Are Coaches Responsible for Their Players’ Actions?

So today we learn that Urban Myer has suspended one of his players for three games following an alleged assault on a woman at a nightclub. Interestingly, the woman decided not to press charges, and the video evidence is relatively inconclusive. Even more interestingly, Myer’s decision came after the case was dropped by the police.

So why did Myer issue the suspension anyway? And is there a larger issue here?

Let’s answer the second question first: yes, there is a larger issue here. That issue is the question of whether or not coaches are responsible for their players’ actions. And the background to THAT question is Florida, and Aaron Hernandez.

Urban Myer led his Florida teams to two national championships, and was one of the most celebrated coaches in the country during his tenure there. Yet, his players were also known for getting into trouble off the field. The championships overshadowed the troubles, for the most part. But now, with the Aaron Hernandez murder case in the news, people are asking about the place of the Florida football team in the story.

Myer has been accused, rightly or wrongly, of putting play on the field above behavior off the field. People are drawing a line between the seemingly lax environment of those Florida teams and Aaron Hernandez continuing, it seems, to get into trouble after he left Florida.

I think that Myer issued the suspension for one of two reasons. The cynical reason is that he is covering his (bases) after the Hernandez story by being tough on the next Ohio State player to get out of line. “See, I’m paying attention! Look how tough I was on this guy! You can’t stick that stuff on me!”

The less cynical reason may be that Myer actually IS paying attention, and has come to realize that he is actually doing his young men a disservice by being a poor disciplinarian. He is missing his opportunities to make a difference in their lives, and even to possibly change them to the point that their life path changes. I HOPE that is the case here. But the truth is, none of us know unless we are in that locker room and can observe the day-to-day workings of that team. For it is in the everyday interactions and discussions and decisions that the environment is built.

Which leads to the title question: are coaches responsible for their players’ actions? The answer, of course, is No. These are individuals, and each individual player is responsible for the choices they make and the actions they take.

HOWEVER — and it’s a big However — coaches ARE reponsible for the environment they create, the attitudes they foster, and the concepts they convey. If they emphasize entitlement, the “you are special because you are here” idea, and the “do what you want as long as we win” approach, then the players will also adopt that attitude and that approach to life.

Myer is not responsible, in any way, for Hernandez’s actions, and it is unfair to put that on him. Myer and all other coaches, though, are responsible for the life lessons they teach and the attitudes toward other humans they embody. If Myer created an environment of entitlement and “anything goes as long as we are winning” at Florida — or if he was so focused on winning that he didn’t pay attention to anything else — then he does bear responsibility for that. And if he realizes that he is going down the same path at Ohio State, and has decided to change that path, then good for him.