Paying A High Price

Columnist Phillip Marshall writes opinion columns about Auburn and Southeastern Conference sports twice a week for AUTigers.com's premium subscribers.

Are we really so different? Reading some of the accounts of Mike Price's firing, you'd think that we backwoods hillbillies in Alabama are the only ones who attach real importance to college football. I don't believe it.

Bill Curry wrote eloquently for ESPN's website about the spotlight that shines on the Alabama head coach. But Curry's only head coaching job before moving to Alabama was at Georgia Tech. If he'd been at, say, Georgia, I doubt he would have found Alabama to be such a shock. It's been popular to say the Alabama and Auburn football coaches are more recognizable than the governor, and that's true. My guess is the same applies to coaches at places like Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State and others that these folks would have us believe are culturally superior. Put Gov. Jeb Bush and Steve Spurrier on a street corner in any Florida city and see who gets the most attention. It won't be Bush. Heck, put Bush and Ron Zook on the same street corner. It still won't be Bush.

Price, like Curry, didn't come from another truly big-time program. Washington State, for sure, is a far cry from Alabama. Maybe he wasn't prepared for the scrutiny. But that is hardly a mitigating factor in this case. It's been amusing to read and hear people say that Price was mistreated because he broke no laws. Since when was it required that a person do something illegal to be fired? Price humiliated his employer, an employer who was paying him the neat sum of $1.5 million per year. And the humiliation might not be over. "Destiny," the stripper to whom Price took a fancy in Pensacola, says she has sold her story to Sports Illustrated. We'll soon, I suppose, be treated to the sordid details of that night.

Alabama president Robert Witt did what most bosses would have done. He fired him. His decision, though, took a bit more courage. Reports say the Alabama Board of Trustees was in favor of giving Price another chance. Hey, what's a little X-rated fun when there's a football season ahead? Much of my sympathy for Price vanished when, after tearfully expressing remorse, he tied into Witt on Saturday. Price said he wanted a second chance but wasn't given one. He had the gall to say he should get another chance because a university is about teen-agers learning from their mistakes. Price, like me, hasn't been a teen-ager in several decades. Witt said he'd been warned previously about inappropriate behavior, meaning the Pensacola incident was his second chance.

Maybe there are those who think it's unreasonable to expect that a 57-year-old coach being paid a king's ransom should be expected to stay out of sleazy strip clubs and avoid leaving a woman in his hotel room to charge up $1,000 worth of room service…to go. I think it's perfectly reasonable to expect that.

Want to talk about unreasonable? Unreasonable is the proposition that the tendency to this kind of behavior just came upon Price in the four months he was the head coach at Alabama. I don't want to sound cold-hearted here. I feel for Mrs. Price, for their sons, for Alabama's players, for the assistant coaches and for Alabama fans who have watched their football program take one withering hit after another in recent years. I feel for Mal Moore, who is a good and caring man. All those people are victims. Mike Price is a victim only of his own actions. Does he deserve a chance for redemption, a chance to learn from his mistakes? Of course he does. Larry Eustachy, who will soon be fired as Iowa State's basketball coach for cavorting with college students at college parties, deserves that, too. They deserve forgiveness if they seek it. But that doesn't mean they can make everything all right by saying they are sorry. As all of us have learned to our dismay at one time or another in our lives, bad decisions often bring bad consequences.

Price won't go hungry. He already has more money than most of us will ever have. What he's lost is his reputation, and that's worth more than money. I truly hope he finds a way to earn it back, but Witt made the right decision. And it would have been the right decision at any school, anywhere. It has nothing to do with the Bible Belt. It has nothing to do with the popularity of college football in Alabama. It has everything to do with right and wrong and with accountability for one's actions.


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