Friday, June 23, 2017

Summer is busy time for Leopards and Coach Garrett

Lafayette players and coaches joined Chicago Cubs manager and former Leopard athlete Joe Maddon and his wife for a team-building work project on a playground in  Hazleton. Photo courtesy of Lafayette.
Forty days until the Leopards report for preseason camp. And, frankly, a lot of loose ends still need to be tied together.

So, here’s a look at some of issues facing the football team and the college athletic program in general.

Tony Russo was a behind-the-scenes guy with the Lafayette football program, but his contribution should not be trivialized.

Tony was the Leopards’ Equipment Services Director, and according to a bio of a former ESD director that appeared on the Lafayette website, the job description says the ESD is “responsible for purchasing equipment, overseeing game and practice uniforms and overall equipment maintenance … negotiates and facilitates all apparel/equipment contracts …”

Well, Tony, who was elevated to the ESD post last summer, has resigned his position and taken a job at California University of Pennsylvania.

So, what’s the big deal?

Well, the word through the grapevine is that as Lafayette went looking for Russo’s replacement, first deputy director of athletics Kaity McKittrick and later athletic director Bruce McCutcheon spoke with a former ESD, who spent more than three years at Lafayette but who has been the head equipment manager at a larger university the last three years, for a recommendation.

The word out there is that McKittrick and McCutcheon were both rebuffed in very strong negative terms by the former employee who declined to give a recommendation at this time – or, I’m told, any time.

The ESD position is listed as vacant on the current list of Lafayette athletic staffers, presenting still another headache for first-year head football coach John Garrett, who already had his hands full trying to rebuild a football staff in the wake of what has now grown to four defections – offensive coordinator-quarterbacks coach Rich Bartel leads the list that includes Ian Dell and Luke Chiarolanzio, both young holdovers from the Frank Tavani staff and former Lafayette standouts, and Brett Guminsky, another newcomer.

And apparently the coaches list that Garrett told us he has been putting together over the years for times such as these has come up dry, too, because “The Market,” part of the website on which schools can post openings in any sport, has a posting for “Assistant football coach – Tight Ends/Running Backs” at Lafayette College. And, on the college website, you can find a listing for an “Assistant football coach – quarterbacks.” Both are listed as full-time positions and include a list of responsibilities and requirements for the jobs.

The Bartel vacancy should be the top priority unless Coach Garrett is going to assume the dual role of head coach and OC, which would figure to cause at least some problems in the oversight of the entire program. The posting for a quarterbacks coach says guys nothing about being an OC.

So, what does Coach Garrett do now? Does he grab a couple of guys on one-year contracts and then go for the long-term guys after the 2017 season? Maybe he has a couple of old cronies out there who would take that kind of deal.

Lafayette had a one-year defensive line coach last season when Hank Hughes was between jobs after coaching at Nebraska. And that was a big financial step back for Hughes, who reportedly was supposed to earn $300,000 at Nebraska.

Things have been eerily quiet in the Bourger Varsity Football House and the Kirby Sports Center, and that can’t be a good thing at this date.

Job openings are not the only concern, however. There’s the Fisher Stadium FieldTurf surface, which was taken up recently after serving only one year. The surface was still grey stone on Wednesday, but I was told that the project is expected to be completed by the first week of July.

(The photo is from May of last year, but that's what the field looked like again this week.)

The re-do is covered by warranty, and I was told the work was “addressing permeability/drainage issues with the infill and sub-base system.” It seems I can remember Coach Tavani expressing some concern already last season, but it came as a surprise when the year-old turf was taken up. Hope they get it right this time.

One other thing I hesitate to mention, but I've been told by people who have reason to know that Coach Garrett's football operations budget has been slammed with what sounds to me like a major cut. Dangerously close to the six-figure mark, I'm told.  Could be because of there being no "money" FBS game on the 2017 schedule. If this is true, Coach G should be fuming. I wonder how many discretionary line items are in that budget. Every little cut at a point like this is brutal. If the slice has to come from recruiting, it's even worse. I hope it's not true, but if it is, people  need to know and someone not holed up in BVFH needs to be held responsible.     

If you wonder if there is any good football news on College Hill, I can say that I think it was good news to learn that after more than a year of battling granulomatosis with polyangiitis – a fight that had him near death at one point – defensive back Kaizer Butler may get a second chance at a college football career.

“Today was a very tough day for me,” Butler posted on social media site Twitter on Monday, the day he had an appointment with a doctor who would have a lot to say about his athletic future. Later, he tweeted, “The man was hesitant to clear me and I told him no and that I’m gonna play regardless and he changed his mind.”

When I tweeted that I had been thinking about him on Monday and asked how things turned out, he sent back, “Cleared and coming back as I should be. This is as close to normal as it’ll be for me until transplant.” He followed that with, “I’m just grateful to be alive and even more to be able to do what I love.”

I’m sure he’s not ready to go yet because he’s been working to regain weight and strength he lost during his disease, which attacks the immune system. And, I don’t know whether he’ll have to clear any more medical hurdles from the Lafayette doctors, but if there’s a fight to be won, I’m sure he’ll do everything possible to win it. He hasn’t played since he started the first three games of his freshman year (2015) before suffering a season-ending injury.

Photos courtesy of Lafayette sports information.

The current crop of Leopards, who were in Easton for the June series of strength and conditioning workouts with Brad Potts, also made some good news last week when they took part in a work project in Hazleton on a lot where Joe Maddon, the Chicago Cubs manager and former Lafayette football and baseball player, is lending his support to construction of a $250,000 playground at the Hazleton One Community Center.

The Leopards cleared brush, hauled wood and garbage cans and generally got a good physical workout. “They have to work together like on the field,” Coach Garrett told a local reporter.

JUNE WORKOUTS END -- Today (Friday) was the final day of the first series of summer voluntary workouts. The players will have some time off until after the Fourth of July, and they'll return for the second session later that week. It's a pretty good bet that a vast majority of the squad members will be on hand for the workouts, which will lead them right into the start of preseason camp.  Players report for camp Aug. 2, with practices starting the next day.

All of these situations and I haven't even mentioned the  college-wide study of athletics. The April deadline has now been extended to September or October. I don't know what's going to change in the interim to affect the report. I haven't heard one positive comment about the process. Maybe the people at Intercollegiate Athletic Consulting can't find a  lot of nice things to say and the people at Lafayette don't want to hear more negativity. Maybe Andrew Fellingham et al are digging deeper than anyone expected. I guess we just wait   

I tried to get Coach Garrett on the phone this week to talk about some of the things mentioned here. He was busy when I first called, and we never did connect. He has a lot more to do than talk with me. Some day ...   


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