The Lessons of Michael Haywood, Vol. 1

Monday, 03 January 2011 02:54 PM Written by 
(innocent until presumed inconvenient)

On Friday afternoon, newly anointed University of Pittsburgh football coach Michael Haywood was arrested and charged with domestic battery. Later that day, the school released a prudent, carefully worded statement:

The University of Pittsburgh is aware of an alleged incident involving head football coach Michael Haywood today in South Bend, Indiana. The University expects the highest standards of conduct from its employees, including its coaches, and any breach of those standards is a very serious matter. The University will decline further comment until more complete information is available.

HaywoodBookingOn Saturday afternoon, with the conduct still alleged and no more complete information yet available, the school released another statement — one as transparent in motivation as it was constipated in diction. For the sakes of both clarity and rhetorical sanity, we’ll take it a paragraph at a time:

After careful consideration of recent events, the University of Pittsburgh has dismissed Michael Haywood as its head football coach, effective immediately. He was advised of that action this afternoon.

How such careful consideration could be made in a (roughly) twenty-four-hour period during which no new information came to light, and how that decision could be reconciled with the prior day’s utterance that no further comment, much less action, would follow without more complete information, the university has yet to explain.

To be clear, the University’s decision is not tied to any expectation with respect to the terms on which the legal proceeding now pending in Indiana might ultimately be concluded. Instead, it reflects a strong belief that moving forward with Mr. Haywood as our head coach is not possible under the existing circumstances.

How anyone, even a university chancellor and his ghostwriting, legal-team-driven PR flack, could believe that the clauses following to be clear actually were also remains a mystery.

The only point truly clear, yet still conspicuously unspoken, in these two paragraphs is this: Mr. Haywood’s guilt or innocence be damned, the University of Pittsburgh had neither patience for, nor interest in, the slow and often messy slog of jurisprudence. Not when there are protests and possible public relations hits to be avoided. And not when, with the high-recruiting Contact Period upon us, there are seventeen-year-old asses, many of them affixed just a few feet below seventeen-year-old heads that could not earn a University of Pittsburgh admission slot if they took every test twice and combined the scores, to be kissed and coddled.   

In other words: the university does not know whether Mr. Haywood is guilty or innocent, and it does not care. It cares only that these allegations, and even the presumption of innocence to which we are all — save, of course, for anyone still languishing at a Guantanamo gulag President Obama has conveniently forgotten he oft-promised to close — still happily entitled, are inconvenient.

The wheels of justice, apparently, will not grind fast enough to please boosters and alumni and other cacophonous interests whose wishes are more preciously served than a man as yet unconvicted of anything.

This is a matter of real regret for the many people at Pitt who had looked forward to working with him. However, head coaches are among the University’s most visible representatives and are expected to maintain high standards of personal conduct and to avoid situations that might reflect negatively on the University.

Since the university has only an accusation upon which to judge, I am not certain how any of its agents, representatives, or over-compensated administrators can possibly determine whether Mr. Haywood has violated their high standards of personal conduct. Though it does now seem implicit that among the situations its most visible representatives would do well to avoid, lest they reflect negatively on the university — oh, excuse me: the University — are any accusations of wrongdoing.

Adding to the many mysteries here contained are whether the university believes there is no practical difference between being accused of a crime and being proven actually to have committed it, and whether it believes the committing is bad, the being accused bad enough.

Either way, I’m more pleased than ever not to have worked or matriculated at Pitt. And I can’t help but wonder whether, should Jamie Dixon or Chancellor Nordenberg or some other well-entrenched university figure be accused of domestic battery today, they might still have their jobs tomorrow night.    

We will immediately re-open our search for a head football coach, expanding the process to include a larger pool of candidates. Our goal is to move swiftly, but prudently, to find the right person to successfully lead the Pitt football program for what we hope will be an extended period of time.

Because — as we will consider again tomorrow — what’s really at stake here is not fairness nor justice nor the bedrock principles of moral and ethical certainty, but the academic integrity and institutional stability that must necessarily come from the swift and prudent process of determining the right person to coach a high-profile sports team.

You can argue, of course, that this is all within the university’s right. And you would not, I suspect, be wrong. (I don’t claim to know the particular’s of Mr. Haywood’s contract, and I understand that, like most people in most positions, he serves at the will, however judicious or capricious, of his employers.) But you would be harder pressed to argue — for now, at least — that it is right. Or that it is motivated by anything remotely resembling the facts of a case we simply, and inarguably, do not yet know.

If Mr. Haywood did what he is accused of doing — and neither I, nor you, nor anyone at Pitt has any way of knowing that right now — he should indeed be fired, with no regret and with swift satisfaction, before the judge or jury foreman can finish uttering the word
guilty. But absent that careful and considered determination, his quick and ill-considered termination feels like a battery all its own.   

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