SEAN COFFEY went
along with the program. When he arrived at Missouri in 2001 as a highly touted
wide receiver--an ESPN high school All-American out of East Cleveland's Shaw
High--he gave his life over to football. Coffey says he entered a world of
groupthink in which he and his teammates were blank-faced "assembly-line
workers" doing whatever they were told. "I wasn't encouraged much by
our coaching staff as a whole to do anything outside of football," he says.
"Lots of [the] things I was encouraged to do, they were all to benefit the
Missouri football program." Even though he was from the inner city and had
no interest in farming, Coffey followed the advice of athletic department
academic counselors and became an agriculture major. "All the athletes
start in ag because it's easy," says Coffey. On the recommendation of an
athletic-department adviser he eventually switched his major to hotel and
restaurant management (another subject in which he had no interest). "Our
academic people's job is to keep us eligible," he says. "They know
every class and which ones are easiest."
Coffey made the
program better: In 2004, as a junior, he was honorable mention All-- Big 12
after leading the Tigers with 39 catches for 648 yards and a school-record 10
touchdowns. As a senior, however, he partially separated his left shoulder in
the opener against Arkansas State. He played in pain, then reinjured the
shoulder on a punt return (his first one since 11th grade) against Baylor.
Despite missing four games, he finished as Missouri's third-leading pass
catcher. The next spring Coffey stopped going to classes so he could prepare
for the NFL draft. He was 10 credits short of his degree.
undrafted. Invited to the San Diego Chargers' camp as a rookie free agent, he
injured his shoulder yet again and was cut. By last fall he was back on campus,
trying to earn his final credits and find new direction. It was a struggle. He
talked about taking another shot at the NFL, or trying coaching, or TV, or
working in promotions. He flunked chemistry and left school again at the end of
the semester, still three credits shy of his degree.
director of academic services for the Missouri athletic department, says
athletes are initially steered into the agriculture school because all the
advisers there are faculty members (not grad students) and give athletes a lot
of one-on-one attention. He says that advisers are genuinely concerned with the
athletes' best interests and try to get athletes to make more of their own
decisions. Scogin notes that Coffey had academic assistance available to him
last fall, but "whether the student takes advantage or not, that's another
A former college
baseball player, Scogin says he understands why Coffey and other athletes
sometimes feel discarded after their college careers end. "The worst thing
that can happen is to do everything to help a student until his eligibility is
done and then all of a sudden abandon him," Scogin says.
Adrian McBride, a
former Tigers football player who now works with the athletic department, has
founded a program called Life After Sports to help Missouri athletes avoid the
sort of problems Coffey faced. McBride says school administrators are doing
their best to improve the athletic environment. "They see the
problems--they realize there's a need," he says. "But this is small
potatoes compared to the big picture of an athletic department. The name of the
game is to win, sell tickets and make money."
As for Coffey, he
is living near Kansas City, working out, thinking about starting a video
company and weighing whether to take another shot at the NFL.