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Character is tripping up coaches

Cheating has switched positions: it's no longer a player following his worst instinct but a player following a direct order. And cheating bosses don't get pink slips, they get mea culpas.

December 16, 2010|Bill Plaschke

In New York, it isn't just about a wandering knee, it's about a lost soul.

In Berkeley, it isn't about fake injuries, it's about fraudulent leadership.

In Denver, the spy didn't only reveal an opponent's schemes, but his own team's integrity.

Remember the good old days when the cheaters were the players? Poor desperate jocks trying to gain an advantage in the heat of the moment? Blatantly wrong, but easily understandable because it was so darn human?

Crimes have changed. Cheating has switched positions. Cheating now wears a headset and blows a whistle. Cheating is now scrawled in playbooks and sounded in pep talks and taught like technique. Cheating is no longer a player following his worst instincts, but a player following a direct order.

The cheaters are now the coaches, and if you don't think that's scary, then you didn't see that sprinting Miami Dolphins player being tripped into the air by some fool standing next to the field in a New York Jets sweatsuit.

Cheating is like that now. It's sideline. It's scary. It comes out of nowhere and everywhere and the only thing certain is, it starts at the top.

"The whole thing is somewhat like the mafia now,'' said ethicist Michael Josephson, a former law professor who is president of the national Character Counts coalition, and he's right.

Recent events show a nastiness in sports that begins with the bosses and trickles down to the henchman and winds up in the bloody death of sportsmanship.

Take the case of Sal Alosi. On Sunday, while standing on the sidelines in his role as the Jets strength and conditioning coach, he stuck out his knee and tripped the Dolphins' Nolan Carroll as Carroll raced upfield to cover a punt.

After the incident was caught on film, Alosi tearfully apologized while being suspended for the rest of the season and fined $25,000. Then he stuck his knee into common sense by saying he acted alone.

Right. Assistant coaches, especially low-level ones, don't act alone. Assistant coaches such as that don't simply order players to form a sideline wall to impede opponents racing down the field.

Rex Ryan, the Jets' popular head coach, said he knew nothing. Bull. The entire Jets organization should now be branded as cheaters, which will sadly mean absolutely nothing if they end the season as winners.

Then there's the case of Tosh Lupoi. This year, the California defensive line coach admitted ordering one of his players to fake an injury to slow down the frenzied Oregon offense during the Ducks' eventual 15-13 win.

After that incident was caught on tape, Lupoi was suspended for the final game of the season and scolded by a Cal athletic director, whose explanation was mostly gibberish.

"This is a young coach who made a mistake … he stood up and he accepted responsibility for it," said Sandy Barbour. "The head coach accepted responsibility for it and I accept responsibility for it. That's what we do as educators."

Um, I'm still waiting for Cal Coach Jeff Tedford to accept responsibility for an act that could not have been done without his approval. And, um, I'm still waiting for Barbour to accept responsibility by punishing Tedford for running a program that teaches kids to cheat. Have you seen that video? Aaron Tipoti, a defensive tackle, actually looks to the sidelines before grabbing his hamstring and falling to the turf.

Yeah, that's what Cal does as educators.

Finally, there's the case of Steve Scarnecchia, the Denver Broncos video guy who last month admitted taping a San Francisco 49ers' practice. He was immediately fired, but Coach Josh McDaniel was not fired as he claimed that he never approved or saw the tape. Yeah, right. McDaniel is a Bill Belichick disciple who knows every nook and cranny of his organization. Yeah, he knew.

Finally, last week McDaniel was fired, but sadly not so much for the video scandal but because he was a lousy football coach.

In sports, cheating bosses don't get pink slips. They get mea culpas and furrowed brows and eventually great applause for scrubbing their house clean of the sort of dirt that they tracked inside in the first place.

Cheaters never win? When the cheater is the boss, they always win. It's the rest of us who lose.

"You have to start with the notion that the coach is an adult,'' said Josephson. "The values they chose to follow are critical."

When today's sports leaders were younger, those values were dignity and integrity. But as the sports landscape became more infused with money and fame, those values changed, and, soon, if you weren't cheating, you weren't trying. If today's coaches grew up hearing that motto, is it any surprise that some of them are now trying to teach it?

"The message being sent today is that you do whatever you can get away it,'' said Josephson. "It is a coach's job to teach character, but that doesn't seem to be happening as much anymore."

Famed football coaching pioneer Amos Alonzo Stagg was once asked whether a particular University of Chicago football team was his greatest.

"I won't know for 20 years," he said.

Today, it's all about the next 20 plays, a different era, a different dignity, a different speech.

"Rock, sometime when the team is up against it, and the breaks are beating the boys, tell them to go out there with all they got and win just one for the Tripper."

bill.plaschke@latimes.com

twitter.com/billplaschke

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