Whenever a college sports scandal arises, it’s important to remind ourselves that the punishment doesn’t fit the crime, because often the crime is something normal people think should be legal. Heinous violence, hazing and sexual deviancy aside, recruiting violations, extra practices and things like this sign-stealing business in Ann Arbor don’t really matter. Unless a coach is running his players to death, or literally is in the opposing team’s headset, all of it — including paying a bajillion dollars for a recruit — follows the unwritten hand guide to college athletics.
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Read beyond the headline on what Michigan is accused of and you’ll find that it’s not an in-game Houston Astros tip-off, or a Bill Belichick filming red-zone calls in the lead-up to the Super Bowl. One of Jim Harbaugh’s assistants went rogue, according to the coach, and did some off-campus, in-game scouting of opponents ahead of games against the Wolverines.
The reason that would violate NCAA rule No. 5-2-Oh who gives a sh*t, is because not all universities can afford to send scouts on roadtrips, and the NCAA, in all its altruistic wisdom, could not live with itself if it perpetuated injustice. Everything must be equal, and even though I guarantee every blue-blood football school does this, Harbaugh is atop the overlord’s most wanted list, and never underestimate grown adults’ ability to hold grudges.
Kansas men’s hoops coach Bill Self is similarly featured on that most wanted list, and this week said the investigation into his university’s improprieties — that resulted in a nothing burger as far as detrimental discipline goes — damaged his reputation “immensely.” I’m not sure the general public has held college basketball and football coaches in high esteem since Blue Chips, and the opinion is so low that “immensely” doesn’t apply.
It’s like finding out that a serial killer who murdered 15 people actually has five undiscovered corpses still out there. Would you say that the mass murder’s reputation would be marred “immensely” if police found the other victims? No, because the public perception can’t go any lower.
Who cares about Connor Stalions, what he’s accused of doing for the Wolverines, or how he got that cool name? I’m honestly more intrigued by that last question than anything else about Stalions, because a football program that’s not paranoid enough to constantly change signals is either dumb or naive.
A coach who wins games while having a semblance of institutional control is extremely difficult to find, and schools exhaust every last resource to retain them. So, Harbaugh, Self, Nick Saban, Mark Few, Kirby Smart and on down the line, are as empowered as they are enabled. Add in a lucrative contract and an obsessive support system, and you’ve got a nice bit of insulation to the naysayers and outside noise.
Michigan fans will run through a wall as readily as U-M’s players, and Harbaugh’s holier than thou demeanor is ideal. Deny, deny, deny and then let the hounds come to your defense. He couldn’t really be a tyrant in the NFL, because a great coach doesn’t guarantee success and it’s very hard to dictate to players when you’re expected to have working relationships longer than four years.
Schools don’t have owners either and clashes with the brass often result in alumni taking the coach’s side, so Harbaugh is essentially an unimpeachable deity in maize and blue. Call him a jerk or an ass clown or the devil in dad pants — none of it bothers a narcissist. And that’s what you have to be to be a great college coach.
These coaches are up to their elbows in sludge every day, and trust me, they know how dirty of a business it is; that’s why I generalize the best as ego-maniacs. Success at the college level is rarely, if ever, clean, and to present yourself as a leader among men while wading through filth takes a level of self-assurance very few can reach in good conscience.
But you tell me: How well do you think Jim Harbaugh sleeps at night?