SEC coaches weigh talent vs. potential for trouble

FILE - In this June 27, 2013, file photo, former New England Patriots NFL football tight end Aaron Hernandez stands during a bail hearing in Fall River Superior Court in Fall River, Mass. The legal problems of current and former SEC players _ from ex-Florida and NFL tight end Aaron Hernandez to LSU’s Jeremy Hill _ has cast a negative light on the league that has won seven consecutive national championships. Coaches in the conference say they have to weigh a player’s talent vs. trouble in or out of the locker room. (AP Photo/Boston Herald, Ted Fitzgerald, Pool, File)

FILE - In this June 27, 2013, file photo, former New England Patriots NFL football tight end Aaron Hernandez stands during a bail hearing in Fall River Superior Court in Fall River, Mass. The legal problems of current and former SEC players _ from ex-Florida and NFL tight end Aaron Hernandez to LSU’s Jeremy Hill _ has cast a negative light on the league that has won seven consecutive national championships. Coaches in the conference say they have to weigh a player’s talent vs. trouble in or out of the locker room. (AP Photo/Boston Herald, Ted Fitzgerald, Pool, File)

Alabama coach Nick Saban reacts to a question about a trip to Ireland, which he said he knows nothing about, during the Southeastern Conference football media days in Hoover, Ala., Thursday, July 18, 2013. (AP Photo/AL.com, Vasha Hunt)  MAGAZINES OUT

Alabama coach Nick Saban reacts to a question about a trip to Ireland, which he said he knows nothing about, during the Southeastern Conference football media days in Hoover, Ala., Thursday, July 18, 2013. (AP Photo/AL.com, Vasha Hunt) MAGAZINES OUT

Vanderbilt coach James Franklin talks with reporters during the Southeastern Conference football Media Days in Hoover, Ala., Thursday, July 18, 2013. (AP Photo/Dave Martin)

Vanderbilt coach James Franklin talks with reporters during the Southeastern Conference football Media Days in Hoover, Ala., Thursday, July 18, 2013. (AP Photo/Dave Martin)

Florida coach Will Muschamp talks with reporters during the SEC football Media Days in Hoover, Ala., Tuesday, July 16, 2013. (AP Photo/Dave Martin)

Florida coach Will Muschamp talks with reporters during the SEC football Media Days in Hoover, Ala., Tuesday, July 16, 2013. (AP Photo/Dave Martin)

FILE - In this July 12, 2013, file photo, former LSU college football running back Jeremy Hill walks out of arraignment at the 19th Judicial District Courthouse in Baton Rouge, La. The legal problems of current and former SEC players _ from ex-Florida and NFL tight end Aaron Hernandez to LSU’s Jeremy Hill _ has cast a negative light on the league that has won seven consecutive national championships. Coaches in the conference say they have to weigh a player’s talent vs. trouble in or out of the locker room. (AP Photo/Catherine Threlkeld, File)

FILE - In this July 12, 2013, file photo, former LSU college football running back Jeremy Hill walks out of arraignment at the 19th Judicial District Courthouse in Baton Rouge, La. The legal problems of current and former SEC players _ from ex-Florida and NFL tight end Aaron Hernandez to LSU’s Jeremy Hill _ has cast a negative light on the league that has won seven consecutive national championships. Coaches in the conference say they have to weigh a player’s talent vs. trouble in or out of the locker room. (AP Photo/Catherine Threlkeld, File)

HOOVER, Ala. (AP) — The legal problems of current and former SEC players — from ex-Florida and NFL tight end Aaron Hernandez to LSU running back Jeremy Hill — cast a negative light on the league that has won seven consecutive national championships.

It also highlights the challenges — and responsibilities — facing coaches who must weigh a player's talent vs. the potential for trouble in or out of the locker room.

The biggest spotlight by far has been on Hernandez, who's pleaded not guilty to murder in the killing of Boston semi-pro football player Odin Lloyd.

More pertinent to the upcoming season is Hill's uncertain status while facing a misdemeanor simple battery charge from an April 27 scuffle in a bar parking lot.

Coaches at Southeastern Conference media days this week insisted they do their best to keep players behaving, which benefits the team, the players and the men paid millions to win in a powerhouse conference with high stakes and brutal competition.

Florida's Will Muschamp understands he can't know what every player is doing every night away from the football building. "You also can't stick your head in the sand and pretend everything is OK, either," Muschamp said.

