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Kentucky Coaches and Alcohol: A Sour Mixture

Back in the mid-'80's, when I could be found running around Lexington terrorizing the locals, and just generally being a nuisance, many were the nights when, as I pulled in front of my house, I asked myself, "How did I get here?"

For after work, which ended around 8-9:00 pm, I headed straight for Shooter's; my favorite place to imbibe.  So familiar was I with the establishment, that my trusty barkeep had my rum and coke sitting at my spot before I could walk the thirty-feet from the front door to the barstool.  And on that barstool I stayed, until closing, when I reluctantly relocated to my home.

I was 19-20 years old, dumb, seemingly indestructible, and just plain lucky I didn't kill myself, or some poor family driving innocently down the road.  

What I wasn't was an assistant coach at the University of Kentucky. 

With the April DUI arrest of UK assistant basketball coach Rod Strickland, and Sunday's public intoxication arrest of graduate assistant football coach (and former UK standout center) Matt McCutchan, the University of Kentucky has endured two alcohol related arrests, of two assistant coaches, in a three-month period.  That's two too many, and has only added to the recent negative press UK has received over the last month or so.  But bad press, resulting in a negative public perception, is the least of the problems created when a coach opts to display the maturity of an 18-year old.

On so many levels, a more mature posture has to be taken by those charged with leading the young men and women of UK's athletic programs.  Taking into consideration that alcohol related deaths in this country hover around the 15,000 deaths per year mark -- 15,000 per year!  That's roughly 41 people killed per day -- alone, that should be motivation enough to dissuade a person in a postion of responsibilty to think long and hard about drinking and then getting behind the wheel of a 3,000 pound killing machine.  To hammer the sobering reality home, the "deathclock," which tallies the number of alcohol related deaths in the US, has, as of 6:12 EST Tuesday, registered 5,115 alcohol-related deaths this year.  But beyond the obvious reasons a leader should be hyper-sensitive to his/her responsibilities, one would think a coach, who by definition should be more responsible and aware of the increased impact his/her actions has on those he/she leads, would take particular care in decision-making.  Fully measuring ones actions is simply non-negotiable when one dons the cap of coach. 

Young athletes, perhaps more-so than any other group of youths, look up to and admire those who have accomplished what they are still striving to achieve.  In other words, whether the coaches like it or not, they are role models, put upon a pedestal by impressionable young men and women.  Perhaps, after ones parents (and many times before), the coaches of young athletes are primarily responsible for shaping a player's goals for their athletic future, but most importantly, the coaches are oftentimes the model for how to live ones life away from the field of competition.  How many times have we heard players over the years speak of how Rich Brooks and Tubby Smith displayed the character, both on and off the field, which is conducive to living a productive life? 

To be clear, I'm not calling for UK to recruit coaches on the playgrounds of monasteries and convents around the nation.  Rather, I would like to see UK's administrators, UK President Lee Todd and Athletic Director Mitch Barnhart, take an active role in laying down the law to the coaches who call Kentucky home (to be fair, Strickland, who has had previous alcohol related issues, has already been rightfully stripped of his coaching duties, and reassigned within the athletic department).

But what does 'laying down the law' consist of .... what action should the university take to ensure this embarrassment doesn't happen again?  Should a zero-tolerance policy for any type of alcohol-related offenses among the various coaching staffs be instituted?  Possibly, but the indisputable fact is that no such policy should be necessary.  These are grown men and women, who should know better than to drink and then drive a vehicle, or drink and become drunk in a public place.  These aren't college players, who by virtue of their youth are generally reckless by nature, rather, these are coaches: Adults who should be aware that there are consequences to their actions.  And should be fully aware that the players are carefully watching.

Now, I'm not begrudging anyone of legal age, UK coach or not, the right to drink alcohol.  My only request is for those who wish to indulge in spirits to exercise caution pertaining to when and where they drink, with some forethought given on how they will be getting home, as well as the environment in which they choose to partake.  It's certainly one thing to enjoy an adult beverage within the confines of ones own home, but quite another to become intoxicated in a public place.  Am I holding these men and women to a higher standard than the average adult?  Yes, most definitely a higher standard of conduct applies to the coaches of our young people.  And if one feels as if that standard is a bit too lofty, then by all means, they should feel free to find gainful employment elsewhere ...

... and if one must drink in public, for goodness sake, call a cab, or stay in your room ... as the case may be.

Luckily, the idiotic indiscretions of my youth did not result in anyone paying the ultimate price, which is something I today look back on with a huge sigh of relief.  A sigh of relief for me, my family, and any innocent unlucky enough to have come across my weaving path.  So coaches, please keep in mind your high responsibility, for the next time you drink and then operate a motor vehicle, or venture out in public, you might not be as fortunate as I was in my youth.

Thanks for reading, and Go 'Cats!