Cook's arrest forces FSU to confront its perception; Punt, Pass & Pork
Good Morning America spent two minutes, 28 seconds discussing Florida State football on Saturday morning. That may not sound like much, but it's an eternity in television news. The venue matters, too. This wasn't SportsCenter. This was GMA*, where those whose world doesn't revolve around sports—a far larger population—gather in the mornings.
It would be one thing if those 148 seconds were spent discussing the Seminoles' success on the field or their ability to prepare players for the NFL. But the story was about a second Florida State player in a month being charged with battery because he was accused of punching a woman. Freshman quarterback De’Andre Johnson was booted last week after video of him punching a fellow bar customer was released. On Friday, star tailback Dalvin Cook turned himself into the Leon County jail after being charged with a similar crime. A woman accused Cook of punching her the night before Johnson's incident took place, and state attorney Willie Meggs decided on Friday to charge Cook.
To those non-sports fans watching who don't care how many games the Seminoles have won, who don't know other schools have had players do the same thing—and some have stayed on the team, cough, cough Oklahoma—who don't know Tallahassee from Tallapoosa, all they see is FLORIDA STATE BAD. Combine that with continuing negative coverage from the rape accusation involving former quarterback Jameis Winston and fellow student Erica Kinsman, and that is a huge problem for Florida State president John Thrasher. Thrasher must deal with regents sick of seeing negative headlines. He must deal with parents of prospective students who might see this and fear the environment at his school. He must deal with legislators always looking for a reason to slash a budget. And because Thrasher is coach Jimbo Fisher's boss, this is now a huge problem for Fisher as well.
*Going forward, there will be more sports on GMA because of a Disney directive to cross-pollinate between properties ABC and ESPN, but unfortunately for Florida State, that fact doesn't mitigate the effect on a perception Thrasher and Fisher must work to change.
It doesn't matter that most of Florida State's players behave. Thrasher and Fisher can scream that from the top of Florida's capitol building. Even though it's true, no one would listen. The perception isn't going away. Thrasher and Fisher seem to recognize that now. Their statements Friday evening after Cook was charged and indefinitely suspended suggested as much.
“I have asked Coach Fisher and Athletics Director Stan Wilcox to develop a plan to help our student-athletes understand the consequences of these kinds of actions,” Thrasher said in his statement. “This will include Coach Fisher meeting immediately with his team to reiterate, in no uncertain terms, our expectations of them. I also plan to meet with the team, and we will be asking professionals who deal with these matters, including State Attorney Willie Meggs, to speak with them.”
“Florida State is a great university,” Fisher said in his statement. “Our fans and supporters deserve better than to hear of actions that are not consistent with the school’s proud history and national stature.
“We will do better. I will not tolerate anything less.”
Fisher now has the chance to back up that statement by sending a message to his players. Dismissing Johnson was a no-brainer. The freshman from Jacksonville was caught on video, and he had the misfortune of being one of five scholarship quarterbacks. Simple probability suggests he was headed for a position change or transfer anyway. Cook, a sophomore from Miami, is another story entirely.
Without Cook, the Seminoles might not have won the ACC title in 2014. They almost certainly wouldn't have made the first College Football Playoff. Cook’s freshman numbers (170 carries, 1,008 rushing yards, eight rushing touchdowns) were excellent, but his value goes beyond that. When the Seminoles were most in danger of losing in the regular season, they leaned on Cook the most—and he bailed them out. When Florida State trailed in its first 13 games, Cook carried 36 times for 344 yards (9.6 per carry), ran for six touchdowns and had 13 runs of at least 10 yards and six runs of at least 20. For a program that has had 29 players drafted the past three seasons and an offense replacing its quarterback and four starting offensive linemen, Cook was one of a few sure things on the field for 2015.
But Cook is accused of the same thing Johnson did. It was Thrasher, after Johnson was dismissed, who said this in a statement: “I expect all students at Florida State University, including student-athletes, to adhere to the highest level of conduct. I have no tolerance for the kind of behavior exhibited in this case.” So the university president’s position on the subject is clear. If the accusation against Cook is proven true, Fisher can't hesitate to dispense the same justice, lest he make his boss a hypocrite. But there is no video. So there will be no instant uproar that follows the release of such a visual. In that case, a school or a pro sports league has no choice from a public relations standpoint. Fisher will have to think about this one. The decision might not get made for him.
