The Art Of The Apology
It’s been a big week for sorriness in college football. No, that’s not a shot at Miami (Ohio) (2), which last week ran its losing streak to 10 — all by double digits. It’s an observation that contrition is in the October air, and it’s time to separate the genuine from the calculated.
The most-discussed running back of 2009 — for all the wrong reasons — got it started Thursday. That’s when a letter from LeGarrette Blount (3) to the Oregon student paper, the Daily Emerald, was published. This is the letter, in its entirety:
“Though the incident at Boise State happened before the start of classes, there probably are few members of our University community who are unaware of the images and media reports of my regrettable actions following the Oregon-Boise State football game. There is no justification for my behavior — not the ‘heat of the moment,’ not the ‘agony of defeat,’ and definitely not anything said or done by an opponent.
“Being a student-athlete at the University of Oregon should be about being a good student working to positively represent the University and its football program under coach Chip Kelly, and handling both victories and defeats with sportsmanship, class, and character. That night, I used poor judgment and lost self-control. My actions reflected poorly upon my teammates, our football program, and our University. And for this, I offer my sincerest apologies and heartfelt regrets.
“On a personal note, I probably will never be able to erase the memories of the post-game events of that day. Given this, I do not expect to be given a second chance to be a positive and responsible member of the football program and of this community. Going forward, what I hope for is the opportunity to show that I am able to earn a second chance as a University student. And if I am so fortunate, I believe that I also will demonstrate that I am a better man and a better human being for having lived through this unfortunate experience.
“Sincerely, LeGarrette Blount” While Blount’s letter follows all of the dos and don’ts you can find at www.perfectapology.com, it also carries the unmistakable whiff of a ghostwriter. Call The Dash cynical, but the likelihood that Blount was the solo author of that letter is roughly the same as Rice’s chances of earning a BCS bowl bid. (“Agony of defeat”? Now there’s a phrase on the tongue of every college kid. If this were the 1970s.)
According to Daily Emerald sports editor Ben Schorzman, the letter was sent to the paper from Blount’s student e-mail account. But we also know via ESPN.com’s Mark Fainaru-Wada that Blount has had legal representation since shortly after Oregon suspended him for the rest of the season after his fists-of-fury meltdown Sept. 3 at Boise State.
Blount said a hasty apology in Boise that night, but hasn’t been heard from since. If he’s really interested in seeking forgiveness — as opposed to following someone else’s orchestrated steps designed to get him back in a Ducks uniform and possibly help secure a Rose Bowl bid — it would mean more if it came directly from his mouth. Without reading a script.
Contrast that apology with this surprising burst of accountability from Michigan freshman quarterback Tate Forcier (4). Less than 90 minutes after the Wolverines lost in overtime to Michigan State, 26-20, The Dash got a text from Forcier declaring, “I take complete fault for that loss.”
Forcier did make a final, fatal error by throwing an OT interception in the end zone. But until that point he was almost the sole reason the Wolverines had a chance. He led two touchdown drives in the final five minutes to tie the score, the last of them a 12-play, 92-yard expedition through driving rain in which he threw or ran on every down.
By the end the kid was so exhausted he could barely stand up straight. But he kept making plays until the game was tied with two seconds left. Then he made one bad pass in OT, and felt compelled to take all the blame afterward.
Understand, Forcier has never come to The Dash looking for all the credit — or any credit — after any of the Wolverines’ season-opening four victories. This was a quarterback willing to step up when times were bad — and what fan base wouldn’t want a guy like that calling signals?
“That’s the way he is,” said Forcier’s father, Mike. “He just wants to win. It’s about winning for him.”
And The Dash is pretty sure Forcier received no legal aid in crafting his text.
But if October is going to turn into Apology Month, The Dash has suggested mea culpas from 10 others in college football:
North Carolina coach Butch Davis (5): “I’m 0-3 against Virginia, with two of those losses at home. Every year the Cavaliers have gotten worse, to the point this year of outright lousiness, and every year they’ve beaten us by a wider margin. That’s pathetic. I’m sorry. Not sorry enough to return some of my very large salary, but sorry nonetheless.”
