Big 12 football: Players must have thick skin

Coaches will be hard on players. But there's a line that they can't cross, or else their jobs will be in jeopardy
By Jenni Carlson, Staff Writer, jcarlson@opubco.com Modified: August 1, 2010 at 12:41 pm •  Published: July 31, 2010

There's a long list of must-haves for college football players.

Size. Agility. Speed. Smarts. Tenacity. Strength.

But one necessary attribute is often overlooked.

"You have to have thick skin," Jeremy Beal said.

The Oklahoma defensive end isn't the only one who thinks so. A randomly selected group of players was interviewed last week during Big 12 football media days. Some play for powerhouses, others for cellar dwellers. Some play on the offensive side of the ball, others on the defensive side.

Yet, all of them said they expect harsh treatment from their coaches.

They know they will be pushed, challenged and confronted, and sometimes, that involves antics that aren't G-rated. Yelling. Screaming. Cursing.

"That's just part of it," Oklahoma State quarterback Brandon Weeden said. "You know if you make a mistake, you're gonna hear about it."

But is there a limit, a line that no coach should cross?

Two noticeable absentees during media days indicate as much. Mike Leach and Mark Mangino were nowhere to be found. Leach had been the coach at Texas Tech for the past decade, leading the Red Raiders to unprecedented success. Mangino had been the coach at Kansas for eight years, rejuvenating a program that had languished for decades.

Both were fired last December for harsh treatment of players.

'If it gets personal... that's over the line'

Ripples from the dismissals of Mangino and Leach were felt not only in the Big 12 but also across the college football world.

"I think it got everybody's attention," Kansas State coach Bill Snyder said. "I don't think there was any coach that didn't think through what that really meant to them."

Snyder is the league's unofficial dean of football coaches — he has coached the Wildcats for 18 years, returning last season after a three-year retirement — and he contends that football coaches have a complex job. They must prepare players for a rough-and-tumble game, but they must also teach the values of the sport.

"It's about commitment. It's about responsibility. It's about discipline. It's about hard work," Snyder said.

In major college football, it's also about big money.

Every head football coach in the Big 12 has an annual salary in excess of $900,000, and nine of them make $1.8 million or more. That kind of money can create pressure to win at all costs.

Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads said his philosophy on player treatment boils down to two tenets.

"If you're always genuine with them, that doesn't mean you're not chewing their tail out... " he said, "but if you're always genuine, they know what you got.

"Then, I think fairness is critical. Our football team knows if Austen Arnaud screws up, if Alexander Robinson screws up," the coach said, ticking off a couple of the Cyclones' standouts, "they're going to face the same or similar consequences as a player that's third string."

Players at Big 12 media days contend that one other principle of player treatment is important.

"When a coach disrespects you or belittles you as a man... that's when you cross the line," Nebraska wide receiver Niles Paul said.