Before his firing Thursday, Kevin Wilson seemingly built up some cachet at Indiana. The Wilson-led Hoosiers just sealed their second postseason appearance in as many years, the first time the long-downtrodden program had reached such an achievement in more than a quarter-century.
But like Jim Leavitt at USF and Mark Mangino at Kansas before him, no measure of on-field success can justify jeopardizing players’ physical well-being — at least, not in the 21st century.
The first stories of player mistreatment have only begun to trickle in, mostly without explicit sourcing. Former Oklahoma offensive lineman Gabe Ikard, a Sooner during Wilson’s days as OU offensive coordinator, offered up the following:
Kevin Wilson once ripped my buckled helmet off my head, spit on my jersey, & punched me in chest during practice.
But the guy could coach.
— Gabe Ikard (@GabeIkard) December 1, 2016
Increased awareness of the long-term effects of football injuries — namely concussions — has made coaches, players, fans, media and decision-makers all more cognizant of player-safety. Hoosier Zander Diamont denied via Twitter that his recently announced retirement had no connection to Kevin Wilson’s firing — on the contrary, Diamont wrote Wilson was supportive of the quarterback’s recovery.
Diamont’s retirement does speak in an emphatically coincidental way to the growing attention given to injury.
— Zander Diamont (@zanderdiamont) November 26, 2016
Indiana’s announcement of Wilson’s firing juxtaposes in a week that included the dismissals of both Charlie Strong and Mark Helfrich, widely celebrated for their professionalism, and ultimately ousted for failing to win.
The sport is singularly obsessed with winning to a degree that would make D.J. Khaled blush, and the margin for error is almost nonexistent. Consider Helfrich, whose four years at Oregon went: 11-2; 13-2 with Pac-12 and Rose Bowl championships and a national runner-up finish; and 9-4 in a season that, had quarterback Vernon Adams never been injured, one could reasonably contend would have yielded another Pac-12 title and perhaps a return to the College Football Playoff.
One-half of a bowl game and a 4-8 downturn were all that it took for Oregon brass to pull the plug on Helfrich, fearing further decline and a situation akin to that which cost Strong his job. Strong’s three straight sub-.500 campaigns mark the bottoming-out of a long decline, which started in 2010 — one season after the Longhorns claimed a Big 12 championship and finished as national runners-up.
The erosion of a coach’s margin for error exists in direct, inverse correlation to the monetary investment athletic departments make into winning football. College football coaches are held to a standard one would expect of a seven-figure income job — a standard that, frankly, more corporate executives should be held to.
Sometimes lost in the discussion of hot seats, a conversation fixated almost exclusively on wins and losses, is that coaches are responsible for unpaid, young adults; men typically ranging from 18-to-23 years old.
College football players spend more time with their coaches than they will their professors in their time on campus. The role of college coach, in its purest form, should be that of teacher.