Missouri quarterback Blaine Gabbert (6): “I’d just like to sincerely apologize to Nebraska fans for committing to you in May of 2007, then dumping you a few months later for a Big 12 North rival. Look, I was only a junior in high school, and I didn’t know Bill Callahan was going to pilot your program like it was the Exxon Valdez. So I bailed and went with my home-state school. Don’t hate me because I’m No. 4 nationally in pass efficiency and have yet to throw an interception in college, and it’s up to your defense to stop me Thursday night in a clash of Big 12 North contenders. Love the one you’re with. In this case, Zac Lee.”
Southeastern Conference officials (7): “We admit it. We have no idea what we’re doing from minute to minute when it comes to flagging excessive celebration. We threw a bad flag on Georgia’s A.J. Green on Saturday, helping decide the outcome of the Bulldogs’ game against LSU. There, we said it. Fortunately, Georgia fans will only hold it against us for the next 50 years. If it was Alabama, they’d hold it against us for a century.”
Houston (8): “Sorry we got everyone’s hopes up. Including our own. We’ll slink back to relative anonymity now.”
USC coach Pete Carroll (9): “So, it was very cool that we killed California — but Washington is winless since beating us, which isn’t overly cool. And even though I’d like to remind everyone that our quarterback and All-America safety didn’t play in that game, and I’d like to change the subject by tweeting a very cool Song of the Day, or tell you how totally cool life is in SoCal, I am here to say I’m sorry for that uncool coaching job in Seattle.”
Clemson (10): “We sincerely apologize for being Clemson. Because part of being Clemson means losing to Maryland as a double-digit favorite for the second straight season. It means losing 14 times as a favorite over the past 3½ seasons. It means continually frustrating some of the best fans in America. We’re sorry to every IPTAY member, but we count on you suckers to keep those donor checks coming.”
Lane Kiffin (11): “I’m sorry for following our ‘major statement’ performance against Florida with a phlegm-in-the-throat statement in our next SEC game against Auburn. No matter how much talking I do, we’re still 2-3 and my best head-coaching victory is an 11-pointer over Ohio.”
Purdue (12): “We’d just like to express our heartfelt regret over having a 1-4 record despite outscoring our opponents to date. We have found remarkable ways to lose those four games by a total of 18 points, ranging from turnovers to blocked kicks to defensive breakdowns at precisely the wrong time. We’re the best 1-4 team in America — and for that we’re very sorry.”
West Virginia defense (13): “We’re here as a unit to apologize to the offense for being the only FBS team in America that has failed to recover a fumble this season. Of course, it hasn’t helped that the offense has lost eight fumbles — but, hey, we’re pointing fingers. We’re accepting blame and working on stripping ball carriers in practice this week.”
LSU fans (14): “Dear Tim Tebow: We’re sorry we got hold of your cell digits a couple of years ago and bombarded you with calls and texts calling you things that would make an alligator blush. Now that you’re coming back to Baton Rouge, we hope your head doesn’t hurt. At least until we’re screaming at you Saturday night while drunk beyond all capacity for rational thought.”
And finally, we have a Dash apology to Auburn coach Gene Chizik (15): “Gene, The Dash suspected you might have been the shakiest head-coaching hire since Greg Robinson (16) when you were named last year to replace Tommy Tuberville. Now that you’re 5-0, it’s time to say The Dash was wrong. There are plenty of losable games left for the Tigers, but you’re one win from bowl eligibility and looking good. Meanwhile, the man many people wanted to get the job, Buffalo’s Turner Gill (17), is 1-4 — though it should be noted that the Bulls lost all-time leading rusher James Starks to a shoulder injury before the season started. Gill is still a good coach. But so are you, Gene. War Eagle, and so forth.”
Athletic director misery got company Friday night at Louisville’s Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium. Louisville AD Tom Jurich (18) hosted Colorado AD Mike Bohn (19), who was in the neighborhood to see his Buffaloes play at West Virginia the night before, as his guest for the Cards’ home game against Pittsburgh.
