who has forgotten the tenets of common decency.
We do not know if that is the case with Texas Tech football coach Mike Leach, who has been suspended by the university after a player lodged a complaint against him, claiming he was forced to clean out a closet and then stand in the closet for three hours with a guard outside the door while the team went through its practice session.
The player, the son of ESPN broadcaster Craig James, was unable to practice because of a concussion.
So he was made the team pariah/handyman for a day, if this bizarre allegation proves valid.
For now, it is a he-said, lawyer-said case, the lawyer for Leach denying the coach did anything but provide a hospitable environment for the injured player.
That could be so. It could be all one big, fat misunderstanding, except for the unyielding actions of the president’s office. It has suspended a coach who has led Texas Tech to the Alamo Bowl.
If the allegations were so much nonsense, merely the fantasies of a disgruntled player, why would the university suspend its successful coach the week before a bowl game? Why would it lend credence to the allegations and ignite a national discussion on coaches gone wild?
Then again, why would Leach, maverick though he is, target a player whose father has a megaphone in the form of ESPN?
You do not have to spend a lot of time wondering who the “source close to the family” of James is. This is the source framing the story in the player’s favor in news reports.
Leach is the second Big 12 coach to be questioned on his interpersonal skills this season. Mark Mangino resigned as the Kansas football coach earlier this month after the school investigated player complaints against him.
None of this should come as a surprise, what with coaches serving as dictators in a politically correct society that grows ever softer.
It is doubtful Bear Bryant would survive in today’s environment. Sticking a player in a closet and ordering him to stand for three hours under the watchful eye of a guard would be the least of his problems.
If true, Leach will be shown the door.
It is a weird directive, its purpose unknown.
It is not a mechanism intended to build a program into a national powerhouse.
If it were, all kinds of coaches would employ the stick-a-player-in-a-closet ploy.
You almost have to be a college coach to come up with something this adolescent.