There was a time when a contract meant something, and words like hold out and buy out didn’t make it into every day sports stories. People would sign their name on a dotted line, and honor the terms of the contract until the contract ended. If a man no longer liked the situation he was in, he would wait until the contract was over before renegotiating the terms of the next deal. Whether a man was an athlete, a coach, or a brick mason, if he said he would do something for a certain amount of time for a certain price, he did it. Honoring a contract wasn’t thought of as honorable back then, it was just what a trustworthy person did.
Fast forward to today. You have coaches jumping ship every time another opportunity presents itself, professional athletes refusing to show up to team workouts, camps, and practices just because they no longer like the contract they had agreed to, and players demanding trades from teams because they don’t like the situation their contract puts them in anymore. It is no wonder that it has now become honorable to do something that a decade ago was thought the norm, to do something that you said you would do in the first place, to keep your word. Chris Rock once said that you don’t praise a man for taking care of their children because you don’t praise someone for doing what they should do. Chris may have been setting up a joke, but he hit the nail on the head. The expected has now become the exception when it comes to responsibilities, and nothing gives us more examples of this than sports.
Now, you can’t expect anything else from kids (and yes they are still kids) who grew up, as we all did, emulating their favorite athletes and want to play for their favorite coaches, to do anything other than copy them off the field as well. These athletes have taught these kids that it is ok to not do what you said you were, because in the end, you will get what you want. These coaches and management have shown these kids that loyalty doesn’t mean nearly as much as money, and as long as you are helping your bottom line, throw honoring contracts to the wind. It is a disappointing trend, and it has reared its ugly head in Atlanta once again.
Egg Harbor City, NJ quarterback Damon Mitchel and Lovejoy High School wide receiver JuMichael Ramos have been committed to Georgia Tech since at least early fall, and both will be reportedly taking last minute visits (Mitchell to Arkansas and Ramos to NC State). As you could expect, this didn’t sit well with Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson, and he spoke about his thoughts and policies on the issue to a group of reporters.
“I’ve got news for you. Usually, if they take a visit the last weekend, they’re not coming to your place, no matter what you do. What I’ve always tried to do is be honest with the kids and say, ‘Hey, if you’re committed, I expect you to be committed.’ And once again I look at it as, ‘If you’re taking visits, you’re not committed to either place. If you’re going to our place on a visit, then you’re not committed (there). If you’re committed (to us) and taking visits, then you’re not committed (to us).’ Therefore, it opens up the recruiting.” – Mitchel Carvel of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution
While some heads may turn when hearing a coach speak out this way, I commend Johnson for giving us a realistic view from a college coach who has had to deal with this issue for years. What some recruits do not understand is that by committing to a team, you are making a promise to that school that you will exchange your services of playing a sport for their school for a free education, essentially entering into a contract. When that promise is made, one less kid in the world now has a chance to play for that team, and the coach no longer has a need to continue recruiting. What some coaches don’t understand is, when they offer a recruit a scholarship, they are entering a contract with that player to exchange free education for the recruit’s services on and off the field. When they promise scholarships to more recruits than they have scholarships available, they take an opportunity away from a kid, either the recruit or by taking away a scholarship from another recruit, to be able to explore other options. This combination, as a whole, has made for a very dishonest relationship coaches and recruits, and can be traced back as a direct effect of over signing.
For years now, this issue has been in the forefront of discussions in college recruiting, and while a lot of schools have made a living working this way, Johnson has stayed a firm believer that a commitment and a scholarship offer should both be honored.
“…it’s like ‘OK, you get the first offer.’ What we don’t do like a lot of teams is throw out 400 offers and take more commits than we’ve got scholarships… and then the last two weeks, we try to lose them. That’s what people do … call (the kids) and say ‘Well, you’re going to have to come (the following) January (on a grayshirt)’ and that’s the first time a kid has heard it all along. We try to be above-board and be honest. We’ve never pulled a scholarship offer from a kid who wanted to come here. OK? Now we’ve had guys who were committed go visit (other schools). Can somebody else come take their scholarships? Yes, because, it’s just like you go to the next guy, and if he takes it, it’s gone.” – Paul Johnson
In today’s society, it seems more and more, and apocalypse theorists will agree, that the morals and integrity of the youth have gone the way of music videos on MTV. It is a mentality that leads to the idea that it is ok to say ‘alright, I’ll do this for you, you can count on me, and I’m your guy, unless something better comes along before then.’ I’m not saying that it is strictly their fault, but when you are dealing with a coach who plays it straight and keeps his word, it’s hard to find blame elsewhere.
I know what you are thinking, ‘Barry, you sound like the old man sitting on the front porch yelling at kids to stay off his lawn and telling stories that start with the words back in my day’. I actually caught myself starting a story like that the other day, and while I don’t have a lawn to keep kids off of, I am pretty sure that I would yell at them to stay away, so you may be right. Allow me, however, to put this into a different context.
A girl and a boy meet, have a very productive courtship, he opens the doors for her, pays for her meals, buys her flowers, basically he is treating her exactly how a gentleman should treat a girl. And, even though he knows this girl is exploring other options with other guys, going on dates and things of that nature, he remains fully committed to her. The courtship leads to an engagement, a promise of marriage, the guy thinks ‘OK. Now I’ve got my girl wrapped up. She isn’t going to pursue anything with any other guy, she is mine all mine. No need to go find anyone else.’ A week before the wedding however, she writes him a note. It isn’t quite a “dear John” letter, but it’s close. The note says she wants him to wait on her, standing at the alter ready to sign those marriage papers, while she explores other options with other guys. If you are the guy left standing with the ring in his hand, how would you respond?
If it were me, I would be outraged that she could expect me to wait while she runs off with some guy for a weekend fling to see whether she likes him better than me. Better yet, I wouldn’t put myself in that situation. The only way to not get burned by this game, is to play it, besides, there are no real consequences, remember?
That’s why what Paul Johnson does is even more admirable. He’s the married man on the bachelor party that refuses to even walk into the strip club. He’s the man that will let you know exactly where you stand with him at any moment. He has proven to be the type of man that knows what it means to do what you say you are going to, and not to make empty promises. While most people look at what Johnson said last night as being simplistic, disillusioned, or old-fashioned, I see one of the few honorable men left in the game. I am proud to have him at the helm of the team I grew up rooting for.