Nov. 22 - Mike Price is looking for a job, something loftier than a greeter at a Pink Pussycat lounge. He wants to coach college football again, show the world that he’s not a drunken buffoon, that he still knows how to build a team and take it to the top.
HIS HUMILIATING FALL FROM two-time Rose Bowl coach at Washington State to national laughingstock at Alabama left him perplexed and angry. He hit bottom, and the climb back, weighed down by guilt, blame and fear, is daunting.
His life the past seven nightmarish months has been consumed with depression and doubt, his future fraught with questions:
Will any school take a chance on a 57-year-old coach booted out of Alabama for boozing it up in a strip joint?
Where is he going to get the money to buy a house after he took a bath on the one he sold in Tuscaloosa?
Can he make amends to the people he brought down with him — his sons, Eric and Aaron, and the other assistants he hired at Alabama?
When, if ever, will his honor be restored, his name cleared of the most embarrassing report about his lost night during a golf outing in Florida?
Sports Illustrated stuck an “A” for adultery around his image with a story that a besotted Price engaged in “aggressive sex” with two women in his hotel room, an allegation he vehemently denies.
Price denies it so much — “There was never a sexual encounter. There was no adultery,” he insists — that he filed a $20 million libel suit against the author of the story and Time Inc., SI’s parent company. The author, Don Yaeger, has said he stands behind his reporting, and SI declined to discuss specifics of the lawsuit.
What doesn’t seem in dispute is that a woman other than Price’s wife spent the night in his hotel room and charged $1,000 in room service to his account.
Whatever the sordid details, Price’s ill-advised escapade in Florida in April cost him what he once called “the premier job in the world,” the chance to walk in Paul “Bear” Bryant’s footsteps. It cost Price a seven-year, $10 million contract he was about to sign. It cost his family and his assistants’ families their livelihoods and opportunities. And, not least, it cost Price his reputation and, perhaps, his career.
“I would think I would have a good chance to get a job anywhere if it wasn’t for an hour and a half of my life,” Price told The Associated Press a few days ago. “I’ve broken no laws or NCAA rules.”
Down for seven months, he is campaigning to rehabilitate his image. He told his story to the Spokane Spokesman-Review, leaking depositions that revealed apparent inconsistencies in the stories told by witnesses to SI and later in sworn testimony.
“I’m just waiting for one president to say, ‘Let’s give that guy a chance. He’s a good guy, he’s not a bad person, and he can get it done,”’ Price told the Times.
At the end of this season there will be plenty of openings, as there always are. Some coaches will be fired, some will quit or retire. More than a few presidents and athletic directors may look at Price and consider that, in 14 years as head coach at Washington State, he was good enough to take teams to the Rose Bowl a couple of times. That he built a WSU team ranked No. 8 as of Saturday. That he was good enough to be hired by Alabama. And that maybe his misjudgment in Florida was an aberration rather than a habit.
Price can help his cause by taking more responsibility for his mess than he has so far, instead of blaming others.
Though skeptics may doubt it, standards are going up in college sports. They could hardly have gotten much lower than last year, when Price was only one of many coaches in football and basketball to get fired for foolish or illicit behavior.
Price’s former rival at Washington, Rick Neuheisel, is in the same unemployment line after betting in a college basketball pool and lying about it to NCAA investigators. A year ago, no one would have imagined that the coaches of both schools, which played each other Saturday, would be gone from the game under such tawdry circumstances.
InsertArt(2077034)“The universities are going to get tougher on these coaches,” says Gary O’Hagan, who represents coaches for the International Management Group. “If you’re knocked out for the wrong reasons, it’ll be tougher to get back in.”
As presidents pay more attention to ethical violations and the appearance of impropriety, coaches have to recognize that their actions will be under greater scrutiny. That doesn’t mean every school has the same moral codes.
“From school to school, region to region,” O’Hagan says, “the differences in perceived good and bad behavior are like the differences between Monet and Salvador Dali.”
In Alabama, Price’s behavior came off as surrealistic, astonishing and embarrassing the school’s president. Some other president, less critical and more desperate for a winning team, may very well see him in a different light.
© 2003 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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