Alabama head football coach Nick Saban has a mess on his hands for all the wrong reasons. His quest for another BCS National Championship just got harder.
Crimson Tide first-year offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland, and director of football operations Joe Pannunzio, have been implicated for alleged wrongdoing while they worked for the Miami Hurricanes. They are key figures in the scandal that’s rocked college football to its core.
“Before those people were ever hired here, we do an NCAA check to make sure that they pass all compliance criteria and don’t have any red flags relative to compliance history, Saban told reporters. “We certainly did that in both of these cases. If any of these people had any wrongdoing, I’m sure the NCAA will investigate it in due time. And if they did anything wrong, I’m sure they’ll get the appropriate punishment.”
“If I was Alabama, I would conduct my own internal inquiry in conjunction with the enforcement staff,” Michael Buckner, a Florida attorney who counsels schools about NCAA compliance, told The Birmingham News. “If there are alleged activities going on with current staff members at other schools, are they continuing those activities at Alabama? Alabama can’t afford any significant allegations at this point since they’re on probation.”
“We’re going to continue to control and manage and monitor what we do in our organization and do it correctly,” Saban said.
Former Miami booster Nevin Shapiro, who’s serving a 20-year prison sentence for his role in a $930 million Ponzi scheme, told Yahoo! Sports that he provided at least 72 Miami athletes with impermissible benefits such as cash, cars, jewelry, prostitute-packed parties and an abortion for a strip-club dancer who had allegedly been impregnated by a Miami player. The trouble occurred between 2002 and 2010 and mostly involved Miami football players.
Yahoo! Sports also alleges that Stoutland and Pannunzio, along with other Miami staffers, delivered high-profile players to Shapiro’s mansion for recruiting pitches. The NCAA doesn’t allow boosters to be involved in recruiting.
“If what was in the report was true, then I think (Stoutland and Pannunzio) would be prominent in any notice of allegations,” Buckner said. “Whether that rises to a major (violation) for them, that’s the question. Normally, that would just be a secondary, although the enforcement staff can use patterns of secondaries to be a major (violation). It’s what’s not in the story, that the enforcement staff is going to have to uncover.”
Stoutland was Miami’s offensive line coach from 2007-10. Pannunzio was the Hurricanes’ tight ends coach and special teams coordinator. Yahoo! Sports reported 422 calls or texts between Shapiro and Pannunzio from 2006 to 2010.
Before Pannunzio was an assistant coach at Miami, he was the head coach at Murray State. Here’s what former Murray State President F. King Alexander said about Pannunzio:
“You must understand that in 2005 when I was president at Murray State, I fired our football coach, Joe Pannunzio, because of numerous incidents that occurred in our program under him that were quite bad,” Alexander told the Long Beach Press-Telegram. “Well, Pannunzio immediately was hired by Miami, and he’s one of the coaches who’s been prominently mentioned by Shapiro in the current scandal. He’s now the head of football operations at Alabama.”
While Alabama isn’t implicated in the Miami scandal — and what allegedly happened at Miami wouldn’t lead to penalties for Alabama — Stoutland and Pannunzio’s integrity is now in question.
The issue for Saban and athletics director Mal Moore is how do you get young impressionable players to do the right things when two role models may have checkered pasts?
Can Stoutland and Pannunzio truly be leaders when they now have a credibility problem? It could take months or years to uncover the truth. What happens to perception in the meantime?
Timing is another issue. The Crimson Tide is No. 2 in USA Today’s pre-season coaches poll. Junior running back Trent Richardson is featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated. The Tide looks like the team to beat as players, coaches and fans gear up for the first game of the 2011 season that begins on Sept. 3rd.
The pieces of the puzzle of success were all in place in Tuscaloosa. Then the hurricane blew in from Miami.
This is one example of overcoming adversity that Nick Saban wasn’t counting on.