Offseason incidents cast long shadow on Oregon
By STEVEN DUBOIS
PORTLAND, Ore. — The football season began with Oregon getting noticed for the wrong reasons. It ended with a Pac-10 title and a trip to the Rose Bowl. The offseason is stirring up troubled times once again.
A string of arrests and allegations involving Ducks players started a month ago, raising questions of whether the team is out of control or merely dealing with a cluster of coincidences. Either way, the steady supply of crime news is overshadowing what the team accomplished on the field.
The misconduct has also put a spotlight on coach Chip Kelly, who has been at the helm during an unusual series of highs and lows during his 11 months on the job.
"Do I go to bed at night thinking 105 players are going to do the right thing?" Kelly recently said. "No. I worry every single time the phone rings."
The phone started ringing weeks after Oregon returned from its 26-17 loss to Ohio State in Pasadena, the team's first Rose Bowl appearance in 15 seasons and second since 1958. There have been four arrests, four players kicked off the team, one player suspended for the 2010 season and two Heisman Trophy campaigns potentially destroyed.
The criticism faced by Kelly has come not only from fans and media wondering whether he has control over the program he took over last March, but also whether he has employed a double standard in dealing with players.
Walk-on defensive end Matt Simms, for example, was quickly booted from the team following an accusation of misdemeanor assault while record-breaking tailback LaMichael James remains despite an allegation he choked his girlfriend during an argument.
Kelly said there is no double standard because no two situations are the same. In some cases he has enough facts to make a speedy decision. Other times, he does not.
As an example, Kelly pointed to his first game as coach, when running back LeGarrette Blount punched a Boise State player in the aftermath of a defeat. The coach wasted no time suspending Blount for the season, though he later shortened the punishment to eight games.
"There was a swiftness involved in the LeGarrette Blount situation because I was there, I had the video footage, I met with LeGarrette the next morning, we talked over the entire situation and I knew what transpired," he said.
Oregon recovered from the Blount saga to win 10 of 11 games, and Kelly earned much praise for rallying his team from the opening-night debacle.
The offseason problems began Jan. 24, when kicker Rob Beard was battered unconscious during a street fight. Beard was later cited for investigation of misdemeanor assault, with police saying he was in an altercation that precipitated the brawl. A second kicker in the fight, Mike Bowlin, was dismissed from the team, but not arrested.
That same day, University of Oregon student Max Wolfard told The Oregonian newspaper he filed a police report alleging that star quarterback Jeremiah Masoli, an alum of Saint Louis School in Honolulu, and reserve receiver Garrett Embry stole two computers and a guitar from the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity house.
Neither player has been charged. Police, meanwhile, have not made the report public, so it's impossible to verify whether either player has been accused. The Lane County District Attorney's office said it's assisting the theft investigation, but noted the grand jury process is secret.
Wolfard has been mum since his initial statement and did not respond to a request for an interview. His mother, Kathryn Wolfard of Portland, said her son is sure of what he saw: "Anyone who knows my son knows he's completely honest and doesn't exaggerate."
Kelly dropped Embry from the team for what he described as a violation of a team rule that had nothing to do with the theft investigation.
The next incident involved Simms, charged with misdemeanor assault after allegedly retaliating against someone he thought was involved in Beard's beating.
James was arrested last week after his girlfriend told police he grabbed her neck during an argument and threw her to the ground. He pleaded not guilty to domestic violence charges.
Linebacker Kiko Alonso was arrested Feb. 20 on suspicion of driving under the influence of intoxicants and Kelly quickly suspended him for the season. Receiver Jamere Holland, who wrote an expletive-filled Facebook post about the Alonso situation, was dropped from the team last Sunday.
It's all a bit much for a school not used to seeing its team caught up in the type of off-the-field trouble seen elsewhere in the nation. The sports staff of the Oregon Daily Emerald campus newspaper teamed to write an editorial, urging all athletes to act responsibly.
It read in part: "You have a great opportunity to earn a degree and play sports; don't waste it by making poor decisions. It will personally make your life harder and it will tarnish the reputation of this great institution."
University president Richard Lariviere, meanwhile, said the arrests are "simply unacceptable," but still believes in Kelly and athletic director Mike Bellotti.
"I have every confidence that they will restore the UO athletic program's long and proud tradition of sportsmanship and integrity," Lariviere said. "Our loyal fans and alumni expect no less and neither do I."
Michigan State: Three more players have pleaded guilty to misdemeanor assault charges stemming from a Nov. 22 fight on campus with fraternity members.
Defensive tackle Oren Wilson pleaded guilty Thursday to two counts of assault and battery. Defensive back Chris L. Rucker and receiver Myles White each pleaded guilty to one count.
All 11 current or former Michigan State players charged in the case have pleaded guilty and await sentencing.