The two have a longstanding relationship but a freshly shared problem: They might be faced with firing their football coaches. That possibility became more real when the Mountaineers beat Colorado 35-24 and the Panthers routed the Cardinals 35-10, dropping both teams to 1-3.
Both schools hired successful coaches from smaller programs and have not seen their success translate to the next level. Colorado is 14-27 in Year 4 under Dan Hawkins, who helped make Boise State the power it is. Louisville is 12-16 in Year 3 under Steve Kragthorpe, who got a dreadful Tulsa program up off the mat earlier this decade.
Colorado had won two straight Big 12 North Division titles before Hawkins arrived but has not threatened to win the division since. Louisville had won 41 games the previous four seasons, including the 2007 Orange Bowl, but has not earned a bowl bid since.
Colorado’s desire for change could be tempered by the cost of making it happen. Hawkins has a hefty bailout, and the athletic department is not flush with cash.
Louisville’s desire for change is more of a fan revolt than anything actively sought by the school administration. Jurich has been resolutely in Kragthorpe’s corner — but scenes like Friday night, when the stadium rapidly emptied as Pitt pounded away in the second half, will make it harder to maintain that support. Louisville’s ambition is evident to anyone visiting its stadium — the school is in the midst of an expansion from 42,000 to more than 60,000 — but will anyone want those seats if Kragthorpe returns for a fourth season?
But Jurich and Bohn aren’t the only two ADs out there with big decisions looming. After consultation with ESPN.com’s blogging crew, The Dash puts a temperature gauge on a bunch of warm coaching seats around the country:
High Heat (20)
Bobby Bowden, Florida State (2-3). Hard to believe it’s gotten this ugly for one of the giants of the game, but Bowden brought it on himself by refusing to acknowledge that it’s time to go.
J.D. Brookhart, Akron (1-3). Brookhart’s tenure started briskly, but the Zips could be headed for a fourth straight losing season in Mid-American Conference play now that the school has dismissed starting quarterback Chris Jacquemain and placed assistant coach Reno Ferri on administrative leave pending an internal review of NCAA compliance requirements.
Al Groh, Virginia (1-3). Upsetting North Carolina could be the start of Al’s annual job-save drive — but sooner or later the administration would have to tire of that rerun, wouldn’t it? A third losing season in the past four might be the breaking point.
Dan Hawkins, Colorado (1-3). No relief in sight, with three of the next four opponents currently undefeated.
Steve Kragthorpe, Louisville (1-3). Losing streak against FBS opponents currently stands at eight.
Doug Martin, Kent State (2-3). Martin is 21 games under .500 in his sixth season, which means it’s high time to show something or pack up the office.
Mike Sanford, UNLV (2-3). Blowout loss to Nevada leaves him 0-5 against in-state rival and lengthens the odds against his first winning season.
Tommy West, Memphis (1-4). Nine seasons on the job equals a worn-out welcome, as the (relative) halcyon days with DeAngelo Williams fade further in the rearview mirror.
Ron Zook, Illinois (1-3). That Rose Bowl season looks more and more like an aberration, as the Zooker Pattern from Florida repeats itself: much more talent recruited than the record indicates.
Medium Heat (21):
Ralph Friedgen, Maryland (2-3). He was 23 games over .500 his first three seasons in College Park, four games over .500 since. Upsetting Clemson last week ended a five-game losing streak against FBS competition. In the utterly mediocre ACC Atlantic, Fridge could go from the hot seat to a division title.
Mike Locksley, New Mexico (0-5). Nobody wants to fire the rookie head coach after one season. Then again, nobody wants to see the rookie head coach admit to a physical altercation with an assistant, get hit with a sexual harassment claim by a former secretary and start his career 0-5.
George O’Leary, Central Florida (3-2). Beat Memphis and Tommy West in the Hot Seat Bowl on Saturday, which helped. But the program has backslid since reaching the 2007 Conference USA title game.
