SEAN COFFEY wentalong with the program. When he arrived at Missouri in 2001 as a highly toutedwide receiver--an ESPN high school All-American out of East Cleveland's ShawHigh--he gave his life over to football. Coffey says he entered a world ofgroupthink in which he and his teammates were blank-faced "assembly-lineworkers" doing whatever they were told. "I wasn't encouraged much byour coaching staff as a whole to do anything outside of football," he says."Lots of [the] things I was encouraged to do, they were all to benefit theMissouri football program." Even though he was from the inner city and hadno interest in farming, Coffey followed the advice of athletic departmentacademic counselors and became an agriculture major. "All the athletesstart in ag because it's easy," says Coffey. On the recommendation of anathletic-department adviser he eventually switched his major to hotel andrestaurant management (another subject in which he had no interest). "Ouracademic people's job is to keep us eligible," he says. "They knowevery class and which ones are easiest."
Coffey made theprogram better: In 2004, as a junior, he was honorable mention All--Big 12after leading the Tigers with 39 catches for 648 yards and a school-record 10touchdowns. As a senior, however, he partially separated his left shoulder inthe opener against Arkansas State. He played in pain, then reinjured theshoulder on a punt return (his first one since 11th grade) against Baylor.Despite missing four games, he finished as Missouri's third-leading passcatcher. The next spring Coffey stopped going to classes so he could preparefor the NFL draft. He was 10 credits short of his degree.
Coffey wentundrafted. Invited to the San Diego Chargers' camp as a rookie free agent, heinjured his shoulder yet again and was cut. By last fall he was back on campus,trying to earn his final credits and find new direction. It was a struggle. Hetalked about taking another shot at the NFL, or trying coaching, or TV, orworking in promotions. He flunked chemistry and left school again at the end ofthe semester, still three credits shy of his degree.
Joe Scogin,director of academic services for the Missouri athletic department, saysathletes are initially steered into the agriculture school because all theadvisers there are faculty members (not grad students) and give athletes a lotof one-on-one attention. He says that advisers are genuinely concerned with theathletes' best interests and try to get athletes to make more of their owndecisions. Scogin notes that Coffey had academic assistance available to himlast fall, but "whether the student takes advantage or not, that's anotherthing."
A former collegebaseball player, Scogin says he understands why Coffey and other athletessometimes feel discarded after their college careers end. "The worst thingthat can happen is to do everything to help a student until his eligibility isdone and then all of a sudden abandon him," Scogin says.
Adrian McBride, aformer Tigers football player who now works with the athletic department, hasfounded a program called Life After Sports to help Missouri athletes avoid thesort of problems Coffey faced. McBride says school administrators are doingtheir best to improve the athletic environment. "They see theproblems--they realize there's a need," he says. "But this is smallpotatoes compared to the big picture of an athletic department. The name of thegame is to win, sell tickets and make money."
As for Coffey, heis living near Kansas City, working out, thinking about starting a videocompany and weighing whether to take another shot at the NFL.
Coffey, a wideout, set records but felt like "an assembly-lineworker."