The Florida Gators did themselves, their fans and embattled football coach Will Muschamp a true disservice earlier this week, and the shame of it all is this:
All they had to do was tell the truth.
Of course in today’s clandestine, covert, top-secret world of college football, you can’t be open and honest with the public — even if it makes you look good.
The Gators, even though they knew nobody would buy their fictitious story, told their fans earlier this week that popular wide-receivers coach and recruiting coordinator Joker Phillips was voluntarily leaving his job.
“At this time,” Phillips said in a statement released by UF’s publicity department, “I have decided to step down from my position on the UF coaching staff for personal reasons.”
The only thing missing from this monumental mountain of preposterous propaganda was Phillips claiming he was tired and burned out and wanted to spend more time with Urban Meyer’s family. Anybody who has followed college football for any length of time knows that assistant coaches never ever voluntarily resign their $500,000-a-year jobs. “Resigning for personal reasons” usually is coachspeak for “fired for NCAA reasons.”
Predictably and rightfully, Florida’s in-house hogwash spawned cynical speculation that spread across social media like an E. coli outbreak. The rumors were rampant especially after ESPN’s Brett McMurphy correctly reported that Phillips was forced to resign for possible recruiting violations. The college football Twitterverse lit up with conjecture and suspicion: Are the Gators themselves under NCAA investigation? Is Muschamp involved? What are UF officials trying to cover up?
From all indications, the complete opposite is true. Muschamp and Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley were actually being pro-active in removing Phillips for what is believed to be a brazenly illegal meeting with a recruit in South Florida. They were actually doing the honorable thing in getting rid of a valuable recruiter whose methods had strayed over the line.
The Gators forced out Phillips because they did not trust him anymore. They forced him out because they don’t want to be associated with coaches who allegedly cheat. They forced him out just as they forced out former recruiting coordinator Aubrey Hill two years ago when they learned Hill was involved in NCAA transgressions during the Nevin Shapiro scandal at his previous job at the University of Miami. In contrast, Louisville — under former coach Charlie Strong — kept ace recruiter Clint Hurtt, another former UM assistant who was severely sanctioned for violations that were uncovered during the Shapiro investigation.
My question is this: Instead of misleading everybody and making themselves look dishonest and suspicious in the process, why didn’t the Gators just tell the truth? Why didn’t they turn a negative into a positive? Why didn’t they put out a statement that said this:
Joker Phillips was forced out as the University of Florida’s wide receivers coach and recruiting coordinator today because it has come to our attention that he broke NCAA rules.
“I realize we only won four games last season and some people might think this decision will hurt my chances of winning enough games to keep my job this season,” Florida coach Will Muschamp said. “If that’s the case, then so be it. My mission at the University of Florida is not only to win, but to win the right way.”
Said UF athletic director Jeremy Foley: “We have a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to coaches who knowingly break NCAA rules. Some institutions might think it’s OK to put up with a little bit of cheating and chicanery in the name of winning, but we don’t. We’re the University of Florida. We’ve won 21 of the last 22 SEC All-Sports Championships. Make no mistake about it, we play to win, but we play by the rules.”
Instead, the Gators put out some flimsy press release that made everybody skeptical and mistrustful.
Bad move, but a typical one in today’s circle-the-wagons and mislead-the-public world of college football.
When exactly did it become accepted practice for our public institutions of higher learning to unabashedly deceive and hide behind a cloak of secrecy? Individual taxpayers, boosters and fans ante up millions of dollars to fund college football’s billion-dollar playground.
Don’t they at least have a right to know when a coach loses his job for breaking the rules?
Don’t they at least have a right to know the truth?
You know what the saddest part of this whole story is?
In their zeal to protect the reputation of Phillips, the Gators treated their own fans like a bunch of Jokers.