College football coaches — especially the winning ones — outrank everyone around them.
In nearly every state in America, college coaches are the highest-paid public employees. And not by a little.
In Charlottesville, for example, Bronco Mendenhall, the football coach at the University of Virginia, makes $3.4 million.
In Tuscaloosa, University of Alabama football god Nick Saban’s $8 million salary dwarfs Gov. Kay Ivey’s $119,950 paycheck, according to an ESPN graphic based on USA Today data.
And the status of these men goes far beyond the money.
With the disastrous way the University System of Maryland’s Board of Regents handled the heatstroke death of 19-year-old football player Jordan McNair, they demonstrated where they ranked football coach DJ Durkin.
Above responsibility. Above morality. Above the president of the university. Above a human life. Above the law.
Under great pressure — the threat of student rallies, an outcry from alumni, athletes walking out and a public shaming — Durkin was finally fired Wednesday afternoon by a regents-defying Wallace D. Loh, the president of the College Park campus. Now there are calls for Loh, the only guy with a shred of decency in this whole drama, not to retire in June.
When the regents endorsed Durkin’s return to the field this weekend, McNair’s father, Marty said, “I feel like I’ve been punched in the stomach and somebody spit in my face.”
The McNairs trusted their son with this coach.
And when parents trust their children in someone else’s care — whether they are babies at a day care, young miners going to work in dangerous conditions or Marine recruits heading to boot camp — they expect their offspring to be safe.
When they aren’t, and people die, there are (in most cases) consequences.
Day-care worker Rebecca Graupmann simply put a 3-month-old infant down for a nap, with a thick blanket, on his side. That’s an unsafe sleep position, and the baby died. Graupmann lost her job and was sentenced to 30 days in a Minnesota jail.
Donald Blankenship violated federal mining safety standards when 29 men died in one of his coal mines. He was sentenced to a year in prison for that failure of leadership and supervision. (And he received a rebuke from West Virginia voters who quashed his recent run for Congress.)
Marine Corps recruit Raheel Siddiqui died during an intense and abusive boot camp session at Parris Island in South Carolina in 2016. Gunnery Sgt. Joseph Felix, his drill sergeant, was sentenced to 10 years in a military prison for mistreating Siddiqui and other recruits.
Jordan McNair was stumbling and barely able to finish the 110-yard sprints during a hot May practice. He eventually collapsed and had a seizure. He arrived at the hospital with a 106-degree body temperature more than two hours after practice started. He died of something that was 100 percent preventable and well known in the sports world.
Since 1995, between two and three football players — most of them teens — have died each year from heatstroke, according to the National Center for Catastrophic Sport Injury Research.
A coach came above a human life.
Maryland’s last-minute firing of Durkin came too late. It showed how little the powerful regents truly cared for the life of a young man, adding a cruel twist to the tragedy the McNair family is living.
The university is also giving Durkin a $5.5 million goodbye present by buying out his contract. So this will do little to change the toxic value system in College Park and at other big universities.
Yes, coaches can be the most powerful and influential people in a young person’s life.
Long after the championship rings are boxed and forgotten and the gymnasium banners are dusty and moth-eaten, a good coach’s legacy lives on in the minds and hearts of players.
That is the winning part of coaching.
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