January 21, 2010

2009 had plenty of off-field drama

Gaffes, gifts, gouges and bunches of punches. That's what the 2009 college football season had to offer.

Every week, fans typically urged their teams to fight on. In 2009, those teams, the players and even the coaches took the message to heart.

When Oregon's LeGarrette Blount landed a postgame right cross after a loss to Boise State in the season-opener, it set an ominous trend that gave a black eye to college football in general and Notre Dame quarterback Jimmy Clausen in particular.

Actually, '09 should have been a rather mundane year in college football. Most of the teams expected to win championships did. There were few on-field surprises.

But off the field was a different story.

How can one forget a season in which one of the best coaches in the country surprisingly retires, then surprisingly un-retires the next day? Or when a coach reimburses a fan's expenses after a poor performance or benches his son or grouses about his team's overweight significant others?

In most years, a coach with a 4-8 record would get fired. After the '09 season, one was hired by an elite program.

Chest pains, Land Rovers, an electrical closet, tacos, frightening injuries, poor clock management, an ill-advised spike, a fortunate trip to the restroom - all were parts of key events in the 2009 season.

Here's one last look back at '09. We won't soon forget you.

1. Texas Tech suspended coach Mike Leach from the Alamo Bowl after learning he banished concussion-suffering wide receiver Adam James - son of ESPN college football analyst Craig James - to an "electrical closet." When Leach sought an injunction to coach in the game, he was fired the day before he was due an $800,000 bonus. Leach filed a lawsuit to force Tech to pay off a contract he signed a year ago. The school asked that the suit be dismissed. It wasn't. It's still pending.

2. Leach only put a player in a dark room. USF coach Jim Leavitt was accused of punching reserve player Joel Miller. But Leavitt was allowed to coach in the International Bowl before he was fired. Kansas' Mark Mangino also was fired amid accusations that he verbally and physically abused players. He exited with a $3 million settlement.

3. All that violence wasn't limited to coaches. When Blount was taunted after the season-opening loss, he decked Boise State defensive end Byron Hout with a right cross to the jaw. Blount then confronted fans as he left the field. He subsequently was suspended for the rest of the season, but later was allowed back on the team; he played in the final two games.

4. Oregon fan Tony Seminary was so disgusted by the Ducks' performance in that 19-6 loss to Boise State that he sent an invoice to coach Chip Kelly demanding a $439 refund for expenses incurred on the trip to Idaho. Kelly sent Seminary a personal check. Maybe he should have had Blount deliver it.

5. Blount wasn't the only player involved in a physical altercation - not even close. Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio kicked two players off the team and suspended eight others from the Alamo Bowl for a Nov. 22 fight with fraternity members at a campus dorm. Among the suspended were wide receivers Mark Dell and B.J. Cunningham and starting cornerback Chris L. Rucker.

6. In late September, two fights in two days broke out between Kansas football and basketball players in an apparent "turf war." Racial slurs were reportedly hurled, and a football player was pushed down a flight of stairs in the second altercation. Basketball player Tyshawn Taylor suffered a dislocated thumb. After the incidents, campus police Capt. Schuyler Bailey said, "We're hoping they get themselves together and act like adults, like they're supposed to be." No arrests were made.

7. Jimmy Clausen learned Notre Dame isn't called the Fighting Irish for nothing. In the early morning hours after a 33-30 overtime loss to Connecticut on Nov. 21, Clausen was sucker-punched as he left C.J.'s Pub in South Bend, where he'd spent the evening with family and friends. The punch left his left eye blackened and bloodied. He wore a plastic visor the next week in practice and in the season-ending game against Stanford.

8. Georgia running back Washaun Ealey could have used a plastic visor when facing Florida on Oct. 31. Gators linebacker Brandon Spikes was caught reaching through Ealey's face mask and trying to gouge his eyes. Spikes originally was suspended for the first half of the next game, but the punishment was extended for the entire game. The next game was against lowly Vanderbilt, so Spikes' services weren't really needed anyway.

9. Even coaches were involved in melees. New Mexico coach Mike Locksley was suspended from the Lobos' Oct. 24 game against UNLV for allegedly punching wide receiver coach J.B. Gerald. Locksley admitted putting his hands on Gerald but denied punching him. Locksley endured a career worth of controversy in his first season. He also was involved in a lawsuit in which a former administrative assistant accused him of age discrimination and sexual harassment. The Lobos finished 1-11, which included a loss to in-state rival New Mexico State.

10. Florida coach Urban Meyer, shaken by chest pains that led to a brief hospitalization, announced Dec. 26 that he was stepping down as the Gators' coach because of health issues. But less than 24 hours later, he announced he would instead take an indefinite leave of absence. After a Sugar Bowl victory over Cincinnati, he told fans he intends to be on the sideline for the 2010 opener.

11. At least some of Meyer's health issues may have stemmed from the stress of dealing with incidents such as the arrest of star defensive end Carlos Dunlap, who was charged with driving under the influence just days before the Gators faced Alabama for the SEC championship. Dunlap's car was found stopped at a green traffic light with him asleep at the wheel. He was suspended for the SEC championship game.

