CSUN Coach Roughed Up on This NCAA Kicking Penalty

It took two weeks, but the other shoe finally fell.

When Tom Keele was dismissed from his position as football coach at Cal State Northridge two weeks ago, administrators insisted that the reason was as plain as the 4-7 mark on his won-lost ledger for 1985. The man had produced only two winning teams in seven years, so he would not get a chance to produce any more.

Plain and simple.

But sources in the school bureaucracy hinted at other problems, at serious administrative problems.

Those whispers turned to shouts this week when the NCAA revealed that Keele held an illegal tryout for nine prospective kickers a year ago. Such tryouts are forbidden by the NCAA.

The punishment was a mere slap on the wrist. Actually, more like a pat on the wrist.

Except for Keele.

The school was publicly reprimanded and its head football coach was prohibited from recruiting off-campus for one month, ending Jan. 1.

Since Keele was dismissed Dec. 6, he didn't figure to be doing much in the way of recruiting anyway.

He hopes instead to be the recruitee as he begins his search for a new job.

That won't be easy. Not many people will be interested on a 52-year-old coach with a losing record and a statement from his former athletic director that he knowingly broke the law.

Keele himself has refused to comment.

He says he will never comment on the tryout incident.

So there is no one to plead his case.

The CSUN administration is treating him as if he had been recruiting spies for the Soviet Union. And his employers are making it very clear that this was a violation of Tom Keele, By Tom Keele and for Tom Keele. Alone.

Bob Hiegert, Northridge athletic director, said it was "an individual matter. An individual made a mistake, got caught and was dealt with."

James W. Cleary, the university president, said it was "one individual acting entirely on his own."

Cleary's desire to distance himself form the situation is certainly understandable. Earlier this very week, it was announced that he has been elected chairman of the NCAA Division II subcommittee by the NCAA President's Commission. This is a particularly poor time for his own institution to be violating NCAA rules.

But the final ruling won't hurt him or his school.

The assistant coaches, unaffected by Friday's ruling, have continued to recruit. The school will soon have a new coach to lead then. Hiegert says they have already gotten 20 applications for the job and it's an impressive group.

And, the NCAA says, Northridge is still eligible for television and postseason appearances.

Which must come as a relief to the three networks.

So the only real victim is Keele himself, the man who admits that he messed up.

Why did he do it?

Since he won't speak, we can only speculate.

We can speculate that this was a 52-year-old man coming off a 2-8 season in 1984 and feeling real pressure to produce some victories or have to return to the job market at an age when most people are ready to kick back and enjoy life.

We can speculate this was a coach feeling the loss after the '84 season of All-American kicker Bryan Wagner, the best kicker in school history.

In his desire to get back on the winning track, Keele scrapped his normal offence and went to the wide open run-and-shoot.

And, apparently, he may have also scrapped his ethics.

This wasn't illegal payments placed in secret bank accounts, or cars, or jobs, or houses, or employment opportunities for relatives or friends.

This was an afternoon at Northridge where a bunch of kids were asked to swing their legs a few times so a coach could see if they were good enough to swing those legs under game conditions.

It was a minor violation. Indisputable. Undefensible. But minor. That's what everybody keeps saying.

But it isn't so minor to Tom Keele, considering the price he may pay in terms of employment.

College football, through the NCAA, sets up all these rules and regulations so that the sport can remain an adjunct to the primary goal of higher education.

Well and good, say the college administrators.

Oh, and one other thing.

Just Win, Baby.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World