Aaron Hernandez case sheds light on how responsible coaches are for their players’ fate

A aron Hernandez signed a five-year contract last summer worth $40 million with the New England Patriots, living in a $1.3 million mansion in North Attleboro, Massachusetts with his fiance’ and new baby girl.

Now the former Florida Gator lives in a 7-foot-by-10-foot cell at Bristol County jail, where he has been held since June 26 when he was escorted from his mansion in handcuffs and charged with first-degree murder and weapons violations. Inmate No. 174594 hasn’t been allowed any visitors, and reportedly enjoyed his first prison meal of American chop suey, green beans, and a piece of bread.

It is hard for the common man to imagine. A person with literally any and everything at their fingertips, unable to then deal with it all. Unable to make simple good choices in life, leading to the difference between freedom and captivity.

But what role do coaches play? In one sense it’s proposterous to place responsibility on Urban Meyer, Hernandez’s college coach while at Florida for these actions. But is it? How responsible are coaches for the ultimate fates of their players?

That’s the $1,000,000 question, or $40,000,000…neither of which is enough to get Hernandez free on bond. Did Urban Meyer see the signs of rage and personal irresponsibility in this alleged killer while he was under his watch care in Gainesville? And if so, what if anything did he do to alter Herandez’s wreckless life?

The coaching profession at any level settles on wins and losses. Win, and you’re a success, and you stay. Lose, and you get fired, and you go. It’s as simple as that. Your family has to uproot. Your teenage children have to change middle or high schools. The house your wife loves has to be sold. It’s a tough business. One can easily connect the dots with the thinking of an Urban Meyer if it was easier to look the other way.

The college incident everyone is talking about involved Hernandez sucker punching a bouncer while at Florida, busting his eardrum in the process. The 2007 altercation arose over his refusal to pay for two drinks.

Tim Tebow attempted to break up the clash. Acccording to police reports, Tebow and Hernandez called Urban Meyer immediately. Soon after, a noted area defense attorney known for making cases like this go away, apparently did what he does best.

Now six years later, Hernandez is accused of murder. So did Meyer really do Hernandez a solid by getting him off the hook?

I’ll answer that, perhaps, with a story. A while back my daughter was riding in a car with a friend. It was evening, the sun having just gone down behind the trees. Up ahead a car began flashing its lights at them. A short distance up the road, there sat the cop, waiting. But by then, their speed had dropped to the 35 mph the law required. And the two made it to our home without incident. Her parents never found out; it was a non-issue.

A short time later the same friend took a curve too fast, lost control, severely injured herself and totaled her car. Now, did the driver who flashed its lights do my daughter’s friend a favor, or would a speeding ticket and a little parental involvement…and a crummy summer job to pay for the fine…have led the girl to make better decisions behind the wheel?

Who’s to say. But if there’s one truth in life, it’s that you don’t learn the hard lessons if you’re not allowed a little suffering. The Bible says “Spare the rod, spoil the child.” Or, spare the eventual convict, make him an eventual convict for a longer period of time.

Dead people tell no tales, but one thing’s for sure: If they could, Lloyd Odin would probably urge Urban not to call that lawyer. Hernandez’ alleged victim’s bullet-ridden body was found in an industrial park shortly before video surveillance caught Hernandez returning to his home, his .45 glock in hand. More surveillance sees Hernandez and two associates leaving with Odin earlier in the day.

But when a coach’s livelihood is on the line, is making the phone call to bail your star player…and ultimately yourself…out the right thing to do?

I’ll never forget Bobby Bowden’s ridiculous take on the subject when his star kicker Sebastian Janikowski found himself in trouble with the law. Everybody saw through Bowden’s assertion that “suspending him would just penalize the rest of the team,” when everybody knew Bowden just didn’t want to hurt his own chances in the bowl game. It wasn’t about anyone on the team but himself.