And Fisher absolutely should give Cook the chance to prove the allegation untrue. The probable cause affidavit suggests Cook's attorney will have plenty with which to work. The lone witness who wasn't affiliated with either Cook or the woman couldn't identify Cook in a photo lineup, and the Tallahassee police officer on the scene reported that the accuser was difficult to understand because she was so intoxicated. An acquittal is not outside the realm of possibility. But if Cook accepts a plea deal or gets convicted, Fisher's choice should be obvious—especially considering Cook's history.
"History," for these purposes, does not refer to Cook’s juvenile record. Those cases look bad—a robbery charge and a firearm on school grounds charge—but they also were dropped. And for those who would criticize Florida State for taking Cook with those cases on his record, feel free to direct the same criticism at Florida, where Cook originally committed. Don’t forget Miami, with which Cook signed financial aid paperwork in the fall of 2013. Also send some to Arkansas and Texas, which welcomed Cook on official visits and certainly wanted to sign him.
This is Cook's third legal issue since arriving in Tallahassee last summer. He faced a criminal mischief charge last year resulting from a BB gun fight that left strangers’ car windows broken. That happened in June 2014, and Cook was charged in October after reporters from The New York Times kept asking about the case. It is noted in the probable cause affidavit in the most recent case that Cook's involvement in the BB gun case eliminates him from consideration for any first-time offender programs.
Meanwhile, on July 25, 2014, Cook was cited for violating two aspects of Tallahassee's city ordinance involving animal care. According to a report attached to the citations, Cook had three pit bull puppies—the officer estimated one to be eight months old and two to be two months old—chained together. “The dogs were tethered directly around the neck by a heavy chain,” animal control officer Sheree Mifflin wrote. “The dogs were unable to move and the smaller puppies were choking.” (Read the full report here.) Mifflin wrote that Cook could not provide any identification, so she called a Tallahassee police officer to identify Cook. Cook was fined $275 for chaining the dogs in that manner and $275 for failing to provide shelter. According to Leon County's official records site, the cases for both citations remain open.
If Cook pleads out in the battery case or gets convicted, Fisher's choice should be easy. But it probably won't be because Cook is really, really good. Still, if Fisher and Thrasher are serious about sending a message to the other players and initiating a behavioral change that may help erase the prevailing perception, then Cook's ability can work for them. It's one thing to boot De'Andre Johnson, but every Seminoles player knows exactly how valuable Cook is to the team. Every player would think to himself, “If they'll drop him, they'll drop me."
That fear could be a far more valuable deterrent to bad behavior than a meeting with the state attorney or a ban from bars. It also might help keep the Seminoles strictly on SportsCenter and off Good Morning America.
A random ranking
My wife and I will have been married 14 years on Tuesday. Thanks to a shift in the college football calendar, we now have to celebrate a few days early because there is no way she would accompany me to the sportswriter convention/reunion that is SEC Media Days. Here are the top five traditional anniversary gifts between years one and 14.
1. Candy or Iron (6th anniversary)
British tradition dictates something sweet. American tradition calls for iron. I’m seriously regretting not handing my wife a Snickers bar impaled on a piece of wrought-iron fence in 2007.
2. Tin/Aluminum (10th anniversary)
Dear, I’ve purchased only the finest canned goods for the fallout shelter I’m building in the backyard.
3. Bronze (Eighth anniversary)
Don’t worry, sweetums. In 13 years, you get to move into second place. In 42, you’ll be in first.
4. Cotton (second anniversary)
Had I presented my wife with this in 2003, she would have assumed I was asking her to make me a piece of clothing. She then would have set it ablaze. A pro tip for the newlyweds: Don’t give gifts that require your partner to perform any manual labor.
5. Lace (13th anniversary)
I was busy interviewing SEC commissioner Mike Slive last year, so I totally missed the doily anniversary.
1. The saga involving Ole Miss offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil and stepfather Lindsey Miller took another twist in a Mississippi courtroom Friday. Most actual court proceedings fail to live up to the dramatized ones on television, but Neal McCready’s account on RebelGrove.com of the hearing in which a judge revoked the restraining order previously granted to Miller against Tunsil makes it seem that this one was wild from start to finish. Please read McCready’s entire story because it is fascinating, but here are a few highlights and takeaways.
• The restraining order got revoked—quickly. This would seem to mean the judge found Tunsil more believable. Tunsil and Miller had pressed charges against one another following a fight last month. Miller claimed Tunsil attacked him. Tunsil claimed he hit Miller after Miller pushed Tunsil’s mother.
