EVERYONE to blame for football mess

It has been a bad 48 hours for Wildcat football. The rumors began to surface on Tuesday night that players were unhappy and now, on Thursday afternoon the program is the butt of jokes on sports talk radio. In between the rumor mill went full tilt, facts got distorted and in the end the head coach was brought to tears in front of the national media. Arizona football is now under a black cloud and everyone is at fault.

The incidents that have become so public should not have happened. Someone should have seen it coming. Everyone is to blame. Mackovic is to blame. The players are to blame. The administrators, alumni and even the media is to blame. Frankly, no one involved in the situation is without blame.

The writing has been on the wall for some time. Many in the media could see that there were problems. We just didn't know to what extent. What appeared to be a few unhappy players and coaches, turned out to be a lot more widespread problem. Suddenly a host of rumors were starting to ban out.

Most of us in the media did not know what to do with the information we had. Some of it was rumor, some was supposition and a lot was off the record. Greg Hansen of the Arizona Daily Star reported on the unfortunate altercation between Mackovic and Clay Hardt after the Wisconsin game. A few weeks later he was the first to put in print what we had been hearing, boosters were unhappy and considering a proposed buyout. What we learned was the rumblings we heard were really just the tip of an iceberg that surfaced on Tuesday night.

Clearly Mackovic is to blame. In the end it comes down to the head coach. Right or wrong the coach gets credit and blame. When the team is losing, people are not happy and they start to look at the coach.

"The Head Coach is responsible for the leadership of his team," Mackovic said.

It has become apparent that Mackovic is not the easiest person to work or play for. He's an old-school disciplinarian. He's a screamer. He has admitted to saying things that crossed the line. Wildcat fans wanted the "anti-Tomey" and that is what they got. He is aloof, he is not a buddy-buddy kind of guy. He is not raw-raw, he's a calculating, CEO type who expects his team to follow his lead without question.

While players have not liked what he has had to say, things were apparently came to a head following the Wisconsin game. Although he would not go into detail, Mackovic seemed quite ashamed at the tongue lashing he gave his team and coaches.

"The genesis of the discomfort on our team most likely comes from comments I made to the team after our loss to Wisconsin," Mackovic confessed. "On the Monday following the game I said many things that were inappropriate for that time and place. Most importantly I allowed my emotions to get control of me. On that same Monday I made similar comments to our coaching staff which I have regretted as well. My actions and inactions in correcting the situation lie squarely on my shoulders."

While Mackovic is certain the blame, the players are to blame as well. Not just the anti-Mackovic faction that went running to the University President, but the pro-Mackovic guys who didn't see it coming.

From the outside there seems to be three factions on the UofA football team, those who oppose Mackovic, those who support Mackovic and those who are ambivalent and just want to play for Arizona. The vast majority of the players who met with Peter Likins were upperclassmen who originally came to Arizona to play under Dick Tomey. Unlike Tomey, Mackovic was not approachable and the players let the situation fester until it resulted into a revolt. The biggest question is whether the players have legitimate gripes with Mackovic or whether they are just too sensitive to an old school coach? On the surface it seems like a little of both. Not knowing what exactly was said it's tough to get a gauge. Certainly Mackovic has crossed the line in his dealings with players, but the stories are no worse than coaches like Bobby Knight and Mike Ditka.

What is curious is that the contingent of pro-Mackovic players did not see this coming or did not alert anyone to the severity of the rift. It is hard to imagine that on a roster of over 100 players a group of 40-50 players could keep a secret, so you'd have to assume that players in the coach's camp knew there were problems.

What we don't know is if there were players' only meetings. Did the players meet with the assistant coaches? Did the assistant coaches know there were problems, and did they feel comfortable in discussing the problem with their boss?

Could the players have approached the coach with their grievances? Mackovic claims they could, but maybe their fear and distrust are the root of the problem.

"Had they come to me and said, "we want to sit down with you, we don't like some of the things that are going on, we don't like some of the interactions that we have,' I would have given them all of the times that they needed," Mackovic said.

Jim Livengood mentioned that players from every sport have met with him to discuss the situations surrounding their teams. It can be assumed that he had dealings with players on the football team. Should he and others in the athletic department known what was brewing? The difficulty here is that you have a team mired in a losing streak. Everything is worse when a team is down. Comments that might be brushed off when a team is successful, suddenly become hurtful when a team was down. Livengood has 18 teams, several hundred athletes and a delicate budget to look after. Could he have foreseen the problems brewing? That's debatable. He had to have known something was going on, buy like many, did not foresee the problems festering like they did.

Livengood admitted that he did not know the extent of the comments made following the debacle in Wisconsin. Had Livengood known exactly what was said, maybe things could have been nipped in the bud.

People around the University aren't the only ones to blame. There are outsiders who are close to the program who are involved in this situation. Boosters, parents and former players seem to have played a part in the situation. Livengood stated that the move to approach President Peter Likins was prompted by "outside forces".

"the unfortunate thing, and I don't want to say to much, is there are outside forces creating these things too," said a cautious Livengood. "Do we have problems, have we had problems with communication? Absolutely, yes. John knows that, we were very candid about that. We also have outside forces that are contributing to that, people who are unhappy. Somebody does not have a player playing that they thought was going to be very good, thought the player was going to be all world, so therefore is going to be down of the coach. It's unfortunate, but that's the real world." Things were bad, but things for worse after the meeting between Likins and the players. The rumor mill spun out of control. Personally I was deluged with rumors, many from good sources. I know that other media members were going through the same thing. By noon on Wednesday morning I had heard that Mackovic would resign. Several good sources indicated the end was near.

A couple of hours later KNST and ESPN were reporting that Mackovic would step down. At that time I ran the story, with hesitation. By the time I reached McKale for the press conference every major media center was running with the story.

Then something funny happened, while waiting for Mackovic cell phones went off. Sources backtracked. Suddenly a few of us in the room had no idea what would happen.

This was a good lesson in the power of the media in the information edge. Things spread so fast. On Tuesday night I was at McKale when I heard about the meeting and before I could log on the computer the story appeared on the message boards of the website. I happen to have it on good authority that KNST had a very solid source announcing the resignation. Knowing ESPN's relationship with Mackovic I can only assume that they were confident in their sources as well.

The whole situation not only becomes a lesson to the media but to the University as a whole. With better lines of communication this whole incident could have been nipped in the bud. With better communication this situation may have been avoided altogether. The Wildcats have won just one game since the Wisconsin game and that can't be a coincidence. The problems have been there for months and it seems that many, if not all of the characters involved could have prevented it.

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