Commentary

Pitt makes business decision in firing

Updated: January 4, 2011, 2:47 PM ET
By Jemele Hill | ESPN.com

Let's not go overboard in characterizing the University of Pittsburgh as magnanimous for firing Mike Haywood 16 days after hiring him because of a domestic violence arrest.

On New Year's Eve, Haywood was arrested for felony domestic violence in the presence of a minor after allegedly grabbing the arm and neck of the mother of his child. He was released on $1,000 cash bond, but Pittsburgh acted quickly and terminated Haywood on the first day of 2011.

[+] EnlargeMichael Haywood
AP Photo/Keith SrakocicThree weeks ago, Michael Haywood was the new face of Pittsburgh athletics. Now he's another unemployed football coach.

I don't doubt there were ethical reasons for dismissing Haywood, but make no mistake, Pittsburgh made a business decision.

And, it was the right choice.

Our justice system says we're all innocent until proven guilty. Haywood deserves an opportunity to explain his version of what happened.

He just shouldn't be the coach of Pittsburgh.

Pittsburgh isn't a court of law and the school wasn't under any obligation to do anything other than what was best for its football program.

Colleges try to sell us on the myth that athletic departments are pure and uncorrupted homes to competition and school spirit, but most are corporations masquerading as institutions of higher learning.

And retaining Haywood would have been bad for Pittsburgh's corporation. Boosters and alumni likely would have had second thoughts about writing checks to a program that's headed by a coach who has been accused of abusing a woman.

Even if Haywood is eventually exonerated, coaches competing against Pittsburgh for players might have casually mentioned Haywood's legal trouble during the recruiting process.

And if you're the mother of a recruit, wouldn't you wonder privately if it was wise to send your son to play for a man that's been accused of battery?

If recruiting and fundraising are compromised, it doesn't make any sense to keep Haywood employed. A college football coach not only institutes a game plan and develops a winning system, but represents the program before its most important shareholders -- television partners, boosters, the media and fans.

[+] EnlargePittsburg mascot
Andy Lyons/Getty ImagesIt's been a chilly end to the year for Pittsburgh, which would rather have attention focused on its mascot and The Varsity Walk than a coach with legal problems.

I hate to say this, but Haywood still might have his job at Pitt if he had would have been arrested for a DUI, instead of domestic violence. Alcohol abuse is considered a disease. Bob Huggins, for example, was given another chance after DUI arrest in Cinncinnati. A lot of people have sympathy for alcohol abusers because alcoholism is considered a disease.

I'm also curious whether Pittsburgh would have ousted Haywood so quickly if he were leading the Panthers to a BCS bowl. What would the school have done if Haywood's track record was more impressive, more than just three seasons as a Division I head coach and a 1-11 record during his first season with Miami of Ohio?

What's amazing is that Haywood, despite professing in his opening press conference as Pitt's coach that he was all about accountability, is seemingly unaware that in taking the job he accepted being held to higher standard.

Haywood told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review that his firing "isn't fair," as if he's the first coach who lost his job because of personal conduct.

Current University of Central Florida coach George O' Leary was fired by Notre Dame five days after being hired because the university learned he lied on his resume, which makes Haywood's tenure at Pittsburgh look positively Paterno-esque.

If Haywood were a student-athlete or even a professional coach, there might be room for the team to wait to see how Haywood's legal situation unfolds. A college kid isn't expected to have the same moral compass and sense of responsibility as someone in Haywood's position (and schools often rationalize away potential stars' legal improprieties as "teaching moments" with suspensions timed to least hurt the team). And an NFL coach doesn't have to schmooze and network with boosters -- just win games, reach the playoffs and compete for a title -- so there isn't the same emphasis on personal appeal.

Considering the Pittsburgh faithful wasn't completely on board with Haywood's hire in the first place, Haywood's domestic violence arrest gave chancellor Mark A. Nordenberg and athletic director Steve Pederson a do-over.

In a world driven by justice, Pittsburgh could have been more patient. But the Panthers had to move quickly to limit the damage caused by Haywood's arrest. In corporate America, a company can only be loyal to itself.

Jemele Hill can be reached at jemeleespn@gmail.com.

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