• Miller served as his own attorney. That might have contributed to his failure to make his case.
• Tunsil was about to meet with an agent. Remember, there’s nothing wrong with that under NCAA rules as long as he doesn’t take anything from the agent or enter into a representation agreement.
• Tunsil’s attorney, Steve Farese, called Miller a “scam artist.” Miller wore a knee brace in court Friday, and McCready wrote that Miller told the court he was attempting to be placed on disability.
This is probably only going to get uglier from here. Miller has alleged Tunsil accepted improper benefits to sign with Ole Miss and that Tunsil has taken money from agents while in school. NCAA investigators have interviewed Miller, but if Friday’s hearing is any indication, investigators will need to find some corroborating evidence if they want to make a case against Tunsil. Their star witness sounds like a piece of work.
2. Braxton Miller told Tim May and Bill Rabinowitz of The Columbus Dispatch that he’s definitely staying at Ohio State and that he’ll plans to play quarterback. That means the most fascinating three-headed quarterback race in college football history is on. Miller versus J.T. Barrett versus Cardale Jones should be an amazing competition.
But before the three accomplished signal-callers face off on the practice field, they faced off on the go-kart track. Ohio State quarterbacks coach Tim Beck tweeted photos Saturday of his entire position group blowing off steam at the track. Please note that Beck’s assessment of Jones’s driving skills probably will have no effect on the quarterback competition.
3. In the above column about Dalvin Cook’s situation, I referenced Oklahoma having a player who did the same thing that got Johnson booted from Florida State. Like Johnson, Sooners tailback Joe Mixon punched a woman, and it was captured on video. Unlike Johnson, Mixon’s video wasn’t made public thanks to some shady moves just before a change in Oklahoma’s open records law. Mixon was suspended for the 2014 season, but Florida State’s dismissal of Johnson last week prompted former Sooners star Tony Casillas to speak out on Facebook. Casillas considers it a double standard that Oklahoma president David Boren, who has seen the Mixon video, allowed Mixon to stay but booted fraternity members caught on video performing a racist chant.
Casillas tweeted later that his point was that everyone deserves a second chance—not just athletes.
The reaction to the Johnson video showed exactly what will happen if/when the Mixon video gets out. It still exists, so it probably will. A person who viewed it told me it looks even worse than the Johnson video, which looks terrible. I’m not sure Oklahoma leaders understand what they’ll be dealing with if Mixon turns out to be a star and suddenly TMZ happens to get a hold of that video. But Boren, athletic director Joe Castiglione and coach Bob Stoops made their decision. They’ll have to live with it because they would look even worse if they try to kick Mixon off the team once the video leaks.
4. Vernon Adams wasn’t on the roster of spring graduates at Eastern Washington, Andrew Grief of The (Portland) Oregonian reported late last week. That doesn’t mean Adams, the excellent former Eastern Washington quarterback, won’t be able to enroll at Oregon as a graduate transfer. It just means it might take a little longer. Whenever he arrives on campus, Adams will be the frontrunner to succeed Marcus Mariota as the Ducks’ quarterback.
5. TCU quarterback Trevone Boykin, whose 2014 numbers looked an awful lot like Mariota’s 2013 numbers, will start this season as a Heisman Trophy contender. Last week, Boykin threw the ceremonial first pitch at a Texas Rangers game. Fortunately for the Horned Frogs, Boykin’s placement is far better on the football field.
6. Syracuse’s offense finished No. 111 in the nation last year in yards per play, and offensive coordinator Tim Lester revealed one of the reasons why in a recent interview with Stephen Bailey of Syracuse.com. The Orange never changed their pre-snap cadence all season. That means opposing defensive linemen never had to hesitate on the chance that the offense might be using a different snap count or visual snap cue from a previous play.
“You can’t just use one, which is what we did," Lester told Bailey. “We had other ones, but we used one.” Orange coaches were too worried that their offensive linemen would forget the snap count and false start, so they stuck to the same one. The results were predictably awful. But fear not, fans of yards and touchdowns. Lester said Syracuse offensive linemen are now far more comfortable managing multiple snap counts, and the cadence will vary this season.
7. Forget picking a hat or bringing a live version of the chosen school’s mascot. A Penn State recruit has raised the stakes when it comes to commitment announcements. Kicker Quinn Nordin announced his commitment last week in a slick video that features him stepping off a private plane, presumably to go kick a lot of field goals in State College. The gauntlet has been thrown down, class of 2016 top recruits. Even if you don’t have access to a plane, hopefully you’ve got a friend with a working knowledge of Final Cut Pro.
