Chuck Fairbanks wants to build character once again, at the University of Colorado, and the joy in academe must be boundless. Or perhaps not. Probably, a new cap and gown would be in order, for he surely soiled his first ones running from the collegiate cops six years ago.
Fairbanks and Colorade have wrapped everything ugly about off-the-field football in a holiday bow: charges of tampering, a broken contract, hypocrisy, quitting the team before its big game.
What was that sound? Oh, yes, college football crashing from its shaky pedestal of purity.
Minds will stay dazzled about this for months. How can any college, even an institution of higher earning, lure a coach from a $150,000-a-year job with a team among the very best in the National Football league? Or, more pertinent, why would it want Fairbanks?
Fairbanks had been the New England Patriot coach eight months before the NCAA, in September of 1973, slapped Oklahoma's wrist for sins that had taken place during his six years as head coach.The transgressiosn included:
A member of the coaching staff falsifying transcripts of high school players.
A coach offering to provide a prospect with a wardrobe to attend Oklahoma.
A coach allowing a player to use his car.
A coach arranging transportation for a prospect's mother and two of her friends to visit the OU campus.
The OU athletic office acting in place of the admissions office in processing prospects' records.
Fairbanks had two records at OU, an on-the-field 52-15-1 and an amended 49-18-1. Those asterisks before three of the final four regular season games Fairbanks coached, the OU press guide says, indicate forfeit "because of an ineligible player."
Public blame for the two-year NCAA probation fell on Fairbanks' successor, Barry Switzer, now involved in some off-the-field controversy himself. Few nationally realized the fellow in charge while the violations took place had escaped to Boston.
With the Patriots, Fairbanks had a record almost as remarkable as the one at OU, lifting an awful team to mediocrity and then to within a debatable roughing-the-passer call of the AFC championship game two years ago.
THIS WEEK HE THOUGHT HE HAD A PAT HAND; HE DID NOT.
HAVING ACCEPTED THE COLORADEO JOB, FAIRBANKS TRIED TO WRING AS MUCH MONEY AND GLORY OUT OF THE PATRIOTS AS POSSIBLE. OWNER BILLY SULLIVAN, WHO PRESUMABLY STOLE FAIRBANKS FROM OU, put a stop to it hours before the Patriot-Dolphin game Monday night in Miami.
Fairbanks and many players sought a reprieve in separate talks with Sullivan who held firm in his suspension, telling all-pro guard John Hannah: "You aren't in a voting partnership with me yet."
"We just had to bow our heads and say, 'Yes, sir,'" Hannah said. "We're a fatherless child. We're orphans-no daddy, no leadership, nobody to turn to."
Sullivan might well turn to the courts-and his suit ought to be against Fairbanks for breaching his four-year contract instead of against Colorado for tampering.
There is precedent for Sullivan to whip Fairbanks in court, the memorable 1966 trial in which Bear owner George Halas beat George Allen and then, in victory, said: "Leave."
Testimony surely would include Fairbanks assuming his management role last year agains walkouts Hannah and tackle Leon Gray and insisting" "a contract is a contract."
In truth, a contract is almost meaningless in sports. Ecologists would wail if they knew the number of saplings that became paper that later would be disregarded through renegotiation power plays or outright picacy.
Fairbanks would be comfortable in the Big Eight, where a winning-at-all-cost-and-damn-the-ethics attitude festered for years before he assumed the OU job in 1967 upon the death of Jim MacKenzie.
In the Big Eight, slush funds are not for snow removal. Oklahoma State endured the most recent scandal, although Missouri alumni are whispereed to have one to help Warren Powers pay off the contract he broke at Washington State.
And bumper stickers alluding to Switzer's relationship with his former close friend and assistant, Larry Lacewell, are the rage of the Southwest. Lacewell also admitted OU spied on opponents.
I once asked a Nebraska assistant why spending excesses and stockpiling of players should not be stopped and he said, indignantly: "Because that's the American way."
There is a way to stop wuch coaches as Fairbanks from evading collegiate punishment, from in fact being rewarded for skipping town before the law arrives and thriving somewhere else. It also would solve Sullivan's problems.
Schools could refuse to play anyone who hired them. That will not happen. The American way of bigbucks intercollegiate sport includes an unwritten commandment: cast not the first stone; a bigger one might come back.