He said coaches and staff need to know who players are hanging out with off the field.

"You're 100 percent responsible," Muschamp said. "When you sign a student-athlete to come to the University of Florida, I look at his parents, guardians, whoever is important to him in his life, tell them it's my job to be an extension of what's already happened at home. But you're 100 percent responsible for the young man. Everything that happens."

As Alabama's Nick Saban put it: "We can be the moral compass for our young people but we cannot always drive the ship. We cannot always be there to drive the ship."

In the heated arms race of recruiting, coaches also bear the responsibility for signing a player who might have had off-the-field troubles.

Mississippi's Hugh Freeze brought in one of the nation's most surprising and highly rated talent hauls in February. Weighing risk vs. reward is a factor in recruiting decisions, he said, not just whether a kid is deemed a four- or five-star talent.

"I do think you have to be very calculated in the risk you take because you're under such scrutiny and you're bringing them into your team," Freeze said. "We try to minimize the number of at-risk issues you might have, but you're going to have some. I have a gut feeling. I look at his support system, who he has and listen to him talk about what he wants to be known for. Then I have to make a decision on whether I think we can trust one another with our core values."

Alabama dismissed four players from school following their arrests stemming from two violent robberies on campus barely a month after the Crimson Tide claimed its second straight national title.

Saban said every player he has kicked off has been someone the team's leadership group felt needed to go.

"With events of today and the attention on some of the people who have been arrested in sports in the last couple of weeks, it's even going to be more critical to players' future that they make good choices and decisions," Saban said. "And they have to realize that."

Saban said Alabama has a 12-course program in behavior for success and has psychiatrists or sports psychologists talk to troubled players.

"I always talk to our players about being a blinking light," he said. "If you look at a Christmas tree, when all lights shine bright, it's beautiful. But if one light's going like this (flickering), your attention is just to that light. Nobody should be a blinking light. The players always bring that up to me: 'This guy is a strobe light, man.'"

Even the week of media days started with legal matters.

Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel of Texas A&M pleaded guilty on Monday to a misdemeanor of not identifying himself to a police officer following a 2012 altercation at a bar near campus. That day, Vanderbilt's James Franklin identified four players dismissed from school in June for an incident being investigated by police as a possible sex crime.

Franklin said he and Vandy won't sign players they believe have character issues for the sake of winning.

"I can't speak for other places or other institutions but not at Vanderbilt," Franklin said. "It's never been that way in the past. It's not that way presently. It will never be in the future. That's not what we're all about."

Sometimes seemingly chancy decisions pay huge dividends, sometimes not. First-year Auburn coach Gus Malzahn has been on both sides. He helped recruit quarterback Cam Newton, who had run into legal trouble at Florida, from junior college while the Tigers' offensive coordinator. Newton won a Heisman Trophy and led Auburn to a national title.

Malzahn also signed tailback Mike Dyer at Arkansas State after the BCS championship game MVP was dismissed from Auburn. Dyer was booted from the team without playing after being caught with a gun during a traffic stop.

"You have to weigh everything," Malzahn said. "Talent. You've got to weigh character. You've got to go with your gut instincts on what type of environment you want to have for your team."

Commissioner Mike Slive called it "a crushing disappointment" when a current or former SEC athlete runs afoul of the law. He said any perception outside the league that coaches or schools don't police or discipline athletes is inaccurate.

"In some ways, it's an inverse form of flattery," Slive said. "I mean, we have about 1,800 football players. We can count on one hand the behavioral issues, but they get the headlines and the disappointments."

One of college football's biggest stars, South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, said he avoids trouble caused by reckless Tweets or off-the-field misdeeds.

"I don't go to bars," Clowney said. "I don't drink or anything. I just stay out of trouble, stay at home. I hang out with the same group of guys I grew up with, the same three guys every day. We play games and stay out of trouble. We eat, come back and play games. Just stay in the house. You can't get in trouble in your own home, I hope."

___

AP Sports Writer David Brandt contributed to this story.

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Comments » 16

CrankE writes:

Translation: Aaron Hernandez, bad. Let's paint EVERY team in the league the same two-tone shade of Hernandez and Vandy4 and shame them all.

There was nothing to see at UF when Meyer was there and we the press ignored every misdeed so that we could screech, "TEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEBOOOOOOOOOOOWWWWWWWWWWWW" like little girls at a Justin Bieber concert.

