Empty stadium, empty excuses

JOHN EISENBERG

November 22, 1992|By JOHN EISENBERG

The football stadium at Morgan State was empty at a few minutes after 1 o'clock yesterday. There were no fans in the stands, no cars in the parking lot. The only person on the field was a young man in green slacks and a gray sweat shirt, fooling around kicking field goals.

Behind the west end zone, a security guard looked at his watch.

"Woulda almost been time for kickoff right now," he said. "The players should be on the field now."

He shook his head. There was a high, thin covering of clouds. A light breeze. A perfect day for a game.

"Too bad," he said. "I can't believe it came to this."

To Morgan State forfeiting a game against Bethune-Cookman. It happened yesterday.

Don't try to make sense of it. The people involved sure haven't.

School administrators made the decision to forfeit because the players were threatening to embarrass the school with a halftime sit-in illustrating their displeasure with coach Ricky Diggs' stern style. But the players said yesterday they had no intention of demonstrating.

Why didn't the administration know? "They didn't ask us," one player said.

Wait. It gets better.

This whole business started last week when 69 players signed a petition asking that Diggs be fired and replaced by defensive coordinator L. C. Cole. But some players said yesterday they thought the petition was not about Diggs, just about making sure Cole didn't lose his job.

"Diggs is a good coach," sophomore offensive lineman Andre Harris said yesterday. "We'd have [threatened a sit-in] if they'd tried to fire Diggs, too."

But wait, didn't you sign a petition demanding that Diggs be fired?

"Sure."

Why?

"I can't say why. I don't know what happened."

Huh?

Said senior Carl Deadrick: "Everyone knew exactly what they were signing. It got read out loud in the meeting."

Campus conspiracy theorists suggest the players signed one petition and another was used, but what really happened was much less intriguing: The revolution started and the revolutionaries weren't ready.

It turns out that few players, if any, wanted Diggs fired. Diggs and Cole apparently had been bickering, and "we just wanted the coaching staff to get back together," senior Marc Roberts said.

Somehow, that grew into a petition calling for Diggs' head. "But we didn't really want him to go," Deadrick said.

It probably could have been solved in private, but the players erred in alerting the media as soon as the petition was signed. Reporters came swooping in asking why, and the players were neither straight on their story nor sure what they wanted. And they still aren't.

It's the worst revolution since Woody Allen got stuck in a tree in "Bananas."

Not that school officials shouldn't also be blamed that this came down to a forfeit. They were too slow in grasping that this was a clanging red alarm, that a halftime sit-in would make national news. "It's an internal matter and we'll deal with it next week," one official said when the news was first circulating Thursday.

Were they serious?

There were still 48 hours until kickoff. Why wasn't someone getting the players and coaches together to talk the thing out? Where was anyone showing any leadership? Why was there so little communication?

Considering what they did know, school officials made the right call in forfeiting. There had already been one brawl involving both fans and players at a Morgan game this year, and with protest in the air, "Who knew what might happen?" acting AD Joe McIver said.

But aside from that, the situation is basically a monster with no head. The parties aren't talking, just relying on innuendo. Why were the players concerned about Cole's job in the first place? "A rumor," said senior Eddie Hill. But: "I know nothing about it," McIver said.

There you go: A debatable rumor kick-started the process that led to a forfeit, wasting Bethune-Cookman's trip money and denying Morgan's seniors the sweet ritual of their last home game.

If there is any lesson to learn, it is that you never hire the runner-up in your head coaching search. That was Cole, whom Diggs beat out two years ago. Also, Diggs should not lose his job over this petition. Maybe he's a little too tough, but the players aren't that angry with him. He's the right man for the job, a disciplinarian for a team that needs discipline.

Oh, and there's this one final lesson: Keep your dirty laundry to yourself.

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