Concussions in football — this important topic rushed to the forefront of college football’s radar screen over the past weekend, when Michigan quarterback Shane Morris appeared to have suffered a concussion in the Wolverines’ game against Minnesota. Michigan head coach Brady Hoke inexplicably allowed Morris to take a snap anyway, later claiming he didn’t notice that Morris was in such physical distress.
In order to guide this discussion and inform anyone who wishes to participate in it, we are attaching these two videos of the incident, courtesy of the Michigan blog site MGoBlog:
Question: “In light of the Shane Morris injury situation at Michigan and Brady Hoke’s response to it, what is (or should be) a head coach’s responsibility in terms of handling player injuries?”
On Twitter @TheCoachBart
Well, the coach should at least be watching the football game. That’s a start. Hoke’s “excuse” in his post game when pressed on the issue was that he could only speak for himself and that he didn’t see anything. That’s sort of odd, since the quarterback has the ball on pretty much every play, which means in some obtuse way that Michigan’s head coach wasn’t actually watching the football game he was coaching.
The outrage is over the (alleged) concussion that Morris suffered, but it should have been painted black far before then. Early in the second half, Morris went down awkwardly inside his own 5-yard-line and came up with a noticeable limp. At that point, it was probably time to take him out since it never went away … which indicates something is wrong.
The horrid part of all of this? It was only 9/17/2014 that Brady Hoke stood on his pulpit and declared about how protecting the players was the chief job of the coaches. Of course, it is, but that sort of goes hand in hand with actually paying attention to the game.
I could go on a long rant here about Hoke, snake oil, and being something rather than saying you’re something, maybe include some biblical parable for the religious crowd, but it wouldn’t answer the question.
The responsibility for player injuries should be to be constantly monitoring them and don’t listen to the player. Morris is like any other athlete who will push the envelope to the edge to get between the competitive lines. Simply operating under the guise of “well, he said he could go in” is grossly negligent. All players will say they can go in no matter how bad they hurt.
It’s part of a coach’s job to protect a player. Few years ago, I had a player get his head slammed into a wall and he said he was feeling woozy. It was a huge game with a lot on the line. Kid had to come out, and he was the star of the team. A turnover happened and then a loss on a last second half court shot and then nightmares for a few years ongoing. But you have to protect players from themselves.
Most coaches operate this way, to be honest. The fact that Brady Hoke didn’t is overwhelmingly shocking. Morris limping should have been it. What was trying to be proved past that is beyond me. Wins are wins. Losses are losses. But nothing is more important than how you care about players between the lines of both. Gross negligence is all I can think about here.
Before anything else, watch the videos above — watch them again, if you need to.
Finished? Now you can read my response to this important question.
A college football coach is like a CEO in the business world. Regardless of what transpires, the buck ultimately stops with both of them.
In other words: the head coach is solely responsible for the safety and well being of his players. If he suspects that one of his student-athletes is injured, he has an obligation to take him out of the game at that point.
This didn’t happen in Saturday’s Minnesota – Michigan contest. As the video above shows, Morris was clearly wobbly after a vicious late hit by Theiren Cockran. When his offensive lineman went to help him off the field, Morris refused to come out of the game, gesturing to the sideline that he was okay.
Hoke dropped the ball at this point. Even if he didn’t see Morris was wobbly – which seems plausible if Hoke was screaming at the official wanting to know why Cockran wasn’t ejected for targeting – it should have at least crossed his mind to ask one of the other coaches if Morris was alright. Anyone watching the game would have concluded that Hoke should have taken him out immediately.
Sadly, Hoke didn’t. He left Morris in for another play, an incomplete pass across the middle before taking him out of the contest.
Unfortunately, the situation would get worse later on in the same series of plays. After Devin Gardner had come out for one play because he lost his helmet on an 11-yard run, Hoke put Morris – not third-string QB Russell Bellomy – into the game.
Whiskey. Tango. Foxtrot.
I don’t care what the situation is or what the player says, it is never acceptable to put a clearly injured athlete back into the game under any circumstances. Even if it was “just a handoff,” why not let a perfectly healthy Bellomy take the snap and to avoid further injury to Morris, who will likely be the face of Wolverine football in the future?
That’s a rhetorical question. There’s absolutely no way for Hoke to answer that question other than, “Yes, I made a big mistake.”