Pay no attention to the fact that we the press missed the Sandusky molocaust in Happy Valley until the week AFTER Joe Pa hit his magic dinger.

#SPINCONTROL

CrankE writes:

And in the never ending saga of, "Tennessee is falling behind", I notice there is no mention of Tennessee in this article. smirk.

BIVOLAR_BEARE writes:

Saban is correct, he shouldn't be held responsible for the players morals. However, he made a deal with a person that had a questionable past. He needs to be a little more up front with these athletes when the recruiting process is going on. He should be telling these guys from jump street, if they shame or forsake the university they are finished playing CFB. And that means telling this to his parents or legal guardians also. I get the feeling that Saban and coaches of his ilk are only invested in his players on the field.

wononta writes:

I'll say that too much sometimes gets made out of too little. Parking lot scuffles for example. Sometimes a fella just jams you up, and you simply have to stand your ground.

8inarow writes:

Why no comment or position from the Vols HC?

BIVOLAR_BEARE writes:

in response to 8inarow:

Why no comment or position from the Vols HC?

I guess he doesn't recruit scumbags like Saban & Urbie do.

gc_scvol writes:

in response to 8inarow:

Why no comment or position from the Vols HC?

We don't have any dogs THIS race DA.

8inarow writes:

in response to BIVOLAR_BEARE:

I guess he doesn't recruit scumbags like Saban & Urbie do.

Or, like past Vols coaches, he doesn't want the responsibility.

sameolvolalum writes:

Except for the 247 country club.....no mention of the 10 (that's ten, folks) 4* recruits widening UT's lead in the 2014 Rivals recruiting ratings. FU is in 22nd place (ha ha), while Miami and FSU are #'s 2&3. The commodes and kittens are slipping and the chickens are 39th. 5*'s won't, for the most part, be signing until NSD, although I noticed ND (probably a Catholic thing), Texas, UVA and UGA have signed one or two. Am I right in that UT's got extra recruits that can be added to the normally allotted 25 for this next group? With that potential, and with such a strong class already committed (I know.....I know; they've not signed anything but big final numbers have obviously got to start with big beginning numbers), the Vols seem likely to be in the top 5 come February. I think 2014-2015 and beyond will be more of a Vols vs. dawgs battle for SECe supremacy, with the "other" Florida schools reeling in the lion's share of talent over the Gators. I'll give Muschamp two more years, tops, then Franklin will be their next bad decision. GBO!

10seVol85_Part_Deux writes:

in response to 8inarow:

Why no comment or position from the Vols HC?

Probably because he hasn't had any players he recruited run into trouble yet.

I guess you didn't notice the other 7 programs that weren't mentioned in the article either?

Every team represented in the article has had players arrested and/or dismissed from their program under the current coach, probably recruited by the current coach.

SevenT writes:

in response to CrankE:

And in the never ending saga of, "Tennessee is falling behind", I notice there is no mention of Tennessee in this article. smirk.

Tennessee is horrible so they tend to take marginal players with questionable pasts because they can't attract anyone else.

like Duh-Rick Rodgers

Just Saying

Colliervol writes:

Well we know where Urban Meyer fell on this issue don't we? The Florida State Penitentiary at Gainesville. Those national titles are looking a bit tarnished right now.

BIVOLAR_BEARE writes:

in response to SevenT:

Tennessee is horrible so they tend to take marginal players with questionable pasts because they can't attract anyone else.

like Duh-Rick Rodgers

Just Saying

Yeah, they should be more like Cal, and recruit only the best character athletes.

6972 writes:

in response to SevenT:

Tennessee is horrible so they tend to take marginal players with questionable pasts because they can't attract anyone else.

like Duh-Rick Rodgers

Just Saying

Doesn't your team have its own site? The Constitution grants freeddom of speech, but I and many more Vol fans just wish you would exercise that right somewhere else.

murrayvol writes:

in response to Colliervol:

Well we know where Urban Meyer fell on this issue don't we? The Florida State Penitentiary at Gainesville. Those national titles are looking a bit tarnished right now.

The Urbanator will always err on the side of talent. And he will always shift blame when the wheels come off. He can't help himself.

Colliervol writes:

in response to murrayvol:

The Urbanator will always err on the side of talent. And he will always shift blame when the wheels come off. He can't help himself.

Or fake a breakdown and bail. "I didn't know I was coaching the team from Leavenworth. They were angels when I recruited them. I have no idea what happened when they got to Gainesville."

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