Eagles learned Friedgen's lesson too late

November 06, 2005|By DAVID STEELE

With just three games left in the regular season and a return to a bowl game on the line, Ralph Friedgen disciplined several of his Maryland football players on Friday for, as the school said, "violations of team rules."

The move raises several critical questions. Such as: Teams have rules?

This one does. It's part of a weird system Friedgen has implemented, in which there are consequences for doing something wrong. It's crazy enough that it might just work.

This movement toward a radical concept called "responsibility" picked up a quick convert. Yesterday, the day after Friedgen brought the hammer down on the players connected to the incident at a College Park bar last week, the Philadelphia Eagles suspended Terrell Owens indefinitely. Their reason: "conduct detrimental to the team."

Good luck to them in explaining what conduct of his they finally determined to be detrimental enough to give him what he deserved. Owens has held the franchise hostage, it could be argued, since the day nearly two years ago that he publicly stated he wanted to play for it. The Eagles moved with quite a bit less urgency than the college guy two hours down the road.

True, college is not the pros and vice versa. But there might have been a T.O. in the making among the players Friedgen took to the woodshed, and maybe now there isn't anymore.

This is not to condemn Owens' alma mater, the former Tennessee-Chattanooga, especially since his acts of pure, unfiltered selfishness didn't start until he had made the NFL. He's now managed to have not one, not two, but three organizations dancing to his tune. Nothing, not even the Eagles' Super Bowl trip last February, appears to be worth the standards he has lowered and the insanity he has fostered along the way.

Accountability is best taught early. The Eagles can't un-ring the T.O. bell now. All they can do is protect themselves. Friedgen has the time and opportunity to teach a lesson that might prevent some future employer, a pro team or another profession, from having to go to the nuclear option on one of his former players.

If it eventually reflects well on Friedgen as a coach, leader and authority figure, that's a bonus. He matters more - in that program, on that campus and in those players' lives - now that he's proven how much they matter, by insisting that they live up to their responsibility to do their school, team and selves proud.

In announcing the sanctions for the various indiscretions surrounding the incident, Friedgen looked positively sick. He admitted it was a hard choice for him. He couldn't call himself a coach if he didn't think about the games and the possible bowl game he was jeopardizing, considering the Terps missed the postseason last year.

But something bigger was at stake: "I have to send a message that this can't happen again. That's my only concern. To me it had to be strong enough so our players know this is not going to be tolerated. And they can't put themselves in this situation."

He might have added "put him in this situation." Remember, Maryland isn't just his employer, it's his alma mater. If his program and its players get the reputation of being out of control, deserved or not, the taint is on him even more than if he were only the coach.

At the same time, though, it didn't look as if he and athletic director Debbie Yow were on opposite sides of the issue, as such announcements too often seem. Frequently, the A.D. plays the role of lecturer and the coach the role of scolded schoolboy. This time, Yow was able to say her coach's move "makes me very proud" and it "shouts integrity," and keep a straight face.

How many times in recent years have we heard lines like, "That's just T.O. being T.O.," or, "As long as he shows up on Sunday, he can do and say whatever he wants"?

The Eagles' organization, for all its bluster about being hard-line and unyielding, needs to suspend itself. Signing Owens, and pulling all those strings to get him, was as detrimental to the team as anything he's done.

The Eagles' move whispers integrity, and whispers it too late.

It should bother them that the college program down the road ended up teaching a lesson to the pros about being professional.

david.steele@baltsun.com

Points after -- David Steele

To recap the week in the NFL: An owner (the Saints' Tom Benson) slaps a camera, tangles with a fan, and claims he won't attend another game in his disaster-ravaged state because he feels unsafe. A coach (the Packers' Mike Sherman) throws a hissy fit over a cell phone ringing in his news conference, interrupting his explanation of why his team is 1-6. T.O. continues to be T.O. Remind me again - which league has the image problem?

No knock on Don Markus' idea, but there's a local pro team that could use Norm Chow as an offensive coordinator more than the University of Tennessee could. Too bad he wasn't available to the Ravens in the offseason - I mean, uh ...

Now it can be told: the originator of the saying "Once you go black, you never go back" was Fisher DeBerry.

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