While it’s the head coach’s responsibility to make sure an injured player comes out of the game, I’d like to see the officials have the authority to do so as well. Back in the stone ages when I played high school football, referees were able to do this. As a 148-pound offensive guard on a triple-option team, it wasn’t uncommon for me to be involved in some massive collisions around the point of attack. One time, as I was pulling to trap a 300-pound defensive tackle, the impact was so intense that I literally couldn’t see for a few seconds. The referee, who was right on top of the play, saw what happened, called an official timeout, and told my coaches that I was coming to the sideline for one play.
Would this have resolved yesterday’s debacle? No, it wouldn’t have.
But, this at least gives someone other than the coaches the discretion to pull a clearly injured player from the contest. While this rule change would need to be applied sparingly – and in very clearly defined circumstances – it’s something that will benefit player safety going forward…
… and possibly avert a potential disaster, which could have easily occurred yesterday.
On Twitter @SectionMZ
A starting point in this conversation is the Declan Sullivan tragedy at Notre Dame. That awful incident pertained to the use of a lift for filming practices. The use of a mechanical device doesn’t strike me as something a head football coach ought to know about. That’s more of an athletic department issue; Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick was — in my opinion — more at fault for that incident than head coach Brian Kelly. From that starting point, one can then appreciate this situation involving Shane Morris and Brady Hoke.
This was a football matter and a health matter. This did not involve the use of a machine outside a coach’s normal field of expertise. Coaches have always been the people who substitute players on a team if they’re felt to be in need of rest or restoration… or extended time off due to health concerns. Naturally, the culture of football was a lot different (and not for good reasons) in the 1950s and subsequent decades. It has taken a long time for football to become reasonably aware of the toll the sport takes on brain and body alike. Today, the need for coaches to pay attention to the physical well-being of their players is a non-negotiable part of the job description.
The tension point comes when a player sits in that murky middle between “playing through a little pain,” which is a common, everyday part of being a football player, and “being at risk of a long-term health problem.” Even if a coach thinks a player is fit enough to play, he’s not a medical expert. Since coaches do have to tend to a lot of details during a game (a coach might talk to one group of players during a play or series, especially if he’s the coordinator for one unit and wants to talk to that bunch), their eyes might not always locate or identify a health risk in a player. What about a hurry-up offense situation, too? That’s a sticky wicket for all the obvious reasons.
The videos we’ve shown you from MGoBlog are damning in that they offer rather clear evidence that Hoke was not tending to a group away from the sideline. He was looking at the field and, as is his practice, did not have a headset on at the time. Michigan players were clearly worried about Morris’s health. This was a debacle by any measurement.
The key point, then, is not whether Hoke committed an outrageous and possibly fireable offense. He did. The point is that college football has to be more specific and resolute in stipulating when — and how, and with what boundaries — medical personnel or sports medicine staffers can intervene to check on players and demand that they be removed from a game.
Some people — concerned with the length of a college football game — might lament this, but in the bigger picture, it’s not much of a price to pay at all, because the payoff is increased player safety: Teams should have the right to check on the health of a player in Morris’ situation anytime in a game. One person — a member of the sports medicine staff at a school — would wear a designated uniform (all-green or all-red, something like that) and would be allowed to signal for an intervention as soon as a play is ruled dead. There would be no consultation between the member of the team’s sports medicine staff and the head coach. The person with medical knowledge would be empowered to act immediately.
This would create added timeouts, and so some consideration should be given to taking 15 seconds off the clock if a team doesn’t have any timeouts left. (That’s debatable, however; why should a team get penalized for having a player get hurt?) The bigger priority, though, is to protect players. It doesn’t yet happen to the extent it should — not in light of the World Cup, when Germany’s Christoph Kramer spent 14 minutes on the field, in a daze, after getting concussed in the World Cup Final against Argentina.
This larger issue has not been solved or figured out in full — not in college football, not in global soccer, not in the full range of sports under the sun. It’s better than what it was, but it can still be improved. Coaches should be held accountable for failures in this regard, but having more safeguards in place should only be seen as necessary improvements, not as “things which will make games longer and make my life more inconvenient.” The only inconvenience at issue here is if Shane Morris and other players are unnecessarily endangered because their coaches aren’t looking out for them.