Coach's exit leaves Green Terrors in the lurch


December 23, 1992|By BILL FREE

Let's clear the air about a few things surrounding the resignation of Dale Sprague as football coach at Western Maryland College two weeks ago.

The entire episode was mishandled by school officials.

Sprague didn't completely turn the Terrors football program around in seven years. A 20-48-2 record isn't startling, but it may be as good as anyone could have done under similar circumstances.

The fiery Sprague might still be at the school if he had not become incensed by a newspaper article that said he was under fire.

It seems as if Sprague's direct and sometimes blunt approach to issues might not be what Western Maryland officials want for their laid-back Division III program.

Sprague is a little like former Maryland basketball coach Lefty Driesell. People either love him or they hate him. There is no middle ground.

The coach obviously didn't endear himself to Green Terrors' officials when he publicly blasted the players after a season-ending loss that dropped the team to a 5-5 record after a promising 5-1 start.

Sprague said: "This is the most underachieving football team I've ever coached. I'm ashamed of it. We're not getting the commitment out of the players that we're getting out of the coaching staff."

Sprague could have gotten away with those remarks if he had ended them with "commitment out of the players we should be."

Here's why the school botched the Sprague resignation.

It allowed information from an unofficial meeting between several players (more than four as previously reported) and a professor, Ethan Seidel, to leak out.

When Sprague decided to resign three days after the Seidel meeting, it was only natural for the public to think the players had influenced the coach's departure.

Seidel, who is also an assistant to Western Maryland College president Robert H. Chambers, insisted again yesterday that it was just an impromptu meeting with the football players because "they feel comfortable with me. I never had a chance

to act on anything we discussed because Dale resigned three days later."

The new information from Seidel was that more than four players were involved in the meeting. Seidel wouldn't say how many more than four because "I don't think it's important. There weren't a lot of demands."

The mistake Seidel made was automatically trusting the players to keep the meeting confidential.

"They seemed like they didn't want a lot of publicity," said Seidel. "But I guess at least one of them went to the newspaper."

When Seidel was asked if he told the players not to go to the press, he responded: "That never came up."

Both Sprague and the school have insisted the coach wasn't forced to resign.

The problem is the school has made it look that way.

"I was on a recruiting trip when the story came out," Sprague said yesterday. "I was surprised that the players were dissatisfied and didn't come to me instead of going to someone else. They never came to me. I was also surprised that the school didn't come to me."

Sprague said he was so hurt that he called his wife, Patty, and they decided he should resign.

"I've left my mark on this program," said Sprague. "I've already turned down a chance to go to a Western Maryland high school and be a head coach and I had an opportunity to join a friend as an assistant at a Division I-A school in the Midwest. I'll be all right."

But what about Western Maryland?


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