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Out of Control
Alexander Wolff
May 15, 1995
Three disturbing incidents raise doubts about the men in the driver's seat
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May 15, 1995

Out Of Control

Three disturbing incidents raise doubts about the men in the driver's seat

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They like to think of themselves—and we like to think of them—as molders of men, the last ramparts of discipline in an increasingly uncontrollable world. But last week three of the most prominent of sports' teacher-leaders, Atlanta Brave manager Bobby Cox, Michigan football coach Gary Moeller and Seattle Seahawk coach Dennis Erickson, were stripped bare, their flaws revealed to a public accustomed to seeing only their virtues.

At about 10:15 p.m. on Sunday, following the Braves' 5-4 loss to the Philadelphia Phillies, Cobb County police arrested Cox after his wife, Pamela, called to report a domestic dispute. According to the police report, the Coxes had been entertaining friends when Bobby spilled a drink on the carpet of their northwest Atlanta house and Pamela made a comment about it. The report said that after the guests left, Bobby, 53, "hit her in the face with his fist," pulled her hair and called her "a bitch." When they reached the house, the police reported, they heard arguing inside, where they found Bobby drunk and Pamela with the left side of her face swollen. Police reported that Bobby told them Pamela "also has been violent in the past and that he hit her in reflex response to her assault on him." He was arrested and charged with simple battery and faces a court hearing on May 26.

On May 3 Southfield, Mich., police made public several accounts describing the drunken rampage that Moeller embarked on inside and outside Excalibur restaurant on the night of April 28. The accounts depict a 54-year-old man loosed of all self-control, smashing drink glasses on his table, singing loudly and attempting to dance with women after his wife, Ann, left the restaurant to wait for him in their car. By the time police arrived at 10:16, the table at which the Moellers were seated had been served a dozen drinks. After punching an officer in the chest, Moeller was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct and assault and battery, to which he pleaded no contest on Monday. But it was a tape recording police made of Moeller at nearby Providence Hospital, where they took him for fear he was suffering from alcohol poisoning, that shows a man alternately abusive, tearful, incoherent and relentlessly vulgar—and that ultimately forced him to resign the next day from his $130,000-a-year coaching job, which he had held for five years.

Last Thursday a district court in Everett, Wash., ordered Erickson to enter an alcohol rehabilitation program. Erickson, who came to Seattle from the University of Miami, had been arrested on April 15 for suspicion of driving while intoxicated and charged after a test measured his blood alcohol level at more than twice the legal limit in Washington.

If these were isolated incidents, just blips on the week's wire, the trio of episodes might have passed with little notice. Indeed, drinking and domestic violence occur in all walks of life, and there's no conclusive evidence that coaches offend at a rate any higher than the rest of the population. But coaching is a particularly high-profile, high-stress profession, and evidence of alcoholism and spousal abuse has surfaced among its practitioners disconcertingly often of late. In March, Iowa State announced that it would honor the contract it had signed in November with new football coach Dan McCarney, even after learning that his estranged wife, Brenda, had told police he had beaten her 20 to 30 times, beginning a few days before their marriage in 1986 and continuing periodically for nearly eight years. And Donny Daniels, an assistant basketball coach at the University of Utah, made comments last week that all but morally equated a male perpetrator of sexual assault with his victim (POINT AFTER), remarks that were all the more chilling because Daniels apparently made them when he was stone-cold sober.

The McCarney case may be the least known of these recent episodes but is perhaps the most illuminating. The account that follows is from a police report Brenda filed with the Dane County sheriff's office in Madison, Wis., on March 6, 1994, just hours after the last of the alleged assaults took place. At that time Dan worked as defensive coordinator at Wisconsin, and he and Brenda were separated; he came by the house they formerly shared to pick up some furniture for an apartment. Brenda told police that Dan arrived earlier than an agreed-upon time, sneaked into the house while she was elsewhere and took things that weren't included in the couple's separation agreement. When he returned later that day, she told police, she demanded the return of a garage-door opener and a key to the house. Dan removed the key from the ring, threw it at her, hitting her in the face, and yelled "——you!" according to the report. He pushed her down, and when she attempted to call 911, she said, he ripped the phone cord from the wall.

Dan, who's 6'3" and 210 pounds, made one more trip to the house that day, according to the police report, a visit that ended with his slapping the 5'5", 130-pound Brenda, cursing her in front of their children and throwing her twice more to the floor, according to the police report. Several hours later Brenda filed what appears to be her first report ever to the police. The officers taking her statement found a fresh cut that they concluded was the result of one of the attacks and described her as "very truthful."

Yet in the days following Brenda's visit with the police, a number of things happened—and didn't happen—that explain how a coach might beat his wife for years with impunity. In his interview with police, Dan, after denying most of Brenda's account of the incident, raised concerns about publicity and "the reputation of the football team." For some reason Johnson assured McCarney and his lawyer that the sheriff's office "would not notify the media of this investigation," the report said. Dan had already called Brenda to say that if she went public with the latest incident, he would lose his job and she and their children would be without support, according to the report. Brenda, who hadn't worked outside the home since 1990, soon secured a restraining order but didn't press criminal charges.

Last March, after a Des Moines Register account of the private life of Iowa State's new football coach forced the university to launch a reevaluation of its decision to hire him, Brenda and Dan released a joint statement. In it they denied that there had been anything more than that single incident. With her estranged husband having signed a contract worth as much as $300,000 a year, the scenes from their marriage that Brenda had recounted to detectives a year earlier suddenly hadn't happened. No, there had never been that first beating just before the July 1986 marriage. Nor had there been one, as she had previously reported, five days after the birth of the first of their three children, Jillian, in '87, when Dan slapped her face as she held the baby. Nor had there been an incident that Brenda said had occurred on Super Bowl Sunday in '93, when she suffered a bruised cheek and black eye after confronting her husband about an affair. The Iowa State administration says it will honor rather than eat Dan's five-year deal—and Brenda will collect the $3,600-a-month support payments she was granted soon after Dan got the job with the Cyclones.

Similarly, the Coxes appeared together Monday at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium to read a joint statement denying that Bobby had struck his wife and calling the incident an "argument" that "became heated." Pamela appeared to have a slight bruise on her left cheek. In response, the commander of the Cobb County uniform division, Col. J.D. Arrowood, said the police stood behind their report.

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