Saturday, May 1, 2010

Silver lining to Welsh arrest, but the storm clouds are back

The storm clouds hovering over the Flying Dutchmen basketball program aren't going away anytime soon.

One of the bleakest days in the history of Hofstra basketball could have been so much worse. Imagine if more than a career was badly wounded—or worse—in the early morning hours yesterday, when Tim Welsh was arrested for driving while intoxicated after a Nassau County police officer found him asleep at the wheel and stopped at a green light on Hempstead Turnpike.

Thank goodness nobody got hurt. Thank goodness fate intervened before Welsh—who pled not guilty Friday and has another court date scheduled for Tuesday—injured or killed himself and/or someone else. As silver linings go, it’s a pretty good one.

But it doesn’t change the fact that the storm clouds that gathered over Hofstra athletics in the months following the elimination of football and appeared to dissipate with Welsh’s hiring Apr. 1—oh sweet merciful irony—are now back, angrier and more foreboding than ever before. It doesn’t change the feeling of overwhelming sadness on an otherwise perfect spring day.

It’s sad that a man’s reputation is forever tarnished and very likely ruined. It’s sad that a terrible decision almost certainly destroyed what was a golden opportunity for Welsh, who was suspended indefinitely without pay on the 29th day of a five-year, $3 million contract.

The facts of the case are damning: Welsh didn’t take a sobriety test until two hours after he was found at 1 a.m., yet his blood alcohol level was still at 0.18 percent, more than twice the legal limit. All the lawyerly spin in the world isn’t going to spare him in a county known for its rigorous enforcement of drunk driving laws nor, I imagine, save his job at a university obsessed with image 24/7/365.

Any shred of hope Welsh had of keeping his job probably went out the window when Hofstra learned of his arrest from media reports, not Welsh or his attorney. That made a bad story even worse, and it’s not going to get any better anytime soon.

Imagine if Welsh is strolling the sidelines next season and the catcalls he’ll hear from opposing fans or the snarky cracks he’ll hear at home after a poorly run play. Envision the MADD demonstrations that will take place in front of the Arena and all the feature stories that will be written about Welsh’s recovery. All of this is bad publicity Hofstra does not need.

It’s sad that Welsh’s words during our interview Wednesday proved to be so stunningly prophetic and how the coach who preached how careful his players had to be living under the microscope ended up being the one exposed.

"…you want to make sure your players understand, on a daily basis, that they have a bigger job than just a normal student, because they’re representing the college, they’re representing the basketball program, they’re representing their family. The media scrutiny now, with the Internet and everything else out there, is tenfold beyond what it used to be. You just look at the Ben Roethlisberger situation.

"…Basically put it on them that you’ve got a lot to be responsible for, but the main thing is how embarrassing it is to your family. You get your players [to think about] your mother and father—what would they think if they picked up the paper and saw you in handcuffs? How devastating would that be?"

The domino effect is far-reaching and heartbreaking, as well: What about the assistant coaches who hadn’t even officially begun to work for Welsh? What about Jack Hayes, who only a month ago seemed to have made the home run hire of his administration?

Most importantly, what about the players, who will very likely endure a third coaching change in a five-week span? For whom do you feel worse—Charles Jenkins, one of the finest players in Hofstra history, and fellow seniors Nathaniel Lester and Greg Washington, all of whom are staring at a decidedly unpleasant and anticlimactic final season, or last season’s freshmen, whose heads have got to be spinning in a million different directions? Or how about transfers Brad Kelleher and Mike Moore, who may be playing for a third coach before they even play their first second for the Flying Dutchmen?

It wasn’t a good day to be a fan, either. If Welsh loses his job, the effects of his arrest will be felt for years. It’s certainly hard to envision Hofstra generating much of a recruiting class for next fall. And for a program that struggles to draw fans even in the best of times, a nosedive of a season could be catastrophic well into the future. What kind of effect will a faceplant have on Hofstra’s hopes of finding a new conference? And what kind of effect would an empty Arena have on the University’s long-term plans for the program?

The first day of April was one of celebration, of looking ahead and moving on after a tumultuous four months. The last one was the true April Fools Day, a reminder that while there was a silver lining for which to be thankful, the cloudy days for Hofstra athletics and its men’s basketball program in particular are only just beginning.

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1 comment:

VCU Pavarotti said...

The funny thing is, yall will hire two good coaches in less time than it took UNCW to interview one decent one.