“Nothing in our background and reference checks revealed anything that would have suggested the unfortunate controversy that has unfolded,” GVSU head coach Matt Mitchell said in a statement. “This has been a difficult time for everyone. I accepted Coach Berger’s resignation in an effort for him to move on and for us to focus on the team and our 2020 season.”
During the Q&A-style interview, published last week by the Grand Valley Lanthorn, sports editor Kellen Voss asked Morris Berger a variety of questions intended to help fans learn more about the football team’s newest offensive coordinator. Toward the end of the interview — as a nod to Berger’s degree in history from Drury University — Voss asked him to name any three people in history he’d like to have dinner with, excluding football figures.
“This is probably not going to get a good review, but I’m going to say Adolf Hitler,” Berger replied. “It was obviously very sad and he had bad motives, but the way he was able to lead was second-to-none. How he rallied a group and a following, I want to know how he did that. Bad intentions of course, but you can’t deny he wasn’t a great leader."
Berger, who was named the team’s offensive coordinator on Jan. 20, rounded out his trio with John F. Kennedy and Christopher Columbus after the Nazi leader, whose policies resulted in millions of deaths in the Holocaust.
Berger was suspended earlier this week amid an investigation conducted by the university.
“The comments made by Offensive Coordinator Morris Berger, as reported in The Lanthorn student newspaper, do not reflect the values of Grand Valley State University,” Grand Valley State spokesperson Mary Eilleen Lyon said in a statement this week. In a follow-up statement to the Lanthorn, the university said it was committed to the editorial independence of its student newspaper.
“The administration is reviewing events surrounding the Berger story to determine if there was behavior inconsistent with that commitment,” the statement added.
In an interview Monday, Grand Valley Lanthorn Editor-in-Chief Nick Moran told The Washington Post that the publication typically interviews big names who join and leave the university. The last Q&A the paper published, he noted, was when the university’s former president retired in April.
In the case of Berger, who joined Grand Valley State after successful coaching stints at Texas State and Oklahoma State University, Moran sought to provide football fans a close look at their new coach.
“GVSU’s defensive game is something that’s a spectacle — so having a new coordinator to revamp offense attracted a lot of attention,” he said. “Our job is to fill in readers on Berger’s history and his goals for the offense.”
Much of the interview focused on Berger’s coaching experience. Moran, who said he reviewed the interview before it was published, said the closing historical-figures question aligns with guidance from the school’s sports reporting classes to start with a good question and “end with a bang.”
“I’m beyond proud of my team. As young student journalists, it’s difficult to handle a story with this attention, he said. “I can sleep at night and be confident with how we handled things and the decisions we made.”
“I failed myself, my parents and this university — the answer I attempted to give does not align instilled in me by my parents, nor represent what I stand for or believe in — I mishandled the answer and fell way short of the mark,” Berger wrote in his apology.