CRAWFORD | Hurtt should sit for a time, but likely stays at U of L
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Back when the Miami-Nevin Shapiro story hit the fan, I weighed in that the University of Louisville should at least think about taking Clint Hurtt off the recruiting trail until the dust settled and everything was sorted out.
That was a year-and-a-half ago.
In retrospect, it was an unworkable suggestion. Hurtt would've been collecting a sizable paycheck for doing nothing, and U of L might or might not still be looking at a coach it could employ when everything is said and done. Who knew it would take the dust so long to settle? This has been an NCAA proceeding unlike any other, with the NCAA even sanctioning itself in the process.
On Monday, U of L made public, for the first time officially, the allegations against Clint Hurtt from his days as recruiting coordinator at Miami. Tom Jurich, in an interview last week, said the charges were "extensive."
He was telling the truth. Most troublesome, and most serious, are two "unethical conduct" charges. The first was for allegedly providing impermissible benefits, knowing that such benefits were being provided, and arranging for them to be provided by then-Miami booster and now jailed Ponzi-scheme felon Nevin Shapiro.
The notice of allegations said Hurtt let recruits on unofficial visits stay at his house and provided them meals and transportation. They say he took them to Shapiro's place, where there were parties, Mercedes rides and in one instance, a pool game in which Shapiro provided monetary prizes.
They say Hurtt arranged for a meal for some players, and prospective players, at an Italian restaurant in Miami -- a violation for all of them. And they say Hurtt received a $2,500 interest-free loan from Shapiro in violation of NCAA rules (a loan he subsequently paid back).
Finally, the NCAA's second unethical conduct charge alleges that Hurtt lied to investigators and that parts of his story were contradicted by recruits and former players, namely whether he arranged for Shapiro to pay a restaurant bill.
So the question becomes, if you're U of L, how can you still employ this guy? The answer came from Tom Jurich: The coach says he didn't do it, he says he's going to make a strong defense of himself and Jurich says he hasn't broken any rules at Louisville. In light of those things, Jurich said, he'll wait for Hurtt's official response in 90 days, and see how the NCAA process plays out.
If I were Jurich, the strategy likely would be different. After having reaped the benefits of Hurtt's work for the past couple of years under this cloud, I'd place the coach on administrative leave from recruiting duties for the 90-day response period. I'd pay him. But I'd allow him to focus on dealing with this NCAA issue, and on his on-field duties in preparation for and coaching of spring practice.
I'd do it because it sends an unambiguous message that U of L takes the allegations seriously, no matter where they were alleged to have happened, and I'd do it to demonstrate respect for the rules of the game and the gravity of the NCAA's allegations. And I'd do it because it could give Hurtt a "time served" element to whatever penalty the NCAA might hand down.
But if I did such a thing, I'd be part of a vast minority in college sports.
Up to this point, U of L has been little more than an interested bystander. The NCAA neither asked nor expected U of L to take any action on Hurtt. In fact, it expressly forbade U of L from getting involved in an investigation of violations that have nothing to do with U of L.
Even in the letter the NCAA copied to U of L last week, it made clear, "there is no institutional responsibility on the part of Louisville for possible violations involving Mr. Hurtt."
It's right there in black and white, signed, sealed and delivered by the NCAA. "No institutional responsibility." You don't have to fire him. You don't have to suspend him. You don't have to coach him or be involved in his defense.
U of L's compliance office is not directly involved with Hurtt's defense, though U of L officials will be invited to observe Hurtt's hearing this summer. Hurtt has his own lawyers for that, and has not disclosed who they are. He hasn't spoken to media at all.
And while I think Jurich would be well within reason to pull the recruiting coordinator off the road given the seriousness of the allegations, here's why he's also well within the confines of college football protocol to keep chugging ahead:
-- If U of L takes action on the assistant coach now, it could signal a judgment of guilt on the coach's part that might be construed as hindering his defense, as a vote of no-confidence, or as a statement that Hurtt is at fault. It's a longshot, but it's also something that U of L could find itself being legally liable for, if it weren't careful.