Mike Price, UTEP (2-3). Might have gotten a huge reprieve by upsetting Houston last week. But the Miners started the year with a home loss to Buffalo and will have to improve to avoid a fourth straight losing season after Price started his tenure in El Paso with consecutive eight-win seasons.
Howard Schnellenberger, Florida Atlantic (0-4). He gave life to the program but has seen it stagnate in Year 9, when the Owls were expected to compete for the Sun Belt title but seem far short of that now. Losing longtime offensive coordinator Gary Nord (now at Purdue) has hurt.
Dabo Swinney, Clemson (2-3). Last year athletic director Terry Don Phillips looked through a thick stack of résumés and hired a member of fired Tommy Bowden’s staff, who went 4-3 as the interim coach. This year some Clemson fans are falling out of love with Swinney, especially after that galling loss to Maryland.
Low Heat (22):
Bill Lynch, Indiana (3-2). A 3-0 start and a valiant effort at Michigan have significantly lessened the heat on Lynch, but he could use three more victories and a bowl bid to feel secure.
Stan Parrish, Ball State (0-5). Ball State brass doesn’t want to trap-door Parrish after one season, and after losing star QB Nate Davis a year early to the NFL. But the Cardinals were 12-0 in the regular season last year under Brady Hoke. Now they’re winless under Parrish, who brought a 2-30-1 career FBS head-coaching record with him into this position.
Mark Richt, Georgia (3-2). Seems heretical to even mention this super-consistent winner — but Year 9 hasn’t started too splendidly, and there might be some mutual fatigue between coach and fans.
Mike Sherman, Texas A&M (3-1). It would be a shock to see the Aggies get rid of Sherman after just two seasons, but the lopsided loss to Arkansas last week makes him 2-8 against opponents from “big six” conferences.
Mark Snyder, Marshall (3-2). The Thundering Herd have been better this year, but Snyder needs his first bowl bid in five seasons.
Bob Toledo, Tulane (2-2). His 8-20 record in New Orleans dazzles nobody, but the school is realistic about the challenge here. He needs to keep some of the lavish recruiting talent home, specifically a quarterback.
Charlie Weis, Notre Dame (4-1). Three straight thriller victories have lessened the heat, but it never goes away in South Bend. If Weis does no better than 8-4 or 9-3, the ND fan base figures to be divided on whether he deserves a sixth season.
Paul Wulff, Washington State (1-4). Nobody said this was going to be easy after the talent level slid alarmingly under Bill Doba. But Wulff’s 3-15 tenure has been marked by 10 losses of 26 points or more. The Cougars are getting creamed on a regular basis.
No Heat For Now (23): Steve Spurrier, South Carolina (4-1). The Gamecocks are five points short of unbeaten, but we’ve been here before under Spurrier. If they stagger in the season’s second half again, there will be calls for one of the SEC’s coaching legends to retire.
Bill Stewart, West Virginia (3-1). Administration is behind Stewart, but some fans still can’t believe the Mountaineers aren’t dominating the Big East.
Dave Wannstedt, Pittsburgh (4-1). Nine wins last year and a solid start this season seem to have stabilized his position, but the schedule is strenuous the rest of the way.
Stepping Up, Falling Back
Players who have trended up and down since last season in the six glam leagues:
Stepping up: Willie Young (24), NC State. He was good last year, recording 6.5 sacks. He’s on fire as a senior, with seven sacks (fifth nationally) and two forced fumbles.
Falling back: T.J. Yates (25), North Carolina. Threw 11 touchdown passes and four interceptions while missing most of 2008 with injury. Has thrown only six TDs and seven picks this season as the Tar Heels offense has ground to a halt.
Stepping up: Danario Alexander (26), Missouri. He wasn’t on any preseason All-Big 12 teams after watching Jeremy Maclin and Chase Coffman catch all the passes last season. But after 29 catches for 404 yards and four touchdowns in four games, he’s on the conference radar now.
