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Coaches Calling the Wrong Plays

One doesn’t need to see Mike Price summoning a lap dance or Larry Eustachy nuzzling a coed to understand the obvious.

Major college football and basketball coaches have long been the life of the party.

The rules that apply to their students don’t apply to them. The regulations of the university rarely pertain to them.

They can make public promises to their players, then break them a week later as they scurry off to another school.

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They can publicly embrace the virtues of amateurism while signing million-dollar shoe deals.

They can act like fools in public, on national television, cursing and gesturing and threatening.

These coaches are granted mobility denied the player, freedom denied the professors, and a lifestyle that is often contrary to the ivy-covered ideals of their employers.

In exchange, is it too much to ask that these teachers occasionally teach?

Which brings us to Mike Price, an engaging man who met up with a hungry stripper and Saturday was fired as head coach at Alabama before ever coaching a football game there.

The easy thing would be to say he was fired because the university was reluctant to pay his $10-million salary in garter-friendly dollar bills.

Even easier to say he was fired for fear he would take the field against Auburn with a freshman running back named Destiny.

But it’s a serious business, these coaches with our children, and the somber reasons for his firing should reverberate this summer through $500-per-runt camps and $5,000-per-speech dinners and everywhere else big-time coaches can be found.

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Mike Price, one of the most embracing college coaches on the landscape, was fired because, amazingly, he forgot he worked at a college.

Spending hundreds of dollars at a strip club, as Price reportedly did, is a perfectly legal adult activity.

Hanging out later with a woman who orders $1,000 of room service from your hotel room, morally questionable because she is not your wife, is nonetheless a perfectly private adult activity.

But when you are the most public teacher in the state’s most public classroom, it is all perfectly dumb.

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Price doesn’t just deal with game plans, he ostensibly deals with lesson plans. And despite his tearful apologies, he had already flunked the teaching of two important lessons before the season’s first whistle.

Lesson one, good judgment. Lesson two, respect for women. Education will be hard to swallow when spooned out by a coach who behaved so foolishly.

The former Washington State coach is considered such a grandfatherly good guy in Pac-10 circles, it is easy to believe his son Aaron when he told reporters, “In his 57 years, there’s been one moment in his life that he didn’t act appropriately.”

But, then again, last season, Price accepted the Alabama job during Washington State’s Rose Bowl preparations. He then stood on the sideline in Pasadena as his angry and distracted Cougars were waxed by Oklahoma.

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If his star player had tried the same thing, he would have been thrown off the team for the rest of the season, and then been declared ineligible for next season.

But Price was applauded for his career advancement and only mildly pitied for his timing.

Five months later, the burden of a coach’s indiscretion falls on the proper shoulders.

And to think Alabama was the end of Price’s rainbow, his lifetime achievement award, for all those years in the shadows of Pullman.

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He was warned before his strip-club trip about embarrassing behavior. There is a clause about such trips in his contract. He was still so new, he had not even signed that contract.

All this, and he still spends his first days on the job hanging around strange G-strings? Given this display of judgment, did Alabama really want this guy calling its plays on fourth-and-one?

There are many, of course, who say that major college football and basketball coaches should only be judged by such plays. They say that the teaching component has long been buried under the thick green of victory.

Maybe so. But maybe it’s not so bad to be occasionally reminded that this is wrong, that demanding less of the coaches weakens the students, who today surprise us only when they play hard for two hours and graduate in four years.

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Next up, Eustachy, not worthy of more than a couple of paragraphs here, a situation that stinks like a fraternity house.

The Iowa State basketball coach is probably going to be fired this week after being photographed drinking with coeds at postgame college parties. His subsequent admission that he is an alcoholic doesn’t explain why he was attending a bash that reportedly included underage students.

Yet as an indication of how numb we have become at such behavior, the biggest complaint from e-mailers has been that a million-dollar boss drinks cheap beer.

Don’t know about the lager, but this is certainly another example of Coach Lite, watering down the mission, worthy of the drain.

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Bill Plaschke can be reached at bill.plaschke@latimes.com.


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