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Friday, May 24, 2013
The perils of summer for coaches

By Mark Schlabach
ESPN.com

Late in the summer of 1988, legendary Florida State coach Bobby Bowden and his wife, Ann, traveled to Europe for a couple of weeks. Bowden spent a few days coaching American troops at a military base in Germany, and then they spent the rest of their time traveling before the start of another grueling college football season.

Bobby Bowden
Bobby Bowden knew a music video about his FSU team made while he was in Europe would cause trouble.

While Bowden was out of the country, FSU's season unraveled before it even started.

A Seminoles booster came up with the idea of having FSU players make a music video, kind of like the "Super Bowl Shuffle" video the Chicago Bears made before they won Super Bowl XX in 1986. When Bowden learned of the "Seminole Rap," he nearly squashed it. But Bowden feared killing the video would hurt the morale of his team.

"I didn't like the video," he said. "In fact, I was terrified of it. I knew Jimmy Johnson was down at Miami playing the video in his team's locker room -- every minute of every day."

That's exactly what Johnson did. When the Seminoles opened the 1988 season against Miami at the Orange Bowl, the defending national champion Hurricanes walloped them 31-0.

"They killed us on national TV, and it was embarrassing," Bowden said. "Our No. 1 ranking lasted all of 60 minutes."

As college football coaches around the country begin the start of another long, hot summer, many of them have the same fears Bowden had in 1988. While most coaches welcome a few weeks of rest and relaxation with their families and away from football, they also fear their players will do something stupid at a time when they have the most freedom.

The worst interruption during a coach's summer vacation is a phone call from the campus police.

"If you follow it and look back at history, it seems like that's when guys make a bad decision, get themselves in trouble or associate with the wrong people," Michigan coach Brady Hoke said. "I really don't think we have as much access as we need to have during the summer."

Under NCAA rules, head coaches are permitted to have little contact with players during the summer. Strength and conditioning coaches and trainers can oversee voluntary offseason workouts and passing drills for safety reasons, but coaches aren't allowed to watch or instruct their players once spring practice ends.

"There needs to be a middle ground where we can be around them and be visible," Hoke said. "We need to be able to motivate them from an academic and social standpoint. We need to be able to stay connected with them. We're responsible for the APR [Academic Progress Rate], which is fine, but we need to be able to walk through the weight room and ask a guy how his parents are doing or how he's doing in a class.

Brady Hoke
Michigan's Brady Hoke says coaches should be able to motivate players on their academics and social actions during the summer.

"If we're going to have a responsibility for how our kids act and represent our university, we need to have more access to them."

Texas A&M's Kevin Sumlin said the most important hire a new head coach makes is his strength and conditioning coach because that's who essentially runs the program during the summer. Former Aggies and NFL player Larry Jackson is Texas A&M's director of football sports performance and oversees the team's offseason workouts.

"From June 1 to July 4, it becomes Larry Jackson's football team," Sumlin said. "He sets the tone, discipline, toughness and everything else that's important about football other than strategy. I know what we're getting. We can't be around them, so the demeanor of your football team is going to be set by your strength and conditioning coach."

Sumlin excused his team's returning players from football duties after they completed final exams in early May. The Aggies are scheduled to return to campus when summer school classes start in early June.

"I wanted them to get away from us and get away from school," Sumlin said. "It gives them a little bit of time away."

During the summer, Jackson and his staff are responsible for making sure players attend class and don't step out of line. Texas A&M also chose two captains from each class to oversee the offseason program.

"Those two guys are in charge of their particular class and what they want them to be in the summer," Sumlin said. "The best teams I've been around, they've been led by the locker room. Those guys are responsible for making sure the players in their class take care of their academics, do the right things off the field and are doing what they're supposed to be doing in the offseason conditioning program. If those guys handle it, we're going to be a pretty good football team. If they don't, we're going to be pretty average."