Falling back: Darrell Scott (27), Colorado. If the hugely touted recruit’s freshman season was a disappointment (448 yards from scrimmage in 11 games), his sophomore season has been closer to a disappearance (106 yards from scrimmage in three games).
Stepping up: Bill Stull (28), Pittsburgh. The quarterback was pedestrian last season — right up until he was simply dreadful in a 3-0 Sun Bowl loss to Oregon State. But the senior fought off Tino Sunseri and Pat Bostick to keep the starting job and has responded well, with 11 TDs and just one interception in five games. He’s now fifth nationally in pass efficiency.
Falling back: Victor Anderson (29), Louisville. Maybe it’s the lack of blocking, but Anderson has broken just one run this year of any significant distance (a 35-yarder against Kentucky). As a freshman last year, he had runs of 37, 40, 56 and 88 yards.
Big Ten Stepping up: Scott Tolzien (30), Wisconsin. The junior quarterback had five career completions heading into this season. After barely winning the starting job he’s taken over the position, ranking 18th nationally and leading the Big Ten in pass efficiency.
Falling back: Juice Williams (31), Illinois. The senior finally threw his first touchdown pass of the season last weekend, but it wasn’t enough to keep his starting job. Zook is sending the blue-chip recruit to the bench after watching the Illini score 26 points in three games against FBS competition. Pac-10
Stepping up: Chris Owusu (32), Stanford. Last year as a freshman, the wide receiver/kick returner touched the ball 19 times without much memorable to show for it. This year he’s already returned three kickoffs for touchdowns (in just seven attempts) and caught two touchdown passes in 29 high-impact touches.
Falling back: Darian Hagan (33), California. The defensive back broke up 15 passes and intercepted three more last season while making 56 total tackles. This year he’s broken up just one pass and made no interceptions while recording 13 total tackles.
SEC Stepping up: Chris Todd (34), Auburn. The guy who supposedly was in over his head as an SEC quarterback in ’08 is the league’s surprise QB of ’09. He’s eighth nationally in efficiency and has 12 touchdowns to just one interception.
Falling back: Jevan Snead (35), Mississippi. His slow start last season was supposedly the result of rust after transferring from Texas. What’s the reason this year? Snead hasn’t had a 60 percent completion game yet this season and was flat-out unproductive in the Rebels’ loss at South Carolina. He’s 66th nationally in efficiency.
Of course, nobody has stepped up more fabulously in 2009 than Dashette Irina Shayk (36). The Dash dares you to disagree with that.
Coach Who Earned His Comp Car This Week
The Dash is still totally digging the work done by third-year Idaho coach Robb Akey (37), whose Vandals are now a heady 4-1. They’re also 2-0 against Mountain West Conference opponents after upsetting Colorado State last week 31-29. At this rate, Idaho could be headed toward its first competitive matchup with in-state rival and conference kingpin Boise State in years. (The date of that game is Nov. 14.)
Coach Who Should Take The Bus To Work
California’s Jeff Tedford (38). The putative offensive genius has seen his Golden Bears score six points in two Pac-10 games. The opposition has scored 72. Four of quarterback Kevin Riley’s first 17 completions on the season went for touchdowns; just one of the subsequent 56 has gone for a TD.
Putting Out An APB For …
… Former LSU wide receiver Wendell Davis (39), who caught a lot of passes in the 1980s from Tommy Hodson. Anyone who knows the whereabouts of the Tigers’ No. 2 all-time leader in receiving yards, please apprise The Dash.
Meanwhile, The Dash is pleased to report that last week’s APB subject, former Oklahoma nose guard Tony Casillas, is alive and well and living in Dallas, where he does radio analyst work on Cowboys broadcasts. The Dash thanks all spies who contributed updates on Casillas.
For anyone headed to Columbia, Mo., for the Thursday night showdown between Nebraska and Missouri, The Dash recommends a beer at Harpo’s (40), an old-school bar situated between campus and downtown. Rumor is the next Mizzou student served there will be the 10 millionth all-time.
LeGarrette Blount, Tate Forcier, Clemson Tigers, LSU Tigers and the art of the apology – ESPN.