Ed’s Note: Written by Sean Highkin
About a week ago, news broke of the firing of USC Trojans baseball coach Chad Kreuter. The move wasn’t necessarily surprising—after all, Kreuter had failed in his four seasons to restore the school to its glory years of the 1970s, or even lead them to the playoffs once.
You know what else didn’t surprise me? The fact that about an hour after I first saw the story of Kreuter’s firing, somebody in my Twitter feed floated the idea of Oregon’s George Horton filling USC’s coaching void. Of course, it was just a rumor and Horton hasn’t been tied to the USC job in any official capacity (yet), but I started thinking about the fact that I believed it right away, and about the deeply broken college coaching system.
The constant shifting at the head coach position is arguably more detrimental to college athletes than it is to professional ones. If a high school athlete is sold on a college because of a recruiting pitch by the coach, who can guarantee that said coach will even still be there in the Fall? How many decisions by players as to whether to turn pro or stay in school are made because of a relationship with a coach who may be in danger of being poached by a bigger-name institution?
This lack of continuity in leadership is only making worse the biggest problem with college athletics today: the transformation of college programs into essentially a farm system for the pros. On NBA draft night this year, the University of Kentucky had five players taken in the first round, including No. 1 overall pick John Wall. UK coach John Calipari proclaimed the draft, and not any the school’s seven national championships, as “the biggest day in the history of Kentucky’s program”—an incredibly revealing remark about Calipari’s priorities, as well as those of big-money college sports in general. Calipari himself is coming off his first year at Kentucky, leaving Memphis to sign an eight-year, $31 million contract.
The other major coaching story of 2010 has been Tennessee football coach Lane Kiffin, who skipped town after the first year of a six-year deal to accept a coaching position at USC. Kiffin replaced Pete Carroll, who left town the subject of numerous recruiting ethics complaints. These accusations didn’t prevent Carroll from accepting a job in the NFL (coaching the Seahawks); meanwhile, Kiffin will enter as head coach facing a two-year ban from bowl games and four years’ probation, all because of violations that took place while the team was under Carroll’s control.
It is this lack of accountability that keeps coaches giving under-the-table gifts to potential recruits, and leaving town when any kind of controversy starts. Kiffin himself has come under fire in recent weeks for not following protocol when hiring a Tennessee Titans running backs coach as his offensive coordinator at USC. What’s to stop him from leaving Southern California next year if another, higher-paying job opens up because some other coach leaves amid a cloud of complaints and sanctions? Hell, if he gets in trouble for something like this while at USC, he can leave and have no trouble getting a job somewhere else, while his replacement would be stuck with whatever sanctions are imposed on the school by the NCAA for his actions.
George Horton is ours, for now. But the fact that I saw that as an unfounded rumor and took it seriously speaks volumes about the corruption present at many levels of modern college sports. Nobody has to take responsibility for their actions, and upstart programs like Oregon’s baseball team are always in danger of having their coaches and recruits spirited away by bigger names.