The same could be said of Gene Chizik in the circus that happened on his watch in Lee County. The number of cases of sheer thuggery was staggering…including the player who beat an AU student half to death, leaving him in pool of his own blood in a hotel parking lot…yet remained on the roster. The same player, Eric Smith, remained in the BCS title game after cleat kicking a defenseless Oregon player in the face while he lay on the ground. But when you’re facing Nick Saban across the state, and trying to appease a fan base and boosters hungry for their first title in their lifetime, what do you do? Look the other way, and whistle.

Saban has had his fair share of incidents, but I’ve yet to see him bail anyone out. If there is anyone a magic attorney could’ve helped it would have been Brent Calloway. The former tug-of-war recruit between Bama and Auburn only committed a $5 purchase from a vending machine using the victim’s student card, after the fact, and apart from the actual incident involving three UA players. And yet, Calloway was shown the door like the rest. Will this lead to his eventual good? Time will tell.

Time has told the story on Hernandez, however. It’s just hard to say at this point if Meyer’s use of his authority would have saved Loyd Odin’s life, and Aaron Hernandez’s future. But 41 of his players among the 121 on the 2008 national championship team have been arrested. You have to wonder about the culture he was enabling while there, and the new culture which is apparently different ever since.

As long as players have free will…which will be forever…the answer to the question of a coach’s responsibility in how the young men they vow to shape turn out will remain difficult to answer. But as long as winning defines a coach over altering his players’ lives off the field, it will be even tougher.


(Follow ITK on Twitter for Bama news, commentary and smack.)

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16 Responses to “Aaron Hernandez case sheds light on how responsible coaches are for their players’ fate” Subscribe

  1. The Conduit July 8, 2013 at 8:49 am #

    I’ve read about Florida having more arrests than any other team in the SEC during Meyer’s tenure. I guess you could argue the police there are just better and it doesn’t mean Meyer was related in any way to, well, anything. Fine. I don’t hate the guy, I just don’t understand why so many people trust him.

    But for all the players that were arrested at Florida under Meyer, none of them were kicked off the team to my knowledge except Cam Newton.

    Wait, sorry, he wasn’t kicked off, he elected to leave Florida under Mullen and Meyer as the lead-in behind Tim Tebow for… Blinn College. That, or Florida had otherwise threatened to expel him for the computer thing. Or was it something worse?

    I don’t mean to make this a hateful diatribe against Cam Newton, as much as I hate the gum-chewing, face-hiding creep. But for all the arrests at Florida, was the laptop theft really enough to kick a star like that out?

    Think about it. Fights, drugs, drunk-driving accidents and failed sobriety tests, even other similar thefts to the laptop happened under Meyer’s watch, but they show Newton the door? Did he do more than we know about? We know it wasn’t his first issue with the law at Florida, but could a laptop really have been enough for Florida to expel a star backup QB? Was it a timing issue?

    I never understood it, and sure, Newton found the perfect fit at Auburn instead, but he had to work through Blinn College to get there, right? So getting in trouble at Florida made a bad egg reconsider his opportunities and take advantage of them by working his way up the right way.

    Only he didn’t.

    I don’t mean to imply if Cam Newton had stayed at Florida he would be assassinating his enemies a mile from his house and spitting bubble gum at the corpses (he’d never give up the gum, of course), but that doesn’t mean taking the “discipline” at Blinn College made him a good person. He may not be an idiotic murderer, and maybe that’s all that matters (and someone has to mention Rolando McClain being unable to stay on the right side of the law as well), but I think it starts before the coach.

    For example, at Alabama, we’ve seen 4-stars disappear before ever playing a down. They’re gone. Sure, it doesn’t happen often (less often now than ever) but my point is Isaiah Crowell doesn’t come to Alabama. He doesn’t fit. I think the guys who wouldn’t make the kinds of mistakes that would get them in serious trouble end up being recruited heavily at Alabama in the first place. I don’t think it’s a coincidence Alabama has players with great test scores, high graduation rates, Rhoades Scholars, and also have so few problems with the law. And even if they do make it to the Capstone, they either shape up or ship out.

    So I say it starts with the coach before the player even decides on a school. I don’t blame Urban Meyer for Hernandez’s victim(s). I’m just not sure Hernandez would have been given the opportunity at a school like Alabama.

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