-- Second, as Jurich explained, Hurtt has been accused of no wrongdoing at U of L. None. Not with Miami players who broke commitments there and came to Louisville, nor with any players recruited to the school since he arrived in early 2010. The NCAA examined the recruitment of several Miami high school products who had committed to Miami then switched to U of L, and found insufficient grounds for even minimal penalties. Teddy Bridgewater, Eli Rogers, Michaelee Harris and the rest -- none served a single suspension, while others who wound up at Miami served various suspensions at the start of last season. If Hurtt has broken no rules at U of L, and the NCAA explicitly stated that U of L was not involved in the current case, then why should U of L deal out a penalty? U of L has, in fact, cover from the NCAA on this one, in writing, in the form of this warning: "please be advised that action could be taken that would limit Mr. Hurtt's athletically related duties at Louisville for a designated period if he is found in violation by the NCAA Division I Committee on Infractions or the NCAA Division I Infractions Appeals Committee."
NCAA-speak translation: We'll make the call on whether he's going to be employable or not.
-- And finally, of course, this is the way college football works. You don't move until you have to. An emailer asks: "What other school in America would still be employing Hurtt right now?" Well, let's see. How about Auburn? Did Auburn play Cam Newton when there were recruiting allegations concerning him at Mississippi State? You'd better believe they played him.
How about Ohio State? The Ohio State University stayed behind Jim Tressel until the bitter end, until it could not do it any longer.
Did anyone care about this Hurtt business when they were lining up to hire Charlie Strong earlier this year? No they did not. No they would not, had they hired him. This is how the big boys roll. I don't much care for it. I don't make the rules.
So what's going to happen with Hurtt? In the end, he's facing serious allegations with what would appear to be a great deal of supporting evidence. The quality of that evidence is what will be important.
The key charge is the allegation that he lied to the NCAA about arranging for Shapiro to pay for a dinner for players and recruits. The NCAA says multiple players at the dinner testified that Hurtt did arrange for Shapiro to pay the bill. Hurtt's lawyers are going to want to cross-examine those statements to death. How did they know the arrangements? Did they assume the arrangements, or did they hear the arrangements being made?
And on it will go. Hurtt can acknowledge guilt to certain smaller offenses if he is so inclined and emerge with his job. He can argue that Miami was a cesspool when he arrived, that Shapiro began breaking rules five years before he took over and that the culture was bigger than he was. He can point to his compliance record at U of L to illustrate that when not caught up in a culture of cheating, he operates by the rules.
I don't know if it will fly, but he can argue that. Regardless, it's not far-fetched to see the final list of allegations being significantly reduced from the one presented today, given the NCAA's multiple missteps in this case already.
And even in a worst-case scenario for Hurtt, if he's presented with a "show cause" there's a significant question over what that will mean. What would be its duration, or even its start point?
If the NCAA gave Hurtt a three-year show cause from the date of the last Miami infraction, the window already would have passed up in November of last year.
The key thing Hurtt must overcome is the charge of lying to investigators. That allegedly occurred in an interview in November of 2011, with representatives of U of L and Miami monitoring the questioning of NCAA enforcement. If Hurtt is demonstrated to have lied in that instance, it's unlikely Jurich will grant him the benefit of any more doubt. The Bruce Pearl case at Tennessee shows the seriousness with which the NCAA regards this. Pearl called the NCAA to acknowledge his mistake on his own initiative, and still received a harsh penalty.
Hurtt's apparent U of L compliance, however, is an interesting mitigating factor. It's rare to have a coach charged who has completed three "clean" seasons at another school still facing charges from his old one that have not been resolved.
Within the team and staff, Hurtt is extremely well-liked and respected. Losing him would be a blow to U of L, and not just to recruiting.
As long as Hurtt stays, U of L's program is going to live with this sizable shadow. That's how it works in college sports. But this is also how it works -- the best programs all seem to have a little shadow amid the sunshine.
U of L has stuck with Hurtt this far. There's no reason to think it's not going to give him every chance to clear up this round of Miami vice. These days, that's just how things are.
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