Football or Family Man?

A coach asking for paternity leave? For more than two weeks?

Man, can I see the eyes rolling in the Miami RedHawks football office.

A coach asking for paternity leave? For more than two weeks?

And now there’s a lawsuit?

It’s true, as recently reported by CityBeat’s James McNair, and I find it terribly intriguing, given my experience around football coaching staffs. Not only can I see eyes rolling, I can see smoke and even a few flames exiting the ears and eyeballs of Miami head coach Chuck Martin.

To quickly recap McNair’s reporting, this started about a year ago. Paul Harker, Miami’s head strength coach, was the new father of twins. He applied under university policy for paternity leave, and someone —  obviously not a true football type — approved it.

He took the time off. It was the offseason, late January and early February. But what he ultimately got for it, he says, was a decision in June to terminate his six-year term at the most ironically nicknamed “Cradle of Coaches.” And now the former starting guard for Michigan State is suing the university, claiming that Martin and other top athletic officials ran him off due to the leave issue.

Many further details have been reported by McNair, but it’s the general concept that fascinates me.

The suit states that grid boss Martin was “infuriated” by the leave request and that Martin complained that “every other man who had ever worked for him was back at work the next day after his wife gave birth.” Harker says Martin told him he “needed to decide whether he was a football coach or a family man.”

Wow… strong stuff. And entirely plausible, with Martin or any of a thousand other head coaches. In a combined 43 years of writing about football and later working for a football team, I had never before heard of a coach asking for paternity leave. Surely, not since O. Twist asked for that extra bowl of gruel has a request come across as so outlandish to its audience.

I hear you saying, “What’s the big deal? He took the leave in the dead of winter. What could have possibly been happening then with Miami football that was crucial?”

Well, I wonder that, too. But football is just different, folks, rightly or wrongly. It’s always crucial. The pressure to win is so intense, one implicitly surrenders rights to an outside life that others take for granted. I believe what Martin said about every other assistant missing only one day for new babies. I’ve known coaches who seemed to barely miss a beat when confronted with grave health issues for family members.

Martin’s alleged “family man” comment is another ironic part of this, because my years of observation tell me that being married with kids is totally a part of the coaching culture. I’d venture to say it’s demographically off the charts compared to the general public. Single or childless coaches, aside from the youngest ones, are true rarities.

But the no-time-off mentality trickles down even to non-coaches. In September 2016, when my dear father-in-law passed away in Texas, I took one day off from my post as Bengals public relations director to go there. I didn’t stay for the funeral. And though no one would have raised a coach-type ruckus if the lowly PR guy had taken more time, I simply felt that the pressing duties of my department for the upcoming home game demanded I limit my absence. Trade-offs, my friends.

Don’t get me wrong. Though Harker’s claims are only that for now, I think Miami has a real problem with this and will likely have to grant the coach damages. (Harker has relocated with a job at Detroit’s Wayne State University, but consider the upheaval to his life.)

I see this as a possible landmark. Though I guess football-only outfits like pro teams might be in their rights to just deny offering anyone paternity leave, that’s not the same as at a diverse place like a university. If Harker can take paternity leave and not be punished for it, why can’t hundreds of his peers?

And maybe that explains why Martin was allegedly so upset about it, even in the dead of winter.

More Winter Sports Notes:

• While the Bengals are having a bad soap-opera finish to their season, another compelling NFL story is taking place in Northern Ohio.

The Browns are just two losses away from only the second 0-16 finish in NFL history, and that would make them 1-31 for two seasons under head coach Hue Jackson, the former Bengals offensive coordinator. Many folks were puzzled when Jackson jumped on the Browns job after 2015, thinking he could have done better, and now he faces the worst 32-game record in NFL coaching history.

The Browns as of this writing have lost 47 of their last 51 — mind-boggling, the worst ever for a span of 51 games — and I hope they just keep losing. Nothing personal against anyone, it’s actually a strange sign of respect.

The Browns are Cincinnati’s rival for pro football control of Ohio, and no matter how bad they are, they’re a sleeping giant. They still have a huge and passionate fan base, remarkably, and if they get good again, they’ll inevitably start to elbow the Bengals out with fans in places like Columbus and even Dayton.

So let’s keep enjoying this while we can, Cincinnati.

• The Reds haven’t made any noise this offseason, and I’ve found myself wondering how they possibly can hope to be much better in 2018, after three straight seasons of 94 or more losses.

But I’ve got a good buddy who really knows baseball and is not at all prone to be starry-eyed. And he says they’ll finally be much improved.

“They’re already a good offensive team,” he contends, “and all those guys are back except (Zack) Cozart. They’re already very good defensively, and the problem last year was that they just couldn’t get anybody out.

“But this year,” he goes on, “the starting pitching will be immeasurably better. You start with Luis Castillo and those other guys (including Sal Romano and Tyler Mahle) who came on late last year. Then you’ve got veterans who should be good and healthy for a change — (Anthony) DeSclafani, (Brandon) Finnegan, (Homer) Bailey.

“Yeah, there still are questions in the bullpen, but when you start with Raisel Iglesias … he can be one of the best.”

OK, pal, for now I feel a bit better about their chances.

• Told you so in a recent column, Major League Soccer was not going to pass on Nashville. And now it’s big sweat time for FC Cincinnati, battling a strong Sacramento bid for the last current expansion spot. As I write this on Dec. 20, it looks like we may have days yet to squirm. MLS is currently focused on its announcement in Nashville, and now here comes Christmas. No telling when the league will perceive is the perfect timing to let the other shoe drop.  

CONTACT JACK BRENNAN: [email protected]


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