12. SEC suspensions weren't limited to sleeping players; officials - some might have characterized them as sleeping on the job - also were suspended. Referee Marc Cules' crew was suspended after calling a phantom interference penalty and a non-existent personal foul on Arkansas in the game-winning drive by Florida. Earlier in the season, that same crew had flagged Georgia's A.J. Green for unsportsmanlike conduct after he "celebrated" a touchdown. The SEC said that call should not have been made.

13. Tennessee freshmen Mike Edwards, Nu'Keese Richardson and Janzen Jackson were arrested in mid-November on charges of armed robbery outside a Knoxville convenience store. Edwards and Richardson were dismissed from the team, and charges against Jackson were dropped because he apparently had no knowledge that the crime had taken place because he had gone inside the store to use the restroom. That set up a potential Johnny Cochran-like defense, "If he went inside to sit, you must acquit." Or something like that.

14. After playing in just three games, Oklahoma State All-America wide receiver Dez Bryant was suspended for the remainder of the season by the NCAA for allegedly lying about the details of a meeting with former NFL star Deion Sanders. Bryant said he lied because he was intimidated by the NCAA's interrogation. The NCAA ruled that Bryant could play in 2010, but he opted to enter the NFL draft instead.

15. LSU coach Les Miles said he did not instruct quarterback Jordan Jefferson to spike the football with one second left in a 25-23 loss to Ole Miss even though video looked to show Miles gesturing for the spike. (He said he merely was telling refs that his player was down before a fumble.) But that was just the tip of the clock-mismanagement iceberg. LSU let 19 seconds expire before calling a timeout before completing a "Hail Mary" pass to Ole Miss' 6, which led to the last-second spike. Had LSU taken the timeout sooner, it would have had sufficient time to spike the ball and attempt a field goal after the completed pass.

16. Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor said he misspoke when explaining why he etched Michael Vick's name into his eye black in the game against Navy. In supporting Vick, who had been imprisoned for his role in a dog-fighting ring, Pryor said, "Not everybody's the perfect person in the world. I mean everyone kills people, murders people, steals from you, steals from me, whatever."

17. Unfortunate quotes weren't limited to inexperienced players. Veteran ABC analyst Bob Griese was suspended for one game because of a remark he made about NASCAR driver Juan Pablo Montoya. During a broadcast of the Minnesota-Ohio State game, a graphic was shown listing the top five drivers in NASCAR's point race. When analyst Chris Spielman asked where Montoya was, Griese replied, "Out having a taco." Griese twice apologized on-air for the remark.

18. Some girlfriends of Texas Tech players may have been owed an apology, too. Upset over a 52-30 loss to Texas A&M, Leach in his postgame comments three times said players were more inclined to listen to their "fat little girlfriends" than coaches.

19. At least none of those Tech girlfriends owned Land Rovers. That would have caused even more problems, as USC can attest. Trojans running back Joe McKnight was suspended from the Emerald Bowl while the school's compliance department investigated his use of a Land Rover SUV. The SUV was registered to a local businessman who said it belonged to McKnight's girlfriend; McKnight frequently had been seen driving the vehicle. McKnight doesn't have to worry about his eligibility anymore; he has declared for the NFL draft.

20. Louisiana Tech was 3-8 going into its season-ending game against San Jose State, and coach Derek Dooley was talking about his future. "I don't think there's much of a market out there for a three-win coach," he said. But what about a four-win coach? Louisiana Tech beat San Jose State to finish 4-8, and a little more than a month later, Dooley was hired by Tennessee. Dooley replaced Lane Kiffin, who bolted for USC when Pete Carroll left for the NFL's Seattle Seahawks.

21. While at least 22 schools will have new coaches next season, Colorado won't - even though Dan Hawkins hasn't managed a winning record in any of his four seasons in Boulder. But Hawkins did demonstrate his commitment to winning by benching his starting quarterback. By the way, that starting quarterback was Cody Hawkins - Dan's son.

22. Cody Hawkins still had it better than Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford, the '08 Heisman recipient who shunned the NFL draft and opted to remain in school to help the Sooners make a run at a national championship even though he'd be protected by a rebuilt offensive line. Bradford suffered a sprained shoulder when sacked by Coleby Clawson in a season-opening loss to BYU. Bradford missed three games. Then, he was knocked out for the season when he fell on that shoulder after being hit by Texas' Aaron Williams. The Sooners endured several other key injuries, especially in the offensive line.

23. The most alarming injury didn't occur on the field. USC running back Stafon Johnson suffered a life-threatening injury in a weightlifting accident in which a barbell fell onto his neck and crushed his larynx.

24. The most alarming on-field injury had to be the concussion suffered by California running back Jahvid Best on a nasty fall in the end zone on Nov. 7. Best leapt to avoid a tackler, then was vaulted higher when hit by Oregon State safety Cameron Collins. Best, who was at least five feet in the air, came down hard on the back of his head. The impact jolted his helmet off and he briefly lost consciousness. It ended up being the last play of his college career. Best missed the rest of the season and has opted to enter the NFL draft.

25. There were no major injuries but some serious hard feelings in the Big 12 championship game. Nebraska deliriously celebrated an apparent upset after Texas quarterback Colt McCoy nonchalantly tossed the ball out of bounds as time apparently expired. But after looking at the replay, officials ruled that a second remained. With that second placed back on the clock, Texas' Hunter Lawrence kicked a field goal to give the Longhorns a 13-12 win.

Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at olin@rivals.com.


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