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WWWD (What would Woody do)? November 14, 2011

Posted by intellectualgridiron in Sports.
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How would Woody have done it?  That is a popular question to ask in Columbus, Ohio, and throughout the Buckeye State.  It can be a very effective conversation-starter in that part of the country, though beware of the side-effect of it possibly sparking some not-so-civil debates, too.  But it may seem like an odd question to ask in the wake of the earth-shaking scandal at conference neighbor Penn State, a controversy so huge it has already resulted not only in the immediate termination of 46-year head coach Joe Paterno, but also in that athletics director Tim Curley has been placed on administrative leave, as he is charged with perjury and failure to report a crime, not to mention the resignation of the university president himself.  In case you have been under a rock for the past eight days or so, long-time Penn State assistant coach Jerry Sandusky, who mysteriously retired from coaching at age 55 in 1999, has been charged with molesting a total of eight young boys (that we know of) over the past 15 years.

In hindsight, it has been alleged that Sandusky’s retirement at that relatively early age came about because this perverted proclivity of his was an obvious liability to the program, and was quietly nudged out.  Still, for the past 12 years, not only has Sandusky been allowed back on campus, but was granted practically unlimited access to the football facilities (locker room, weight
room, you name it) and was on campus frequently as part of his non-profit organization that he established to help at-risk youth – commendable thing by itself, to be sure.

If I do a little rudimentary arithmetic, 2011 minus 15 equals 1996.  Yet Sandusky was not gently nudged out until 1999, three years later.  That alone does not seem right.  So I come back to my original inquiry:  how would Woody have handled it?  Given his hard-nosed, no-nonsense demeanor, one can surmise two possible scenarios.

Scenario A:  Upon learning the news that Woody has a sick pervert on his staff, Woody, barges into that coach’s office, confronts him point-blank, with the upshot that said coach has 15 minutes to clear out his office before he calls campus security, and follows up with the ultimatum that said coach better not do so much as come within a hundred yards of the campus ever again, or there shall be hell to pay.

Scenario B:  Instead of the pedophile coach being charged with child molestation, Woody would be charged with manslaughter, for many a red-blooded American male would find it to be his manly duty to dispatch with the pervert himself with one’s own bare hands.

The reason I mention Woody at all in the wake of these now-discovered, hideous, though alleged, evils on the part of Jerry Sandusky is there is some commonality with the late Wayne Woodrow Hayes and Joe[Grand]Pa.  Both are/were larger-than-life figures for their respective programs.  Both have/had won national championships.  Moreover, both have been known, either publicly or privately, as uncompromising, my-way-or-the-highway leaders, and both careers ended in scandal, albeit to varying degrees.

But an even bigger reason for mentioning Hayes at a time like this is that both he and Paterno are considered “old school.”  The aforementioned “scenarios” are surely commensurate with an “old school” solution to having such a pervert in one’s midst.  Unfortunately in this case, those are not the only two old school scenarios out there.  Even more unfortunately, Paterno chose old
school Scenario C:  keep it quiet, and sweep it under the rug.  Not really a good idea back then, and a horrible one in these modern times.

The rationalizations for Paterno not dealing with this problem in a more direct manner are fairly diverse, among those being “maybe he did not know.”  Puh-leeze.  As a former staff member on a Big Ten football team, I have witnessed first-hand the long hours the head coach and his assistants alike work for months on end.  A coaching staff in D-1 college football becomes a very closely-knit bunch.  There is no physical way on this Earth that the other coaches did not know about Sandusky’s alleged perversion.  Anyone to suggest otherwise knows nothing about the social nature and the demands of the profession.

Given this reality, how come nothing was done to address this glaring liability?  The aforementioned “Scenario C” only partially provides the answer.  A more thorough explanation would be the overall organizational culture, something one can only lay at the feet of the head coach himself.  As I have explained to many of my students when teaching business courses at National College in
Louisville, Ky., the head coach of a football program is in every way the CEO of that program.  The main job of the CEO of any organization is not only to set the company’s strategy (to both devise and implement), but to set the organization’s tone – indeed, it’s very culture.  As we the public have now discovered in the most unwitting way possible – within reason – the culture Paterno established was one of enabling, as in, looking the other way.

Seeing things another way, can one see other “old school” coaches establishing an enabling culture like at Penn State?  Could one envision, say, Barry Switzer, Howard Schnellenberger, Bear Bryant, or even Lou Holtz countenancing such alleged evils on their watch?

There are many lessons to be learned from this stranger-than-fiction, sordid tale.  I could have thought of a few possible ways that would lead to JoePa’s long-overdue departure, but if somebody earlier this year told me that a scandal of this magnitude would A) actually occur, and B) lead to Paterno’s immediate ouster, I would have said they were crazy.  But aside from that, the lessons:

Lesson 1:  It never ends well for these geriatric head coaches that have been a legendary, overpowering fixture at a program for multiple decades when they do not know when it is time to exit the stage.  Just ask Florida State’s dad-gum coach Bobby Bowden.  To the credit of Bear Bryant, arguably the greatest coach of all time in any sport, not just football, he finally figured out when it was time to say “when.”  It ended well for him (he even went out winning a bowl game).  Not so much Sweet Ol’ Bobby, nor for Joe[Grand]Pa.

Lesson 2:  An enabling culture will eventually come back to haunt you, whether you are a living legend, or a young, seemingly innocent up-and-comer (e.g., Mike McQueary).  If you are the latter, it can ruin your career before it fully develops.  If you are the former, it can permanently tarnish if not outright ruin the legacy you have labored decades to build.

Lesson 3:  Speaking of not ending well, that is particularly the case for these dictatorial, inflexible, my-way-or-the-highway head coaches, as Joe Paterno is now learning the hard way (at age 84).  He could have learned this lesson from Frank Kush at Arizona State.  Heck, he could have asked Woody.

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