From now on, Rule No. 1 about college coaches is this: If their lips are moving, chances are they're lying.
The rule will make things much easier. The next time Sooner football coach Barry Switzer starts disavowing everything that has happened at Oklahoma, including what he ate for lunch, just plug in the rule. Do the same when peripatetic basketball coach Larry Brown sets down his Samsonite, opens his arms wide and sighs, "I'm home!" Or anytime former Michigan basketball coach Bill Frieder uses the words "family" or "commitment." If you hear Frieder talking like that, check under "transactions." Who else would leave his team two days before it was to play in the NCAA tournament, as Frieder did when he announced that he was going to be the new coach at Arizona State?
The rule will be especially helpful in dealing with former Miami football coach Jimmy Johnson, a man so adroit at talking out of both sides of his mouth that he could probably eat soup and play the trombone at the same time. Unfortunately, the rule is a little late for Darren Krein, a high school All-America linebacker from Aurora, Colo., with a 3.25 grade point average.
Krein could have used the rule on Feb. 3 when he spoke with Johnson. He was worried about rumors that Johnson soon would be leaving Miami for another coaching job. So he asked Johnson, point-blank, "Can you guarantee you'll be there?"
March 27, 1989
And Krein says Johnson told him that he [Johnson] wasn't going anywhere, and that Krein had nothing to worry about. Five days later, Krein signed a letter of intent with Miami. Two and a half weeks after that, Johnson signed a contract to coach the Dallas Cowboys.
Coach: "Welcome to the University of Miami, son."
Recruit: "Who are you?"
Johnson has yet to call Krein. Hmmmm. Maybe the wrong people are signing letters of intent.
"I feel betrayed, misled," Krein says. "I know a multimillion-dollar deal doesn't just happen in a few days. Coach Johnson could've told me. The only reason I went there was because of him."
To replace Johnson, Miami hired Dennis (Leave) Erickson, a man who has broken two contracts in three years and who on Feb. 26 told The Spokesman-Review in Spokane, "I made a commitment...to our players to fulfill what I came to do, so I'm not interested in the [Miami] job. I'm staying at Washington State." Two days later Erickson was in Miami being interviewed.
After he accepted the job, Erickson called Johnson's recruits. He persuaded all of them to stay—except Krein, who told Miami he wanted out of his letter of intent. After all, if you order a lawn mower and Sears sends you a girdle, the deal is off, right? Wrong. Miami athletic director Sam Jankovich won't release Krein, and Erickson says he wants Krein to fulfill his "commitment." Is this rich?
Even if Miami does release him, Krein would have to sit out a year before becoming eligible to play for another NCAA Division I school. Without a release, two years. Meanwhile, Erickson and Frieder and any other coach can flit from W-2 form to W-2 form without losing a single paycheck. If you told Erickson he had to sit out two years every time he slinked out on his players, he would be in court screaming about restraint.
So guess what? Krein may take Miami to court. You know what will happen: Jankovich and the NCAA and other dinosaurs will moan to Krein about how you go to college for an education and you sign with a school, not a coach. But until the NFL foots the bill for its own farm system, college football is the only way to get to the pros, which means that if Krein wants four years of preparation for his chosen career, he must spend them at Miami. If football is a business for television, and for colleges and coaches and athletic directors, why shouldn't it be a business for Darren Krein?
If Krein wins, college sports are going to have to wake up and smell the '90s. Nowhere does it say that when you put on a chin strap you waive your civil rights. If a kid signs with a school and the coach immediately bolts, the kid deserves two weeks and two more recruiting trips—to schools he has already visited—to decide if he wants to change his mind, with no penalty.
Allow no college to pull a Frieder—hire a coach away from another school—until the day the season ends in that sport. That's how the NFL handles the hiring of coaches. And move the opening of recruiting in that sport to that day as well, giving everybody a fair start.
Krein, who may go down as the Curt Flood of college athletics, has learned more about big-time college coaches than he wanted to know. He says he would like to ask Johnson one thing: "How can you live with yourself?" Think lips.