(UPDATE: Oregon on Wednesday suspended strength and conditioning coach Irele Oderinde for one month pay and coach Willie Taggart issued an apology to the families of three players hospitalized for overexertion caused by "military training like" off-season work outs. "I hold myself responsible for all football-related activities," Taggart said as part of a university-released statement, "and the safety of our students must come first." )
My first impulse was to scream "Fire Everybody!"
Rankman, though, is older now, so he calmly invoked his "10-second rule" and poured a hot cup of green tea.
No need to jump to a radical conclusion, yet, on the news emanating from the University of Oregon’s football program.
There is already enough knee-jerk reaction in this world--don't be one of them.
Contrary to popular tweet, not every story is black or white. Let me say this, though, regarding three Oregon players hospitalized after undergoing “military training” like off-season workouts in January:
I am officially conducting my own “Sting” operation in the form of one of the singer’s most famous lyrics:
Every move you make, every chance you take, I’ll be watching you.
I was supportive of Willie Taggart’s hiring in December and generally agree that the Ducks need to get tougher on the field.
The one subject that will set me off, more than any other, is any conflating of military training to football training.
This is a subject near, and not so dear, to my heart. I have studied the Neanderthal tactics of Coach Bear Bryant at Texas A&M (The Junction Boys) and Frank Kush at Arizona State.
The idea that players, in 2017, could be hospitalized for overexertion sets off alarm bells and warrants a thorough examination by Oregon and the Pac 12 office.[membership level="0"] The rest of this article is available to subscribers only - to become a subscriber click here.[/membership] [membership]
Passing a boot-camp fitness test in January, eighth months before the season opener, seems more about “laying down the new law” than anything remotely necessary.
Don't get me started on this: I didn’t play big-time college football, but was physically and mentally abused by a Pop Warner coach who came to our town straight from Vietnam. He brought with him every drill-instructor tactic taught to him by the U.S. Military. He denied us water and made us run plays until we puked. He beat the linemen with a wooden plank, on their helmets, if their heads rose above a certain level on the six-man blocking sled he built and kept in the back of his VW van. Nice guy, huh?
If this was supposed to build character, well, it backfired. I survived the season but was forever impacted. The coach was fired but simply took his act to another town.
The act of driving players to hospitalization during training is anathema to everything we’ve come to know about sports.
This should never happen, especially at Oregon, a purported scientific incubator of modern training techniques designed to override this kind of caveman thinking.
I was lucky enough to watch one of Chip Kelly’s Oregon teams practice in Eugene. It was a symphony of precision and balletic motion as players conditioned WHILE they were running plays.
It was efficient and smart and, not surprisingly, copied by coaches all over the country. Kelly tied performance to proper nutrition and rest. It seemed so, I don't know, human.
Everything I know about modern training technique would call for a gradual building of strength and stamina. This isn’t like the old days, when players slacked off (or worked) in the off months and were forced to get fit in a matter of days.
A football regular season is dangerous enough—it doesn’t need dangerous off seasons. Yet, as my CBS Sports colleague Dennis Dodd noted, since 2001, there have been 21 player deaths from overexertion.
This is just insane.
Many have reacted harshly to the Oregon story. Veteran NFL lineman Joe Thomas tweeted “Whoever is behind this should be fired, nothing to do with football. Where’s the @NCAA? How about protecting athletes instead of your paychecks!”
I’m willing to cut Taggart a "guilty with an explanation," pending a deeper investigation. I want to hear from all sides. Was this a tactic Taggart employed often at South Florida? Was this a pattern, or aberration? Resolution might mean sacking the strength coordinator, a public reprimand and a full, transparent report. Or all of the above.
There is no place in football, or anywhere, for players ending up in the hospital while trying to get in shape.
The era of the Junction Boys’ days is over and dead, so let’s help keep today’s players healthy and alive. Especially the ones we're only paying in scholarships and pizza-night stipends.
Coach Taggart, your off-season program is now under watch:
Every step you make, every bond you break, every breath you take…[/membership]