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Call it archaic. Call it "tough love." Call it, as George O’Leary describes it, as being "tough but fair," but an Orlando Sentinel article investigating the death of Knights players Eerek Plancher shows a long, detailed history of tactics that should have been cast aside with leather helmets.
There was the UCF player who detailed an offseason weight-lifting session in which O’Leary barked at him to do more weight on leg press than he had ever done before; the player blacked out and the weight crashed down, pushing his knees into his chest. There was the former Georgia Tech player who said O’Leary ordered teammates to tackle him because he missed blocks in practice. And there was the recounting of the minutes before Plancher collapsed and died during an intense practice session in March.
The workout consisted of 75 minutes of weightlifting, 10 minutes of stretching, 20 minutes of agility drills and two sprints. Plancher fell during the sprints and four UCF players said O’Leary said "That’s a bunch of [expletive] out of you, son."
Did O’Leary push Plancher too hard? A court case will decide that, but obviously the guy has a track record of pushing players to the brink. Of course, he’s not alone. Numerous players have died at practice, primarily of heatstroke, because of the old-school notion that beating these guys down makes them tougher when it comes time to take the field. But here’s the thing: we’re not seeing guys die during games, so why are coaches willing to put their players’ physical well-being at risk when the clock isn’t running?
O’Leary’s antics will assuredly raise eyebrows and force many to run to the conclusion that it’s this demeanor that ultimately was responsible for Eerek Plancher’s death. But this is bigger than the death of one player and it stretches well beyond O’Leary, because somehow we believe it’s OK for coaches to push players that hard from high school to the pros.
One of O’Leary’s former Georgia Tech players told the Sentinel of the coach’s ways: "If there was a war, that's the person that I would want to lead me in my war."
Similar tactics may have landed Bob Knight the nickname "The General" but it’s not war, its sports, and although we often blur the line between the two, we have to keep things in perspective.
Why should instances like the one detailed in the Sentinel’s story be seen in a different light than Woody Hayes punching Charlie Bauman (which got the Ohio State coach fired)? But most importantly, why are we all just willing to continue to sit back and just think of this bullying demeanor from coaches as simply part of the culture of sports?