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Friday, December 16, 2016

The Wake Forest Football Scandal

Alum becomes assistant coach.  Head coach gets fired.  New head coach doesn't want assistant coach on his staff.  Assistant coach becomes a member of the school's broadcast team.  A good job if one wants to a) stay in Winston-Salem, b) work for his alma mater and c) stay in football so that perhaps he can get another coaching job somewhere some day.

All that makes sense.  Alums don't have some divine right to have a permanent job in some capacity at their alma mater, no matter how much they loved their experience as students.  Football coaching is a meritocracy, to wit:  if you coach for a winner therefore you are a winner and therefore you will continue to be a desired member of a staff.  Conversely, if you coach for a losing team, no matter how good of a coach you might be, well, your job security isn't the same and your desirability on the assistant coaching job market will not be what you want it to be.  It's pretty much that simple.  Sure, you might have been in the wrong job in the wrong place at the wrong time and get resurrected quickly at an equivalent position, especially if you have a mentor who has a need, but that doesn't always happen.  Sometimes, you have to take a step sideways or backward to map out a new path forward.

The Tommy Elrod story started that way.  He was a co-offensive coordinator under the prior head coach and the new guy didn't want him on his staff.  There could have been a lot of reasons, but all that matters is that the new coach should be entitled to hire whomever he wants.  And the new coach, Dave Clawson, did just that.  And Elrod ended up in the broadcast booth. 

And that's when a screw seemingly went loose in Elrod.  I don't need to link to the many stories, but the gist is this -- for some reason, Elrod, who had significant access to the Wake program, took it upon himself on multiple occasions, apparently, to pass along plays to Wake's opponents.  Former players speculated on ESPN that he did this for money; Mike Greenberg wondered aloud whether payments were involved.  What's clear is that if this happened, it's a Benedict Arnold-level treasonous offense in the world of football.  You just do not do that.  That clearly crosses the ethical line if not the legal one. 

The scrutiny right now is on Elrod, but what about the teams that might have taken the Wake plays and done something with them?  What is the accountability for that?  The culpability.  What Elrod did clearly was wrong, but I'd submit that if investigations uncover that other programs willingly took and used the plays that Elrod shared with them to their advantage, then everyone involved in the taking of the secrets should be held accountable.  What should they have done?  Simply said, "not interested" and walked away.  Better yet, they might have called Coach Clawson and told him that this was going on.

What should the consequences be for those programs and people involved?  That's not for me to decide.  My guess is that facts and circumstances will decide the punishment, which could involve termination or suspensions and fines.  This seems to be an unusual and rare situation, but it also must be one that must not be tolerated.

The story is sad, pathetic and hard to believe.  I can understand that Elrod might have felt disappointment and frustration.  And it could have been the case that he didn't like the way he was spoken to.  Perhaps he felt ignored, dismissed, condescended to, or avoided or something else.  Even if he wasn't treated the way he wanted to be, his remedy for the situation was extreme. 

And for that he will need to find work far away from his alma mater and outside the game of football.


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