Todd Graham answers the question that absolutely no one was asking.
What if there was a version of Urban Meyer that didn’t really win?
While Meyer himself answered that question in his NFL stint this past year, Graham, the University of Hawaii head football coach, gives us the NCAA response that we weren’t waiting for.
In a state senate hearing on Friday night regarding the state of the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors’ football program, the toxic culture that Graham has somehow managed to foster in just two seasons was laid bare by upset former players. After losing 19 players to the transfer portal, and getting called, among other things, “a tyrant” and “hands down the worst guy I’ve ever met in my life,” Graham’s boss, Hawaii athletic director David Matlin, decided it was time to go down swinging for this dude.
According to a report from The Athletic, Matlin listened to hours of player testimony about verbal abuse from Graham and mental health issues stemming from his behavior, the athletic director decided to tell the virtually gathered group of players, families, and state senators, “not everything that was said was true,” and then proceeded to complain about testimony being allowed at all. Former athletes and their families were baring their hearts, talking about how their love of football had diminished under Graham’s excessively poor treatment of his players that could really only be described as bullying, and Matlin wrote them off.
As I’ve waxed on about on this site time and time again, these “student-athletes” are already in a largely powerless position, so to take away their mere ability to openly share their experiences regarding a coach’s alleged verbal abuse and feel heard rather than have their issues brushed off is just a terrible move on the part of Matlin. He’s defending a coach who has gone 11-11, and while that’s certainly not to say that abusive behavior is acceptable in cases where a team is successful, it’s a bit of a mystery where Matlin’s motivation for this defense lies.
Graham’s buyout price, which the university has never even come close to paying in order to get a coach out, may play some part in this. But when asked, Matlin reportedly said that even if the school could afford the buyout, he wouldn’t go down that road. So while this was a public meeting with state senators going to bat for these athletes, you have no choice but to wonder how many of these cases have flown under the rug over the years as players try to report abusive behavior to higher-ups, only to be told that they’re lying, or that it will be fine, or to get no response at all.
For instance, Meyer’s true colors showed when Jaguars players publicly shared the type of coach he was, but the only reason it did was because he entered the pros. College players have far less power, no income, and are desperate for a shot at the NFL, which means getting playing time and staying on the coach’s good side. Even this hearing was made up of former players — probably the safer option for current players, as Matlin and Graham don’t seem to have any intention of making a major change for the program after hearing these testimonies.
In light of this, it makes it all the more frustrating when Kirk Herbstreit makes comments like last week’s, extending judgment to players who skip bowl games and saying that they don’t have the “love” for the game that they should, or when people complain that the transfer portal allows the players too much liberty. These are some of the few forms of liberty that they do have within the NCAA system, and with cases like this one, there’s no question in my mind that the athletes should be allowed to leave a Todd Graham situation without facing severe consequences.