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

Aaron 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.


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