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December 13, 2002

by Bill Hogan


University of Arizona football coach John Mackovic came under fire a couple of weeks ago. Many of his players – about half the team – were disgruntled with the way they were being treated and they aired their grievances to the university president. Behind Mackovic's back.

In one documented instance, the coach, commenting on a player's poor performance, told the player that he "was a disgrace to his family". The player was offended by the remark - apparently one of many 'inappropriate comments' made by Mackovic to his players.


Mackovic, at a subsequent press conference, tearfully apologized to his players and assistant coaches and promised his demeanor would improve. The coach kept his job and his $800,000 salary.

I don't know if Mackovic is psychic or just a great judge of character but he may have been right on the mark when he called that player "a disgrace to his family". The same player was arrested last week in Illinois on drug trafficking charges after a state trooper found 87 pounds of marijuana in his car.

If the allegations are true – a trial date has been set for February 3, 2003 – it seems to me that Mackovic is the one who deserves an apology.

By the way, since when are college football coaches supposed to be comforting, supportive and nurturing to their players? That's what mothers are for.

It's no secret that Division I-A college football is big business. Mackovic's team was 3-7 at the time of the incident and winless in the Pac-10 Conference. With an $800,000 job on the line, it's no wonder he was a little surly.

Here's a tip for the Arizona football team: want your coach to be more affable? Win some football games!

These guys – these 'football players' – go to the president of the university because they feel their coach is too "impersonal"? What a bunch of pansies. We're not talking about the glee club or the debate team – this is football.

Kind, courteous and thoughtful are qualities one may look for when hiring a new librarian – not the school's football coach.

Ask two-time Heisman Trophy winner Archie Griffin why he chose to play ball at Ohio State and I'll bet it wasn't because of head coach Woody Hayes' perky disposition. Hayes, who coached the Buckeyes to five national championships, was fired after punching an opposing player during the 1978 Gator Bowl. My guess is that it wasn't the first time Hayes socked a player – just the first time on national television.

His success at Ohio State is legendary, his temper tantrums are infamous. And he didn't win the devotion and dedication of his players because he gave out heart-warming hugs and candy kisses after each practice.

Who among the 1967 Super Bowl Champion Green Bay Packers would ever describe Vince Lombardi as kind and gentle? Though they will proclaim their undying love and respect for him every chance they get.

On Saturday December 14, ESPN will broadcast The Junction Boys – a made-for-tv movie based on the New York Times bestseller written by author and sportswriter Jim Dent. (Of course, anybody who watches ESPN has already seen a thousand previews over the past couple of months).

The movie chronicles the pre-season training camp of the 1954 Texas A&M football team under new head coach Paul "Bear" Bryant. Ten intense days in a desert wasteland called Junction, Texas.

One of Coach Bryant's first decisions upon his arrival at A&M was to fire the very qualified, experienced team trainer. It seems he let players linger on the sideline too long after an injury. "Bear" would have none of that.

Hellish, back-breaking practices with little or no water separated the men from the boys in a hurry. Of the 115 players that showed up the first day, only thirty-five survived the ordeal.

"Bear" Bryant was a hero to those thirty-five football players. Today, he would have been vilified by the media, thrown in jail and sued by each of the eighty players that couldn't stick it out.

(Something tells me the forty or so Arizona players that marched into the university president's office to complain about Mackovic's demeanor would have been among the first to high-tail it out of Junction, Texas).

And something tells me that the legendary Coach Paul "Bear" Bryant never had to worry about losing his job because some of his players thought he was cold and aloof.


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