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Posted: Friday March 12, 2010 9:12PM; Updated: Monday March 15, 2010 1:01PM
Andy Staples

Coach's decision a head-turner

Story Highlights

Doesn't Oregon coach Chip Kelly know it's about wins, not discipline?

Oregon was looking at a great season before QB Jeremiah Masoli was suspended

By placing character above winning, your actions definitely spoke volumes

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Don't look for Oregon to make an appearance in the BCS title-game after coach Chip Kelly suspended QB Jeremiah Masoli for 2010.
Harry How/Getty Images

What were you thinking, Oregon coach Chip Kelly?

You suspended your starting quarterback for the entire season when you're about to bring back the bulk of a team that won the Pac-10 title last year. Your Ducks were on the short list to compete for a national title in 2010. The designers at Nike headquarters -- less than two hours north on Interstate 5 -- had probably already started designing Swoosh-covered championship T-shirts. But no-o-o-o-o. You had to suspend Jeremiah Masoli for the entire season. And why?

Because he stole someone else's property? And then lied to you about it?

Are you crazy? If you wind up in the Sun Bowl next year, no one will cross the border to Juarez and lift a glass of tequila to the fact that you attempted to instill character in a wayward young man by punishing him harshly while still leaving the door open for him to work his way back into your good graces in 2011. No. They'll shoot that tequila, suck a lime wedge and bemoan the fact that they aren't in Phoenix preparing to watch your Ducks face Alabama or Ohio State or Boise State for the BCS title.

You should have thought of your career. Instead, you thought of the children. And what lesson will they take from this? That they shouldn't steal? That they shouldn't lie? Who do you think you are? Moses?

You're a major college football head coach now, or didn't you get the memo? You're not supposed to care about character. You're not supposed to mold young men. You're supposed to "pray for a misdemeanor," as Bobby Bowden once did. Most importantly, you're supposed to win.

With Masoli, you would have won. Don't you remember the way he dumptrucked that Oregon State defender to make sure you guys won the Pac-10 title? Who cares if he probably carried the laptop he swiped the same way he toted that football? That doesn't matter. What is important is winning -- not whether Masoli leaves school and becomes an honest, productive member of society.

Who knows if you'll win nearly as many games now? Your backup quarterback, Nate Costa, won you a few games last year while Masoli was hurt, but Masoli was a sure thing.

Don't you know your history?

In 1995, Nebraska tailback Lawrence Phillips climbed to the third story of a building to sneak in through a sliding door and attack his ex-girlfriend (at the apartment of current Oregon assistant Scott Frost, no less). Phillips was accused of dragging the woman down three flights of stairs by her hair. He eventually pleaded no contest to misdemeanor assault. Nebraska coach Tom Osborne reinstated Phillips after six games. Shoot, Coach Kelly, you held LeGarrette Blount out of 10 games for sucker-punching that mouthy Boise State player. Phillips wound up starting the Fiesta Bowl, and Nebraska rolled to its second consecutive national title. Osborne took heat at the time for reinstating Phillips, but guess what happened? Five years later, Osborne got elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. After three terms, he came home to run Nebraska's athletic department. Did the six-game punishment straighten out Phillips? Not exactly. In 2005, he was accused of choking his girlfriend. Later that year, he was accused of driving a vehicle into three teens because of an argument over a pickup football game. Phillips was convicted of both crimes. He's now appealing his 31-year prison sentence, saying he didn't get a fair trial.

But who cares that Phillips remained a menace to society? The Cornhuskers won the title.

One of Urban Meyer's first acts as coach at Utah was to suspend star tailback Marty Johnson for the entire 2003 season after Johnson was arrested on a DUI charge for the second time. This sounds a little like you, Coach Kelly. Meyer said he had planned to boot Johnson, but he figured he'd take a shot at rehabilitating the young man before Johnson drove drunk again and killed someone. So Meyer established a near-impossible set of conditions for Johnson to return during the 2004 season. Instead of quitting, Johnson sucked it up and completed every task assigned him. For a while, Johnson was an upstanding, responsible citizen, and he credited Meyer with his salvation in a 2008 interview with Unfortunately, Johnson  who had lost touch with Meyer  went to prison in California after he pleaded guilty to two counts of felony DUI.

After that 2004 season, Meyer took a big-boy job where coaches are measured only by wins. Late in Meyer's fifth season at Florida, star defensive end Carlos Dunlap got so drunk that he passed out behind the wheel -- with the car on and in drive -- on one of Gainesville's busiest roads. So guess how long Dunlap sat out for the same offense Johnson committed? One game. Granted, it was the SEC title game. (When you coach at this level, you've got to pay a little lip service to discipline to keep the holier-than-thous at bay.) But it was just one game.

Even though history tells us winning is the only thing people remember, Meyer still has his limits. In 2008, he tossed safety Jamar Hornsby after police accused Hornsby of spending almost $3,000 on a credit card that had belonged to teammate Joe Haden's recently deceased girlfriend. Fortunately for Hornsby, Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt doesn't have the same qualms about stealing from the dead. After Hornsby spent a season at a junior college, Nutt happily signed him to a scholarship. That, Coach Kelly, is a commitment to winning. Unfortunately, Nutt reluctantly released Hornsby from his scholarship after Hornsby was indicted last July on a charge of beating a man during an argument at a fast-food drive-through.

Meanwhile, at Miami, Coach Randy Shannon has taken a program with one of the raunchiest reputations in America and turned it into the gridiron version of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. The Hurricanes have had so few scrapes with the law, the only recent incident anyone can remember is when former Miami quarterback Robert Marve damaged the side mirror on a parked car.

Shannon scrubbed his program with a ruthless set of rules that leaves little wiggle room. A player found with a firearm will be automatically dismissed, for example. So have they built a statue in Shannon's honor for making character a priority? Nope. In fact, if he doesn't win the ACC in the next few years, he'll probably get fired.

Coach Kelly, there's no incentive to punish a star so harshly. If you're really mad at Masoli, there has to be a walk-on you can jettison. The prosecutor dropped the most serious charges against star tailback LaMichael James (grabbing his ex-girlfriend by the throat and pushing her down). James pleaded no contest to harassment, but after the prosecutor's sentencing memorandum -- which detailed a domestic struggle but certainly not strangulation -- made the rounds, you probably could have gotten away with making James run the steps at Autzen Stadium. Still, you suspended him for the season opener.

If you wanted to make a point, you could have suspended James for longer and softened the penalty for Masoli. James is more easily replaced than Masoli, who runs your offense as if he emerged from the womb with the playbook under his arm.

But you had to make a statement. You had to place character above winning. You had to send a message to all those little ones who wear green and yellow and who sleep under Oregon posters that they shouldn't steal, that they shouldn't lie. You had to tell your fans and boosters that you'd rather risk losing a few games than risk selling your program's soul for a title that would make you a very, very rich man.

What on earth were you thinking?



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