The hope now is that the University of Oregon realizes the reputation that is formulating across the country. The recent arrest of linebacker Kiko Alonso is just the latest in a year after year string of off the field issues involving Oregon Duck football players. Now head coach Chip Kelly is faced with yet another disciplinary decision, after he suspended Alonso indefinitely this week.
Most people also know by now that this isn't Alonso's first legal incident, nor is it his first suspension. Last season, Alonso's season-long suspension for a DUII came shortly after Kelly addressed the media regarding his players' disciplinary issues. Then, on April 22, The Register-Guar published a story about Alonso changing his life for the better and even saying, "It was a mistake. I'm definitely smarter now." Kelly even went as far as to say, "He made a mistake, he paid a price and he learned from it," Kelly says, "He's grown. He was there every day. ... I give all the credit in the world to Kiko."
But eight days later, and just hours after Oregon's spring game, Alonso was again arrested--and by most accounts, alcohol seemed to be involved. It must be difficult to make a coach and a program look worse than Alonso has. When you look at the timing of each of his arrests, the fact that he said he had learned his lesson, and that alcohol was involved in both incidences, Kelly must dismiss Alonso from the team.
It is possible that due to the state he was in, he might have been confused where he was and possibly thought that it was a friend's house. The story does seem to have all the makings of a classic college tale. The typical college kid has probably experienced drunken shenanigans, but football players aren't your typical college kids. Each individual is among the highest profiled representation of that school.But going beyond that, Kelly must find ways to end this embarrassment. A rather easy assumption to make is that alcohol will probably be involved with the majority of off the field issues. A mere suspension, rather than a dismissal, delivers the message that incidents with alcohol won't end your Oregon career. Hard and fast lines need to start being drawn, and Kelly needs to adopt a zero tolerance policy. It could be the only thing that saves his reputation.
Take a look at the chaos that went on in Gainesville, Fla. during Urban Meyer's tenure. Even with winning a national championship for Gator Nation, Meyer was becoming as know for that, as he was for having 30 players arrested during his nearly six years as coach. Florida was the Mecca for the overwhelming nature of college coaches to recruit players for talent and turn a blind eye to disciplinary issues. But we shouldn't give Meyer all the credit.
This is just the day and age of college football. The rewards for winning have never been greater--coaches are making $400,000 to $500,000 each year, and are usually the highest paid university employee. To earn that, many coaches overlook obvious character issues, especially if it means signing valued talent. And in today's college football I don't think it's that ludicrous to assume that the greater the talent, the more a coach is willing to overlook character issues.
Over time, the payoffs for winning will continue to increase, and coaches will only have more incentives to sign players purely for talent. Coaches must police themselves, and if they don't then they are the ones who should be held accountable. It's pathetic that it took 30 arrests before Meyer's job was in jeopardy. At the rate that Oregon is on, it won't be long before Kelly threatens Meyer's arrest number. Clearly, publicly voicing his disappointment, and yelling and screaming at his players have done little to keep them off of the 10 o'clock evening news. That is why the dismissal of Alonso is required at this point.
Kelly's reputation took a hit after his handling of the LeGarrette Blount situation. When you remember that he had been suspended from practice before games had begun that same season, I thought that on the Smurf Turf should have been the last we ever saw of Blount in an Oregon uniform. Kelly's handling of certain players over the last couple of years is also open to criticism. And it clearly hasn't been severe enough to deter players from engaging in unlawful behavior. You can never expect the players to change if the culture of college football doesn't change first.
Kelly has all the reasons in the world to want to keep Alonso. He impressed in the spring game and he's been touted as being the replacement to Casey Matthews. Taking him off the field this season leaves daunting question marks about a defense already in question. But when is enough, enough for players? And when is enough, enough for coaches? Are 30 arrests enough?
Kelly's decision will be more than a reflection of how he weighs talent versus character. It could also give players a better idea of what their limits are--and right now, players have a lot of room for error.
If a strong, zero tolerance stance isn't taken, then how many more arrests will it take before Kelly comes under the same fire that Meyer did? He should probably be taking heat already. This issue is less about Alonso and more about the culture of the game. And if the culture doesn't change, then coaches like Kelly should be held accountable. Players reflect more than just the university they play for. They represent their coach and the value those coaches put into winning.
After the Alonso decision, we'll find out just how much Kelly values winning.