Cursing coaches get the message
Alonso High Defensive Coordinator Dale Rude, speaking with a player at the team’s game Sept. 25, was fired at halftime.
By ADAM ADKINS
Published: October 4, 2009
TAMPA – Mike DePue has spent nearly three decades as a football coach at Robinson High School. He has built a reputation for being among the more volatile coaches in the county, he says.
“I wear my passion on my shoulder,” said DePue, now in his seventh season as the Knights’ head coach.
Occasionally, like a lot of coaches, that passion has led to profanity.
“This is an emotional, violent game,” DePue said. “Does it (profanity) happen? Absolutely. Has it happened in the past? Of course it has.”
Two Hillsborough County volunteer assistant football coaches are no longer coaching after recent incidents of cursing on the sidelines during games. Now DePue – and every coach who has the occasional slip of the tongue – will be much more cautious.
“If you aren’t cognizant and aware of what’s going on, you’re a fool,” DePue said, “because the hammer is coming down.”
Alonso defensive coordinator Dale Rude was fired during halftime of the Ravens’ loss to Hillsborough on Sept. 25. On Monday, Middleton fired offensive coordinator Dan Mancuso.
Ravens coach Mike Heldt said Rude “got fired for cursing.” Linda Cobbe, spokeswoman for the Hillsborough County school district, said Rude quit after he was told to leave during the game because of profanity.
Middleton athletic director Derrick Gaines said Mancuso’s termination had nothing to do with profanity but rather “for a difference in offensive philosophy and how to move forward.”
Nevertheless, the dismissals have caught the attention of football coaches, including those at private schools.
“Are we perfect? No, we’re absolutely not perfect,” Jesuit football coach Joe Ross said. “But based on what’s been going on around here lately, we certainly will try to be.”
Lanness Robinson, Hillsborough schools’ director of athletics, insists the district isn’t cracking down on cursing coaches any more than usual. Robinson said coaches in all sports, paid and volunteer, are required to sign a form outlining the school district’s conduct expectations. He said upholding those expectations always has been a priority, and the district’s zero-tolerance policy regarding profanity always has been enforced.
“We don’t allow our coaches to curse,” Robinson said. “Period.”
Profanity is prohibited by the state’s athletic governing body, the Florida High School Athletic Association. The FHSAA handbook calls profanity unsporting conduct. The association’s spokeswoman, Cristina Alvarez, said unsporting conduct can lead to fines, suspensions or both. The punishment depends on the severity of the incident.
Alvarez said that because the FHSAA records infractions by school and not by specific incident, she was unable to provide details on how frequently coaches and student-athletes are reprimanded for profanity. The last reported instance of a Hillsborough head football coach being punished for profanity was in 2007, when Jefferson’s Mike Fenton was ejected from a game against Plant. Fenton was fined $250 and given an additional one-game suspension.
No coach interviewed for this story condoned the use of profanity. Nearly all, however, admitted to their language fallibility.
“It’s sad to say for the most part, but certain words in this day and age are commonplace,” Riverview football coach Bruce Gifford said. “It’s the everyday language now.”
Most coaches said they see a difference in letting a profane word or two slip during a pregame speech to fire up a team and berating a player with a profanity-laced tirade. But the school district wants the athletic environment to be an extension of the classroom, said Alonso athletic director Kent Glover, and that means coaches must adhere to those standards.
“Obviously, cursing has been out there since they started playing sports,” said Glover, who coached high school basketball in Hillsborough County before entering administration. “But if they want to continue coaching, today’s coaches need to learn new motivational techniques because it’s not acceptable.”
However, the use of profanity, particularly in football, seems to be regarded as the norm.
Josh Grady has played football at two Hillsborough County schools, spending his first two seasons at Freedom before transferring to Armwood. He has dealt with plenty of coaches, some more animated with their language than others. When Grady hears profanity, he doesn’t think any less of the person. He sees the language as a byproduct of the game.
“When you’re so passionate about something, the true emotion is going to come out,” said Grady, the Hawks’ starting quarterback. “Even if you don’t exactly mean to say it, you’re going to say it. It’s not that big of a deal to me. It’s just the game. A person can curse on the field, but off the field they can be the most quietest and most holiest of persons. On the field, it’s just a different thing.”
Teryl Aikens has two sons, Austin and Aaron, playing at Tampa Catholic. He doesn’t condone the use of profanity, but says football is unique.
“From my perspective, the culture of football is different than just about any other sport. It seems a lot of things are accepted and allowed in football that’s not allowed in our daily lives,” said Aikens, who played college football at Bethune-Cookman. “For the most part, it (cursing) is part of the history of football, and I understand that. But we live in a politically correct time and when it becomes something constant, I can see why someone would take issue with it.”
Leto running back Terik Greensberry isn’t bothered when he hears profanity on the field. But he doesn’t think everyone in his family would share the sentiment.
“We’ve grown accustomed to it. You know you’re going to hear a bad word every once in a while. We’re used to it,” Greensberry said. “But if my mom was walking by and heard it, she wouldn’t understand. She’d probably run out on the field and start beating a coach with her purse.”
Wharton football coach David Mitchell said coaches shouldn’t rely on profanity to get their message across. They are supposed to be shaping the lives of the student-athletes.
Profanity is “going to happen. That’s just the nature of the game. But you have to have control over it,” Strawberry Crest football coach Todd Donohoe said. “You’ve got coaches that are slinging that (language) left and right, and they aren’t the role models for what we want these kids to turn in to.
“I’ve been around long enough to know how difficult it is, believe me. But you’ve got to be able to look in a mirror and ask yourself, ‘Is that the direction I want to lead my team?'”