I never thought I’d see a coach get fired for making his players practice too much.
Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2013 is a day I will never forget.
It was the day that USC baseball coach Frank Cruz had his “contract terminated” for reportedly violating the NCAA’s Countable Athletically Related Activities. For the record, according to the NCAA, here are some of the standards:
– Cannot practice more than four hours a day or 20 hours per week during the season.
– Meetings, practice, film study all count toward the 20 hours
– Required to have at least one day off a week during the season.
– In the offseason, can practice no more than eight hours per week.
Now, listen. I am in no way condoning breaking the rules. I think programs should be run in a clean manner. But to fire a coach for wanting his players to be better? It seems a little excessive.
I understood suspending Cruz. That’s fine. But I think firing Cruz was not the right move. In a culture of sports where performance enhancing drugs, paying recruits and sex scandals seem to be the norm, I think there has to be a line drawn when someone deserves to be fired and when they don’t. We’re treating practicing in the same manner as sex scandals.
A coach deserves to lose his or her job when he or she puts players in a position to be injured, either mentally or physically. If this was situation like the one that happened recently at Washington State with Mike Leach, I could understand Pat Haden taking the action that he did. Leach reportedly held practices that not only lasted too long, but essentially hazed players by shooting cold water at them and making them practice in freezing conditions in the sand. That is grounds for firing, and he still has a job, somehow.
It’s not fair to completely come down on Haden and the athletic department quite yet. We don’t know all the facts — there could very easily be something that comes out later. But unless Cruz was firing industrial power water hoses at players at 6 a.m., this was not the right move for USC. And not just for the baseball team, for the entire athletic department.
Men’s basketball coach Kevin O’Neill was fired just a few months ago for poor performance. Honestly, I would have been okay if Cruz had been fired for his less than stellar record while coaching the Trojans, but that wasn’t the reason we were given.
The Twitterverse was in disbelief yesterday, referring to USC as somewhat of an unstable situation, having lost two major coaches recently. This is not the reputation it needs right now. The school is still getting over the Reggie Bush disaster. USC became “the school that cheats.” Now, it’s the school that can’t decide who to keep as coach. A lack of stability in the football program doomed a once-promising 2013 recruiting class for Lane Kiffin. A lack of stability is bound to doom the other two programs, too, especially since the baseball season starts Friday.
Haden has an obligation to self-sanction his programs, especially in the wake of the current football sanctions, but this seems a step too far. There is no way programs are going to survive if coaches get canned right before a season starts for breaking rules on practice times. That just doesn’t seem right.
How, as a player, are you supposed to give it your all when the man in charge of your program was fired? This can’t bode well for the team, no matter how admirably interim head coach Dan Stubbs fills in. The USC athletic department, regardless of policing itself in the wake of previous scandals, is not doing itself favors at this point in time.
Coaches deserve to be fired quite frequently, and normally it is warranted. Poor performance and sketchy practices are reasons to fire someone. But when a coach makes players practice more than they are supposed to? That deserves a slap on the wrist. Cruz did not endanger players by making them practice or holding too many meetings. He simply wanted to get the most out of his players. That doesn’t really strike me as a fireable offense.
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