It’s unclear exactly how it happened, but ever since word of the Aaron Hernandez murder case came down the issue of a head coach’s responsibility for his player’s conduct has been a fixture of the national narrative for going on a month now. As the media days circuit has snaked its way across the country over the past two weeks, the question has been tossed from coach to coach like a hot potato.
Urban Meyer got the ball rolling by texting, “Relating or blaming these serious charges to Univ. of Florida, myself or our staff is wrong and irresponsible,” to the Gainesville Sun earlier this month.
Then, Will Muschamp said at SEC Media Days: “You’re 100 percent responsible for every student-athlete on your football team,” Muschamp said. “I can’t possibly know everything that happens every single night with our football team. You also can’t stick your head in the sand and pretend everything is OK either.”
Muschamp was praised for giving a great answer. Of course, less than a week later Gators linebacker Antonio Morrison was arrested for barking at a police dog.
On Wednesday morning at Big Ten media days, it was Pat Fitzgerald’s turn. The Northwestern head coach gave an answer that one reporter is already hailing as the best answer ever given on the subject.
“I think discipline begins in recruiting,” Fitzgerald said. “The identification of a student-athlete that fits your program, in Evanston, it starts with that character evaluation. We’ve got a set of questions that are married with the values of our program…. That’s kind of a road map for our assistant coaches as they go out and evaluate perspective student-athletes. If you look at our history in recruiting, we’re typically a day late, a week late, a month late in potentially offering a young person and I know sometimes that frustrates our fans but we’re going to make sure when we offer a young man that’s someone we truly want to become a part of our football family.”
“That character evaluation takes a little bit longer and we’re going to try to use every means necessary, the coach, the AD, the principal, the guidance counselor, whatever champion in that young person’s life that we can find that’s going to answer the tough questions to give us the right answers and make sure that young person’s the right fit,” said Fitzgerald. “I’m also respectful of the other programs in the country, that everyone’s a little different and unique in how they go about that, but that is a very serious discussion that we have.”
The third part of Fitzgerald’s answer is basically just running up the score. It’s safe to say he doesn’t lose any sleep wondering if his players will get arrested for barking at a police dog, much less anything more serious.
“I’m very proud of the job that our young men in our community, giving back and being a part of our community in a positive way on the Northwestern campus and in the Evanston and Chicagoland community, and being a role model for student-athletes across the country. But again I think that goes back to the identification in recruiting,” he concluded.
Is it any wonder why this guy has Northwestern football humming at a historic rate?