Wiedmer: Nine football assistant coaches aren't enough?

Wiedmer: Nine football assistant coaches aren't enough?

June 1st, 2011 by Mark Wiedmer in Sports - Columns

So University of Tennessee football coach Derek Dooley wants a bigger staff, does he?

As if more coaches won't just make the Volunteers better on the field, but better citizens off it. As if his nine position coaches and 15 other support staffers directly related to football - everyone from the strength and conditioning coach to graduate assistants for offense and defense to quality-control interns to Condredge Holloway (assistant athletic director for player relations) and Andre Lott (Vols for Life coordinator) - aren't enough.

Dooley may accurately argue - as he did during an interview with ESPN at the Southeastern Conference's spring meetings Tuesday: "If you look at scholarships, we're 8.5 [players] to 1 [coach]. If you look at full squads, it's 10.5 to 1. There's not one sport in the country that has a higher ratio than football."

Then again, as Mark Twain once said, there are lies, (darn) lies and statistics. Dooley's numbers can also look like this: Throw in the other 15 staffers and you've got a ratio of roughly 4 to 1 for full squads.

If a coach, intern or Condredge Holloway can't keep up with the behavior of four young men who theoretically need the UT program more than it needs them, Dooley either is recruiting the wrong kind of kid or the whole country's headed for disaster a decade down the road.

This is not to say Dooley didn't make a few solid points. For instance, he was right to say, "Football players are under a much greater scrutiny level and coaches are under more accountability than every other sport for their players' actions, maybe except basketball."

He was also dead-on right to wonder, "Explain to me why we have a higher player-to-coach ratio than any other sport out there when we're bringing in 85 percent of the revenue and our players are more scrutinized than any other sport out there. Our coaches are more accountable for what our players do in academics and off the field."

In other words, shouldn't the guys who pay the bills make the rules, or at least have a significant say in them?

Dooley should also be saluted to the heavens for telling former Times Free Press writer Wes Rucker, "If they want to come smoke weed, I probably don't want them in the program. Go somewhere else and smoke. That can be their problem."

Reasonable men and women can argue over where marijuana rates as an illegal drug. But unless you're recovering from cancer - at which time you should probably be able to use any drug that makes you feel better - marijuana is still illegal in every SEC state. It's ruined a lot more lives than it's helped. And did we mention it's illegal?

So every true Vols fan should praise Dooley for his apparent lack of interest in dealing with athletes who don't understand how lucky they are to get a free education and a probable good job right out of college for the sole reason they made some future employer happy on autumn Saturday afternoons.

But that's pretty much where Dooley's good points ended. Especially after he told ESPN, "We don't have enough coaches to manage this many players and be accountable for all of their actions."

We repeat: Twenty-four coaches and support staffers aren't enough for roughly 100 football players, including walk-ons? Beyond that, should a walk-on cause a problem? Shouldn't a walk-on be run off the first time he gets so much as a parking ticket? Don't maximum security prisons get by with less than 4-to-1 guard-to-prisoner ratios?

The NCAA limited coaching staffs to save money and keep mid-majors competitive. The Big Boy staffs (a Dooley term) basically skirt the rule with all their grad assistants, interns and life skill coordinators such as Holloway and Lott.

Dooley may be right to question why the NCAA came up with nine. But they could have come up with eight or seven. They could have limited support staffs.

And just to prove that you don't have to be a major college football player short on supervision to get into trouble, UT All-America swimmer Ricky Henahan was charged with felony vandalism, resisting a stop and public intoxication after he attempted to pull a stop sign out of the ground at 2:50 a.m. Sunday in Knoxville.

Maybe those swimmers need more coaches.

Or maybe Dooley needed to heed his own words before he spoke them Tuesday.

Said the second-year coach to one Internet outlet: "Coaches love to complain about what people say, but we're the ones who generally cause it."

Whether it's the self-inflicted professional demise of former Ohio State coach Jim Tressel or the self-inflicted nonsense of bigger coaching staffs, Dooley's above quote may be his finest yet.

But just in case he really does need another staffer or two, here's a suggestion: Let him pay for it out of his salary instead of the athletic department budget. Then we'll see whether this is a case of need or want.