This particular Florida man is a Florida Gator. Antonio Morrison, the 6-foot-1, 230-pounder from Illinois who is set to replace Jon Bostic as Florida's starting middle linebacker, got booked Sunday morning after he was accused of woofing at a Belgian malinois named Bear who happens to be in the employ of the Alachua County Sheriff's Office. This is intriguing beyond it possibly being the most Gainesville arrest in the history of the town the University of Florida calls home.
Less than a week before Morrison attempted to communicate with Bear in Bear's native tongue, Florida coach Will Muschamp said college football coaches are "100 percent responsible" for the off-field behavior of their players. Muschamp said this at SEC Media Days in response to a question about how coaches handle player malfeasance. Anyone who has followed college football for more than one offseason knew that statement would come back to bite Muschamp in the butt. None of us could have predicted it would bark, too.
I apologize for that, but it was just too easy. In fact, we probably should get all the jokes out of our system before we continue this discussion.
"MAN BARKS DOG" -- James Robinson
"He'll be in the coach's doghouse for sure." -- Eric Anderson
"Do we have a translation of Morrison's bark? In his defense, might have just introduced himself, saying "I am Antonio." -- A guy named Joe on Twitter. (If you already get this, great. If you don't, you'll understand after a few more paragraphs.)
There. Now we can continue. No, wait. OK, one more.
"MARK RICHT HAS LOST CONTROL OF PEOPLE MIMICKING HIS MASCOT" -- Me, on Twitter
Remember when I wrote Thursday that college football coaches should simply say they're in the game-winning business and not the soul-saving business? This is why. I'm sure Muschamp had the best of intentions when he gave that "100 percent responsible" quote. He actually caught himself afterward and clarified. "I can't possibly know everything that happens every single night with our football team," he said. "You also can't stick your head in the sand and pretend everything is OK, either."
Muschamp, who announced Sunday he has suspended Morrison for at least the Toledo and Miami games, will get bludgeoned with "100 percent responsible" every time one of his players gets arrested. And his players will get arrested because of one universal truth: Anytime you assemble a group of more than 100 18- to 22-year-old males, at least a handful of those males will do incredibly stupid things. On occasion, said acts will be stupid and against the law. On occasion, said acts will be the second stupid, against-the-law act in a five-week span.
Morrison was arrested June 16 for fighting with a nightclub bouncer who wouldn't give him free or reduced admission. On that occasion, according to a Gainesville Police Department report, the 19-year-old Morrison played the don't-you-know-who-I-am card before the fisticuffs. "I am a UF football player!" Morrison said, according to the report. "I am Antonio!" On June 28, Morrison entered a deferred prosecution agreement in that case. He was sentenced to pay court costs, perform community service, take an alcohol abuse course, take an anger management course and participate in two eight-hour ride-alongs with University of Florida police.
Surely, defense-attorney-to-the-Gators Huntley Johnson will argue handcuffing and booking a 19-year-old for unauthorized canine interaction is a bit overzealous. Johnson likely will argue Morrison, already on the hook for two ride-alongs, simply wanted to have another meaningful dialogue with a law enforcement officer. According to Deputy William Arnold's report, Morrison explained later that he barked only after Bear barked at him. Arnold was not sufficiently moved by Morrison's reasoning. That's OK. My wife never believes me when I blame it on the dog, either.
The entire situation may seem silly, but the law is quite clear on this. A working police dog is considered a police officer. Deputy William Arnold was busy investigating an unrelated disturbance, and Arnold probably didn't appreciate a passerby walking to the window of his cruiser and yelling at his partner, who, let's face it, might get distracted from his duties by a strip of beef jerky and, who, let's face it, can probably rip off a person's face. Most law enforcement officers do not appreciate being distracted while doing their jobs and they have the power to place the distraction in handcuffs. Had Morrison not gotten himself arrested in June, his bark probably would have no bite at all beyond the obvious embarrassment.
We can presume Muschamp has tried to teach his players a modicum of common sense. During his tenure, knuckleheads have quickly found their way out of the program. But Morrison is a tricky case. You don't kick a player off the team for barking at a police dog, but only Muschamp can decide how much stupid he can take. Muschamp has stated he is responsible for all of his players' actions. This is not a corner into which coaches should box themselves. If Morrison learns from these two mistakes and stays out of trouble, great. The worst that can happen from this point forward will be the occasional dumping of Milk Bones into his locker by teammates. After all, Johnny Manziel had a 19-year-olds-doing-dumb-things arrest last June and still won the Heisman Trophy. But if Morrison slips again, the blame won't be on the guy who, five weeks after an arrest, thought it would be fun to bark at a police dog. Unlike the early arrests in Muschamp's tenure, the blame won't fall on Urban Meyer, either. Morrison is a Muschamp recruit. The blame will be on Muschamp, because Muschamp already declared his responsibility.
This is why smart coaches should answer every discipline question with "I'm just trying to win some games." Because decisions such as the one Muschamp has made with Morrison are the calculated risks most coaches must take to win. They must play the odds and hope the next moment of stupidity is the funny one and not the sad one.