Coach firings prove reform talk is cheap


CHICAGO -- The so-called college reform movement still doesn't take the place of winning streaks.

In big-time college sports, the name of the game remains winning, winning, winning, rather than reform, reform, reform. Principle is good, but won-lost records are more important.

For further evidence, see Arkansas. The Razorbacks completed their coaching trilogy Monday by hiring Danny Ford, a coach who stands for winning and little else.

Athletic director Frank Broyles certainly didn't mind, considering he fired Jack Crowe after the first game of the season and then didn't offer interim coach Joe Kines the job. Broyles wanted an experienced winner, and he got one in Ford, who won a national championship for Clemson.

Ford, though, also was the coach whose program got in trouble with the NCAA, and who once ridiculed the school for building an academic center when the funds could have been directed for athletics. The head of Arkansas' search committee, Al Witte, was a past NCAA president.

But then, should it be surprising? The recent weeks have produced some of the most bizarre series of events in anyone's memory. Coaches like Temple's Jerry Berndt and Pittsburgh's Paul Hackett were forced out for not winning enough.

Of course, there's the demise of Tennessee's Johnny Majors, who after 16 years, most of them successful, was told his services were no longer needed. Even the departures of Auburn's Pat Dye and Colorado State's Earle Bruce, while tied to the off-the-field problems, might have been avoided if their on-the-field records were better this year.

Coaches still on the hot seat include Ohio State's John Cooper, who appears to be glued to it; Oklahoma's Gary Gibbs; and Southern Cal's Larry Smith, among others.

The latest movements are distressing to former North Carolina President William Friday, co-chairman of the reform-minded Knight Commission. One of its axioms is that schools honor the contracts of their coaches.

"You would hope boards of trustees would reflect the proper priorities," Friday said. "Those who don't are saying something to the public. It's a reflection in their view of what comes first. What they're not doing is reversing the public's attitude of what's taking place on campus."

Added Kit Morris, the Knight Commission's executive director: "The forces that cause us to lose our senses still exist. They're still strong."

The Majors situation has caught the brunt of the attention. He returned in less than a month after having open-heart surgery in August. While he was gone, the Volunteers won three straight. After he came back, they quickly lost three in a row, inviting the hawks.

Majors probably didn't help his cause by reportedly alienating some key boosters, and there was speculation his coaching staff might bolt on him. But the bottom line was that he won three Southeastern Conference titles for Tennessee, and even in a what was supposed to be a rebuilding year the Volunteers went 8-3.

"He's a winning coach with two years left on his contract," Morris said. "What won't wait for two years?"

In Majors, Dye and Bruce, there were 65 years of coaching experience and 483 victories, big-time numbers for big-time coaches. Dye and Bruce probably invited their own undoing. Dye was implicated with alleged NCAA violations and might have jumped before being pushed.

Bruce, meanwhile, was charged with punching his players, running illegal practices and requiring his players take easy classes. The former Ohio State coach fought the dismissal, but coming off like "Network's" Howard "I'm mad as hell" Beal in his news conference probably wasn't the best approach.

Still, would the situation have been different if both coaches had better records this year? Auburn only went 5-5-1 and Colorado State was 5-7. A coach's flaws become that much more visible in losing locker rooms.

If Dye or Bruce want to coach again, however, the opportunity will be there for them.

If Jackie Sherrill, whose program at Texas A&M; landed on probation, can resurface at Mississippi State, and Ford can grab the spotlight again in Arkansas, (and for that matter former Kentucky basketball coach Eddie Sutton at Oklahoma State), there's no such thing as a coach too dangerous to touch.

There always are seats to be filled, alumni to be pleased and boosters to feed. Give us a winning coach, and damn the torpedoes.

"There are pressures on presidents and athletic directors," Morris said. "But I don't know how much of it is self-imposed. Occasionally, you've got to say it's worth standing up for your principles and seeing it through."

If only that were so. The college presidents talk a good game. Too bad not enough of them play it.

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