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Welcome to the Art of Football discipline. Today's guests are Indiana coach Kevin Wilson and Purdue coach Darrell Hazell, with input from Ohio State coach Urban Meyer and Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald.
Players messing up are nothing new, but the attention it receives, both from mainstream media and social media, is enormous. So when Ohio State had four players get in trouble recently, it made national headlines. Meyer faced a Big Ten football media day grilling over it.
Running back Carlos Hyde was indefinitely suspended after being named a person of interest in an alleged assault, cornerback Bradley Roby was arrested in Bloomington on charges of battery for his role in a fight, tight end Marcus Baugh was arrested for underage possession of alcohol and possession of a fake ID, and defensive lineman Tim Gardner was arrested on charges of obstructing official police business.
Meyer, who had multiple players get in trouble with the law during his coaching days at Florida, said he was “disappointed” and “furious” about having to deal with the distraction to what could be a national championship season. He's considering keeping assistant coaches on campus in July -- which is usually the only time coaches can take vacations -- so they can monitor players and their behavior. He's evaluating whether he's given too many players second chances.
As far as the head coach being ultimately responsible for the actions of his players, Meyer said, “The head coach needs a set of standards, needs to direct, guide, mentor and push. Ultimately, though, every person is held accountable for the decisions he makes.”
How do Wilson and Hazell handle discipline?
Let's take a look.
Wilson said the keys to discipline include being consistent with the standards you set and the penalties you impose when rules are broken.
“You can talk to people differently -- positive and negative,” he said. “You can communicate differently to different people. But your standard has to be consistent.”
Wilson, who is starting his third season, lost more than 30 players in his first year when he brought in standards -- most relating to work ethic -- that sometimes differed from that of Bill Lynch, Indiana's previous coach.
“The better the player, maybe the higher the standard,” Wilson said. “If you have a gifted player and you start cutting him slack for being late for a meeting or his locker is sloppy or he misses some classes or he didn't run through the line, all of a sudden the other players see that.
“You educate your best players to understand we will only be as good as you. Everybody is watching you.”
Hazell is in his debut season with Purdue after two years at Kent State. Before that he was a longtime receivers coach at Ohio State. He is set to distribute "A Player's Manual" that includes a section on discipline and rules.
“Any time you have 18 to 22 year olds, once in a while they're going to step out of line,” he said. “You have to get on it right away. If you let it linger and those behaviors fester, it's a problem. The team gets the message when you come down hard on one of them. They get that message pretty quickly. That it's serious.”
Hazell didn't hesitate to suspend receiver OJ Ross last February for an unspecified violation of team rules. Ross is not listed on the team roster or mentioned in the team media guide.
“(We've sent that message), not as hard yet as we could, and hopefully we don't have to,” Hazell said. “We took some things out of a guy's locker early. That vibrates through the locker room. When you clean out a guy's locker, and it might be a temporary cleaning out, when he comes to the locker and stuff is gone, that sends a strong message.”
Wilson said he has some flexibility with some rules. He goes over them with team leaders to get feedback.
“We communicate regularly about what's expected. That doesn't change. But I'm open to talk about it. If we make a team rule, the first thing I do is share it with our team leaders and say, if this doesn't make sense, come see me. If it's a rule and we're not going to follow it …
“If I say on Thursday night I don't want you out at 11 p.m., and everybody is out at 12 o'clock, that's a problem.
“You don't give them everything they want, but you get feedback. Now the players feel part of the rules. There's ownership.”
The best way to prevent discipline problems, Northwestern's Fitzgerald said, is to recruit quality people as well as quality players.
“I think discipline begins in recruiting. The identification of a student-athlete who fits your program.
“In Evanston, that starts with character evaluation. We've got a set of questions that are married with the values of or program. That character evaluation takes a little bit longer.
“We're going to use every means necessary -- the high school coach, the athletic director, the principal, the guidance counselor, whatever champion is in that young person's life who can answer the tough questions and give us the right answers to make sure that young person is the right fit.
“If you look at our history in recruiting, we're typically a day late, a week late, a month late in offering a young person. I know it sometimes frustrates our fans, but we're going to make sure when we offer a young man, that he's someone we truly want to become a part of our football family.”