As I’ve often mentioned, in amateur football at the high school or college level, a decisive question has tended to be: How much risk of scandal is the coach willing to take on in terms of recruiting? Schools tend to make it to the top by paying recruits and/or recruiting scary dimwits. Then they get caught in scandals and sink back down.
For example, when I was at Rice U. in the late 1970s, one of the few Southwest Conference teams we could compete with was SMU. The most fun game of Rice’s 3-8 1976 season was a 41-34 victory over 3-8 SMU. I was pleased that SMU’s four-year starter at quarterback, Ricky Wesson, a 163-pound wishbone quarterback, had his best performance in his final college game later that season against formidable Arkansas by first throwing a career-high four touchdown passes. Then, when Arkansas was marching down field to win the game in the final minutes, Wesson went in at defensive back and saved his offensive victory by intercepting a pass in the end zone.
I see from Wesson’s Wikipedia page that he then worked 30 years at the U.S. Postal Service.
Then all of a sudden, SMU became a national championship contender in the early 1980s by SMU’s J.R. Ewing–like coach Ron Meyer recruiting running backs Eric Dickerson and Craig James, neither of whom subsequently worked for the Post Office.
in 1987 SMU was given the first ever NCAA “death penalty.” In fact, everybody except Rice was penalized for various scandals and the once formidable Southwest Conference evaporated.
The college national champion the last two seasons has been the U. of Georgia. This season, it went undefeated through the regular season and was ranked #1. But today it lost to #8 Alabama in the SEC championship game. But it still has a good chance of being one of the four “best” teams selected for the semifinals.
Still, Georgia’s stumble today means it seems more credible for me to mention that its recent ascension was in part due to coach Kirby Smart (2023 salary over $10 million) pushing the envelope in terms of risk. Not surprisingly, Smart employs a fixer to cover up player scandals named, with an excess of Ts, Bryant Gantt, just as the Dallas Cowboys of the NFL employ a fixer named David Wells. From Defector:
8:59 AM EDT on June 30, 2023
By Diana Moskovitz
Followers of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s recent reporting on Georgia football know one name all too well: Bryant Gantt. According to Georgia’s website, his official title on coach Kirby Smart’s staff is ”director of player wellness,” though a cursory glance of his bio denotes some, shall we say, non-traditional skills for a member of a college football staff. Previously, according to his own official bio, Gantt worked for 19 years at a law firm in Athens as a legal assistant, investigator, and process server, and his duties include ”providing advice and counsel to student-athletes.” It seems he has been providing a lot of those services recently.
Let’s begin with an AJC story from Feb. 3 by reporter Alan Judd. It covered the night a fatal car crash killed football staff member Chandler LeCroy and player Kevin Willock. (The Ford Expedition driven by LeCroy had been racing another vehicle, driven by Jalen Carter, a standout defensive tackle since drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles.) As Judd reported, it was not a police officer who called the Athens police chief to tell him what had happened. It was Gantt. Judd’s report called Gantt ”an employee of Georgia’s football program who frequently intercedes when players run afoul of the law.” Everything you need to know about how Gantt’s job works is on display in the following dispatch conversation, first reported by the AJC:
“Bryant Gantt, who is on the coaching staff, is on his way out there,” [Athens-Clarke County Police Chief Jerry] Saulters said about 3:10 a.m. Jan. 15, less than half an hour after the crash. He told the dispatcher to let officers know Gantt was coming, “so they can talk with him and kind of tell him what’s going on.”
“And he does what, exactly?” the dispatcher asked.
“He takes care of all player relations stuff,” Saulters said. “He’ll be out so they can talk to him.”
A commenter commented:
It will always work in places like Athens, Gainesville, Ann Arbor, Columbus, State College, and basically any other major college town in America with a profitable and popular sports program. The “fixer” isn’t there to fix things with other willing participants and collaborators, i.e. fans who are also cops, judges, prosecutors, etc. He’s there to make sure the two supposedly antagonistic sides get on the same page and don’t do something that creates some kind of public record that the rest of us can later see; and also make sure nothing much happens that could later be used by the victims if/when a lawsuit gets filed. To that end, these fixers don’t need to be especially skilled or smart to hide wrongdoing the same way you might need someone to do that when there is an actual antagonistic investigation by the government or media, not one by an authority that’s already captive to the target. In a place like Athens, it’s just knowing every cop’s boss and everyone who works at the courthouse.