By GARY SHELTON
There is a stand, and it is grand. There is a pulpit, and she is a bully. There is judgment, and there is a rush to it.
So why not climb up on a horse that is high and rattle the best available saber in the direction of Charlie Strong?
Sometimes, there is stupidity so rampant – even on a court bench – that it is astonishing. Take the case of judge Margaret Taylor, loudmouth, who chose this week to dress down USF coach Charlie Strong,who, by the way, just got here. One imagines that he still has books in boxes.
But Taylor said that she had never been ashamed of the USF program until now, and she blamed Strong for it.
Followed by “alive.”
Maybe it’s just me, but this sounds an awful lot like a judge trying to get on ESPN and gather the cameras into her hallway. The rest of it is laughably absurd. When former coach Jim Leavitt was accused of striking a player, and when he denied it, that wasn’t enough to shame Taylor? When Mike Ford was dismissed from the team, that didn’t cause shame. When USF lost to McNeese State, of all teams, that wasn’t enough?
But now, after two arrests in 145 days on the job, a judge wants to bang her gavel in his direction. She’s embarrassed, she said. She’s ashamed.
“I have a message for your coach, as well,” Taylor said. “Coach Strong, if you are listening, in the last couple of months there have been two arrests of your players for very violent felonies,” Taylor said. “This court, and I’m sure I’m not alone, questions whether you have control over your players. It’s fairly clear you do not have control of them off the field, and I guess only time will tell whether you have control over them on the field.
“I would implore you to think long and hard about whether being head coach at USF is a good fit for you before any other members of this community have to suffer at the hands of one of your players.”
Think about this. In the world of college football, LaDarrius Jackson is a nobody. Just another guy charged with just another crime. Ah, but if you bring Strong into it, if you blame Strong for a failure to lead, why, every website from Sports Illustrated to ESPN is going to weigh in. It’s a headline grabber.
Now, I’ll be honest. If Taylor had merely fired a shot across Strong’s bow, I would have understood. If she would have said “Charlie, we’re all watching to see if you establish the kind of program you’ve talked about, and incidents like these don’t help,” well, fine. There is nothing wrong with reminding Strong there are high expectations around here. Nothing’s wrong with saying that unacceptable behavior shouldn’t be accepted by anyone, and that two is still too many.
But to chastise so quickly, and so completely, comes off as merely a cry for attention.
Let’s be real. I don’t know if Strong, long-term, is going to be the sort of leader that USF demands or not. He had a good reputation at his two previous stops at Louisville and Texas, but those are different places and that’s a long-haul judgment. But here’s the thing. Taylor doesn’t know, either, and to act as if she does is just the sound of a windbag bagging wind.
Gee. She gave the guy almost 21 weeks. How much time does he need?
Again, Strong did not recruit these players. Unless you count spring practice, he has never coached them in a game.
Most reasonable critics would suggest that football coaches can’t really prevent an entire team from messing up. It’s how the coach responds that tells you his leadership.
Let’s recap Strong’s, shall we?
First of all, Strong had a safety brandish a gun and get shot for his efforts. He was quickly thrown off the team. So what more should Strong have done? Should he have been out cruising the highway just in case on of his players had a road-rage meltdown? Should he have thrown Hassan Childs off of his team twice?
Then, there was the case of Ladarrius Jackson, a USF defensive end who is charged with sexual battery and false imprisonment. Those are hard charges, all right, and Jackson should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. Again, what was a football coach to do? Arbitrate disagreements with his players and their girlfriends. If Jackson is guilty, he should be bounced from the program. But he isn’t guilty yet, is he?
Then there is this. Jackson was charged Monday night. The judge chided Strong on Wednesday. Evidently, she wanted him to exact justice quicker than the courts. Isn’t that silly?
This isn’t Art Briles. This isn’t Barry Switzer. This isn’t Urban Meyer.
Here’s a challenge. Ask a USF grad today if they are more pleased with Strong or with Taylor, who had to recuse herself from the Jackson case on Thursday. I imagine Strong would win. I imagine Taylor would say that’s because he coaches football.
Sometimes, however, the verdict is a just one.
Sometimes, the court is out of order.
(Gary Shelton is one of America’s most-honored and distinguished sports journalists. Gary has spornamed the Associated Press Sports Editors’ No. 1 national sports columnist twice, has been a top five finisher five ot,her times and was chosen by sports editors in the top 10 columnists eight different years. He has been selected Florida’s Sportswriter of the Year six times. He was a columnist with the St. Peterburg/Tampa Bay Times for 25 years after joining the newspaper from The Miami Herald. Gary has covered 29 Super Bowls and 10 Winter and Summer Olympics, The Masters, the World Series, the Stanley Cup Finals and national championship in college football and basketball — all on multiple occasions over the past four decades. He currently has his own website — garysheltonsports.com — blanketing all sports in the Tampa Bay area. He is among the most creative and thoughtful and opinionated, and hard-headed, columnists you’ll ever read. And funny. And one of the good guys. Don’t ever miss his columns, interviews and stories on garysheltonsports.com. Gary has agreed to be an occasional contributor to woodypaige.com.)