When the Washington Huskies convene for fall camp next week, they’ll practice at an accelerated pace consistent with the transition to their new no-huddle attack. The idea is for the players — not just the offense, but on the defensive side, too — to become adept at the difficult discipline of thinking fast.
For somebody who wants his team to hurry up in every phase, Huskies coach Steve Sarkisian is setting a curious example. There’s an issue he must resolve, and he’s plodding over it at the approximate speed of a grocery-store line on Thanksgiving Eve.
It’s been 141 days since Austin Seferian-Jenkins drove into a ditch on the south end of Seattle’s Ravenna Park, leaving him with a bloody nose and a blot on an otherwise sterling college career. Police determined his blood-alcohol level to be more than twice the legal limit.
Seferian-Jenkins did not dispute the accounts of the accident. Long before his case was adjudicated — he ended up pleading guilty and serving a night in jail — the star tight end accepted accountability.
“Coach Sarkisian holds our team to high standards on and off the field, and I fell short of those standards this weekend,” the statement read. “I apologize for letting down my family, my team and the entire University of Washington community.
“I will take full responsibility for my actions and work to use them as a learning experience.”
Not much ambiguity there. Seferian-Jenkins acknowledged standards were set on and off the
field, and that he would take full responsibility for falling short of those standards.
Upon reading that statement, it would’ve taken some coaches — the late Alabama legend Bear Bryant comes to mind — about 12 seconds to suspend Seferian-Jenkins for at least one game. When Bryant learned his quarterback had violated a team rule demanding players abstain from alcohol during the season, the quarterback was told he wouldn’t need to put on a uniform for the last two games of the Crimson Tide’s 1963 schedule.
No matter that the quarterback was Joe Namath. No matter that the suspension included the Sugar Bowl.
Namath had been seen in a local diner with a beer in his hand. News travels fast in college towns like Tuscaloosa, and when Bryant heard rumors of Namath sipping on a beer, the coach called him into his office.
Bryant told Namath that the incident could be forgotten as a first offense, but forgetting it would represent a violation of his principles, and he would have to resign if he did that. So Namath got the boot, creating a media storm that forced the quarterback to take temporary refuge in the basement of Bryant’s house.
Recalling the controversy on Joe Scarborough’s cable-television show, Namath insisted the two-game suspension was fair.
“I broke a training rule,” he said.
Had Namath finished several beers that night before taking the wheel of a vehicle occupied with other passengers; had he steered the vehicle into a ditch because he was incapable of following the path of the road — had he been arrested — we can presume consequences more problematic than a two-game suspension.
It’s funny, in a way that isn’t funny at all, how an intolerance for drinking and driving has evolved over the 50 years since Joe Namath broke team rules by sipping on a beer.
While laws are tougher and police are much more vigilant, college football coaches have retreated, typically pointing out that kids will be kids, prone to behave like boneheads now and then. They make mistakes, sure, but let’s not overreact and pile on and prevent them from contributing their talent to a team that counts on it.
Sarkisian uses that waffling tone when talking about his misgivings to suspend Seferian-Jenkins for, say, the season-opener against Boise State in the radically refurbished Husky Stadium.
“I think the worse punishment is spending the night in jail and spending the thousands of dollars as a college kid,” Sarkisian told reporters last week at Pacific-12 Conference media day. “Then the public humiliation you have to endure as a 20-year old guy that he’s had to go through. I think that is really severe.”
If Sarkisian believes that Seferian-Jenkins already has paid enough of a penalty for his mistake, it’s time for the coach to stand up and say, “Austin already has paid enough of a penalty for his mistake.”
There will be backlash, and the backlash will be substantial, but at least he’ll put some closure on an issue that has been festering since March 9.
If Sarkisian believes a suspension of some sort will convey a no-tolerance policy toward drunken driving to the rest of the team (and to potential recruits, and the parents of potential recruits), it’s time for the coach to stand up and say that.
Sarkisian has had 141 days to mull over the pros and cons of beginning the 2013 season without Austin Seferian-Jenkins, which is 141 more days than Bear Bryant needed to decide on the pros and cons of playing a bowl game without Joe Namath.
Bryant was as flawed as anybody else, but there was something perfect about his refusal to bend team rules around a superior player.
The man determined Joe Namath ineligible for the Sugar Bowl, and half a century later, Namath still has no gripes about the harsh punishment.
“I broke a training rule.”
Ah, training rules. Remember those? Whatever happened to them?
Something else for the Huskies’ preacher of hurry-up to ponder, 141 days after a gifted player got drunk, got into the driver’s seat, and steered his friends into a firstname.lastname@example.org