Covering a feeding frenzy

Sharks are solitary eaters. They do not feed in groups. Usually. But sometimes a few will be attracted to the same prey, or an unusual feeding opportunity will present itself, and they can go crazy. They start fighting over the prey wildly, often biting and sometimes even eating each other. Others are drawn to the fight, and they lose all of their better instincts and act in a way that is destructive and not in keeping with their own preservation.

For an example in human terms, check out a message board when word of a coaching change heats up. Or enter a conversation with anybody. Or read my email where it concerns the University of Louisville football situation.

“At least print what rumors you’re hearing,” one reader wrote to me, angered when I responded that such things are exactly what responsible news outlets should not do.

What I can print, at the moment, is what I think. After a few days off, I have a column running in tomorrow’s paper that will address the subject, and I don’t want to pre-empt that.

The fascinating part of this is that the buzz has completely leap-frogged the question of whether Steve Kragthorpe will return as coach. It has moved straight to the question of who will replace him.

The assumption behind such discussion is that U of L athletic director Tom Jurich is ready to act if things do not improve. I’d agree with that assumption.

One widespread rumor that I bring up because U of L moved fast to deny it this week, is that something will be announced this weekend. I think such a move would come too soon, just five games into the season.

I don’t see any circumstance, outside of Kragthorpe getting fed up and walking away, in which Kragthorpe does not finish the season as the U of L football coach. There is a responsibility to the current players, and unless Kragthorpe is acting in a way that is detrimental to them — and losing football games does not fall under that umbrella — the best thing for the university to do is to keep him in place for the rest of the season.

This was the decision of the University of Florida, which announced in late October of 2004, that Ron Zook would not return as Gators coach. Zook had coached 33 games at Florida by then, and had four games left in his third season. Not only was he losing at a rate they’re not used to in Gainesville, but he’d been involved in an embarrassing altercation with students when he’d been called to intervene in a fight between some of his players and a Florida fraternity.

Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley said: “In the final analysis, it was apparent to me that something’s not working here. I know that’s kind of nebulous, but it’s the truth. It’s hard to put a finger on it exactly, but it certainly just didn’t appear to be working as we all envisioned.”

Zook, who had been a defensive coordinator under Spurrier, was a close friend of Foley’s, whom Foley called “the Zooker.” Foley hired him after being turned down by a couple of high-profile choices, including Denver Broncos coach Mike Shanahan.

The deal was made that Zook would finish out the season, and Foley announced that he would not pursue candidates until after the season.

Foley explained the move to USA Today like this:

Though it’s unusual to have a fired coach remain in place with a month left in the season, Foley, a friend of the man he calls “The Zooker,” dating to their days when Zook was an assistant said, “To let Ron twist and not say anything publicly because we knew what we’re going to do is all based on lying, and that’s not what we were going to do. … To let a coach go with one or two games left (is more common), but four is pretty unusual, but it is what it is.”

The move angered players, but seemed to alleviate some pressure on the program.

The problem was this — it increased the pressure on the athletic director. Every move he made was assumed to have to do with the hiring of a new coach, which is not always the case.

So when people speculate that such a move might be an option at U of L, it’s certainly a legitimate thought. But you are trading one feeding frenzy for another, as it were.

And regardless, five games into the season remains to early to pull that trigger, even if one or both of the parties (administration or Kragthorpe) is willing to do so. And for the record, neither has come even remotely close to saying they are at this time.

Finally, a couple of procedural facts to consider.

From Kragthorpe’s contract, if U of L wishes to terminate it:

For Just Cause:
Termination of this Employment Contract by Employer may occur only by Decision of the Board of Directors of Employer or a duly authorized and constituted subcommittee of such Board of Directors after ten (10) days prior written notice to Employee, specifying the charges against Employee and providing Employee an opportunity to present evidence to such Board of Directors or subcommitttee.

Without Just Cause:
At any time after the commencement of this Employement Contract, Employer may terminate this Employment Contract by giving ten (10) days prior written notice to Employee. In the event Employer terminates this Employment Contract without Just Cause, Employer shall pay to Employee, as liquidated damages, the compensation due to employee . . .

To resign:

Employee may terminate the Employment Contract by giving ten (10) days written notice to Employer. If the Employee terminates this Employment Contract prior to June 30, 2012, Employee shall pay to Employer as liquidated damages the amount of $2,000,000 for termination of contract.

As with everything, of course, such arrangements are negotiable.

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote that I thought it was important to let things play their course a little bit. Patience is not something anyone is known for in these situations.

But it’s best, particularly if you’re covering (or blogging) to try to avoid that feeding frenzy metality.

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