Wednesday, August 29, 2007

What's With All the Belly-Aching About Discipline

Both of the teams I follow have made some headlines recently revolving around football players getting into trouble.

Bama has had four players arrested in the offseason, all for what I would consider minor charges, including Simeone Castille who was arrested for disorderly conduct. Another player was arrested and allegedly mouthed off to the police, insulting Nick Saban in the process. LSU has also had 4 players arrested in the offseason, but for more serious violations, including the most recent incident involving Derrick Odom allegedly trying to kick a door down to get into an apartment. In addition, Bama has suspended two starters for the season opener for undisclosed reasons.

Sports talk radio here in Tuscaloosa has been all aflutter about what the Bama issues mean. I've heard a great deal of expression of disappointment in Nick Saban's hold over this team. Paul Finebaum said yesterday that he expected Saban to get to Tuscaloosa and crack the whip, having heard that he had a reputation for being a stickler about team discipline.

I have two questions:
  1. Where did Nick Saban get a reputation for being a strict disciplinarian?
  2. What's the big deal anyway?
I personally don't recall Saban suspending a lot of players or kicking a lot of players off the team when he was at LSU. Maybe he did and I don't recall it. Then again, I don't remember a lot of LSU players getting into trouble during that time. There were a few, such as Melvin Oliver who was arrested for domestic violence, but I don't recall very many, even in Saban's early years when he was coaching players someone else recruited. Oliver, as I recall, wasn't suspended. There were also rumors that he managed to keep a lot of small offenses out of the news, and tolerated a lot of casual recreational marijuana use.

Then when he got to the Miami Dolphins, he went on a well-publicized effort to get Ricky Williams back to the team. Ricky Williams had a well-publicized marijuana habit, and had pretty much told Dolphins and NFL officials that he'd rather smoke marijuana and travel the world than play in the NFL. Saban very publicly tried to get him back to the Dolphins, succeeding for a time before Williams tested positive again.

This is the guy with a reputation for cracking the whip on discipline? I'm not saying he's a permissive coach, but I don't see why he'd have a reputation for being particularly impermissive.

Also, what is the deal with the Bama fans' fetish for punishing their own players? Some were complaining that Prince Hall and Keith Brown (whose offenses were not disclosed) were only suspended for the Western Carolina game, rather than a conference game. It's like they really want to lose to Vandy and Arkansas. We don't even know what these kids did.

Why is it so necessary to have a football team whose players never get into trouble? Sure, you want to get the true bad actors and the malcontents off the team. Those guys will never help you. But a guy like Simeone Castille? He's been in the program for 3 years without getting into any trouble at all, and by all accounts is a leader of the team. He may have screwed up in some minor way, but if so, what's the big deal? The courts will punish him. Why should the football team punish him more?

If I went out on the Strip this weekend and starting talking too loud or yelling curse words and got arrested for disorderly conduct, would my employer suspend me or fire me? I sincerely doubt it. I sincerely doubt any of the people reading this would be in a great deal of trouble at their work over something like that. The punishment would be limited to whatever the courts did to you.

I think people are kind of bloodthirsty. They really want to see punishment, and want to see people suffer, with no regard for proportion or rationality. If I was Nick Saban, Castille wouldn't be suspended for even one second. Roy Upchurch, who reportedly told the police, "F--- [Nick Saban" and f--- all y'all," would probably be suspended for half a season, but only because he disrespected the coach and the team. Not because he got arrested.

I agree with Les Miles that Zhamal Thomas and Troy Giddens had to go, because they committed pretty serious crimes, and based on that, we can presume they would have been trouble during their careers. Kyle Anderson reportedly was a big-time trouble maker who got himself into even more trouble by supposedly attacking a man outside of a bar. I agree those guys, under those situations, probably had to go. But it wasn't about punishment. It was about protecting the team from bad influences. There's no reason to believe that Simeone Castille is a bad influence on this team. All reports are quite to the contrary in fact.

So my advice would be to just settle down and let the coaches handle the team without getting all bent out of shape over it.

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