Todd Graham responds to a question that no one else has asked.
What if there was an Urban Meyer who didn’t actually win?
While Meyer answered that question during his time in the NFL this past year, Graham, the head football coach at the University of Hawaii, gives us the NCAA response we weren’t expecting.
Former players testified at a state senate committee on Friday night about the health of the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors’ football program, exposing the toxic culture that Graham has managed to build in just two seasons. Graham’s boss, Hawaii athletic director David Matlin, thought it was time to go down fighting for this individual after losing 19 players to the transfer portal and being dubbed “a tyrant” and “hands down the worst guy I’ve ever met.”
According to The Athletic, after listening to hours of player testimony about Graham’s verbal abuse and mental health issues as a result of his actions, Matlin decided to tell the nearly assembled group of players, families, and state senators that “not everything that was said was true,” and then proceeded to complain about the testimony being allowed at all.
Former athletes and their families were speaking openly about how Graham’s extraordinarily terrible treatment of his players, which could only be defined as bullying, had damaged their love of football, and Matlin had written them off.
As I’ve often stated on this blog, these “student-athletes” are already in a helpless position, so taking away their opportunity to freely discuss their experiences with a coach’s alleged verbal abuse and feel heard rather than having their complaints dismissed is a poor decision on Matlin’s side. He’s supporting a coach who has an 11-11 record, and although that’s not to argue that abusive behaviour is okay when a team is successful, Matlin’s rationale for this argument is a bit of a surprise.
Graham’s buyout fee, which the institution has never come close to paying to get a coach out, could play a role here. However, when asked, Matlin reportedly stated that he would not pursue the buyout even if the institution could afford it.
While this was a public meeting with state senators advocating for these athletes, you can’t help but wonder how many of these cases have gone unnoticed over the years as players have tried to report abusive behaviour to higher-ups only to be told that they’re lying, that everything will be fine, or that they’ll get no response at all.
Meyer’s true colours out when Jaguars players openly discussed the type of coach he was, but it was only because he joined the pros. College players have significantly less influence, little salary, and are desperate for a chance to play in the NFL, which means obtaining playing time and keeping the coach happy. Even this hearing was made up of former players, which is arguably the safer option for current players given that Matlin and Graham don’t appear to be planning any big changes to the program as a result of these testimonies.
In light of this, it’s all the more aggravating when Kirk Herbstreit makes statements like the one he made last week, implying that players who skip bowl games don’t have the “passion” for the game that they should, or when people complain that the transfer portal gives players too much freedom. These are some of the few forms of autonomy they have inside the NCAA system, and in circumstances like these, I have no doubt that players should be permitted to leave a Todd Graham situation without facing significant sanctions.