8. Ken Rodriguez profiled Texas State defensive end Brian Guendling, who went viral with his American Sign Language version of “Uptown Funk".
9. Adidas released images of UCLA’s new uniforms last week. The Internet was not impressed, presumably because there is no need to embed an odd geometric pattern on one of college football’s most iconic uniforms.
What’s eating Andy?
Ole Miss basketball coach Andy Kennedy made a video in which he also plays a slightly trashier version called Randy Kennedy who wears a magnificent pair of coaching shorts. What a great idea.
What’s Andy eating?
Because it has been college football’s slowest season, I haven’t been traveling much to find
delectable food interesting stories. So for the next few weeks, we’ll be highlighting a few of the best spots I wrote about for my old Heaven Is A Buffet blog. If you weren’t one of the three people who read it, it’s new to you. This post appeared March 15, 2012.
The Hammerheads website warns diners ahead of time*. Don’t bring large parties. Expect to wait. The chefs aren’t trying to be divas. They aren’t trying to be unnecessarily surly. They simply need you to accept the fact that there might be a few logistical challenges to serving delectable food in the basement of a house.
*It said that back in 2012. As of Sunday, the warning had been reduced to this: “No Reservations, No Call Ahead. Limited Seating.”
Hammerheads isn’t the first restaurant to occupy the basement on Swan Street in the Germantown neighborhood of Louisville, Ky.; according to venerable alternative paper the Louisville Eccentric Observer, a bar or restaurant has occupied the space for almost 80 years. The last was a vegan eatery called Swan Dive that closed in October 2010. Fortunately for those of us who appreciate and embrace our place at the top of the food chain, Hammerheads has more carnivorous leanings.
Fair warning: The staff at Hammerheads can get harried as the place fills up. Get over it. Enjoy the pauses in the action. Order a beer from a lengthy, carefully curated list and watch some History Channel on the TV over the bar, or just chuckle at the obvious effort put forth by the mostly hipster clientele to appear aloof. The food is worth it.
If you’ve read the other reviews here, you’ve noticed the restaurants have one thing in common. They’re inexpensive. I love reading the restaurant reviews in GQ and New York Magazine, but I can’t afford most of those places on a regular basis, and I’d feel terribly guilty turning them in on an expense report given the fact that Time Inc. already does me the favor of paying me to go to football and basketball games. What is amazing about Hammerheads is that the food tastes expensive, but a couple could leave full and happy—and maybe a little buzzed—for about $50.
I started with the daily appetizer special, in this case a pretzel croissant with beer cheese dip. Pretzels and croissants are like that pair of strictly platonic friends you know that obviously needs to take the relationship to the next level. At Hammerheads, they made the two hook up with tantalizing results.
Next came the lamb ribs. I was hesitant at first, because I’ve always considered lamb a closer relative to beef. Beef ribs are OK, but anyone who has spent an hour yanking bits out of their teeth knows they can be a little tough to eat if not cooked perfectly. The lamb ribs responded to smoke more like pork would, but they didn’t lose that distinctive blast of lamb flavor. The sauce, a tangy, tomato-based affair, was applied minimally, because the chefs understand the meat is the star.
With the lamb ribs, I ordered a basket of hand-cut Grippos fries cooked in duck fat. I’d had duck fat fries before, so I knew the flavor would be a bit richer and more complex than the peanut oil-fried variety. I’d had seasoned fries before as well, but nothing as good as these. Grippos is a Cincinnati-based potato chip company, and Hammerheads uses Grippos barbecue chip seasoning on its fries. This makes such sense—obviously, barbecue potato chip seasoning marries perfectly with potatoes—that I’m shocked it hasn’t gone mainstream already.
I finished with a bacon brownie. The moist, fudgy slab of goodness had chunks of bacon scattered on top. Normally, I’m not a salty-sweet fan, but the bacon didn’t overwhelm the chocolate. It provided a slight counterbalance.
During the meal, I learned more than I ever wanted to know about Neanderthal skull size thanks to that History Channel documentary, and the diligent, extremely overworked bartender earned a tip that I hope helps him chase his dream of opening a combination barber shop/coffee shop. Hammerheads may be too good to stay in the basement, but I hope it does. It feels like a spot only those in the know can find, even if every hipster worth his white belt can find the place.