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HUTTON: Valparaiso must find right coach this time

HuttMichael 2004  Post-Tribune sportswriter Michael Hutton

Hutton, Michael 2004 Post-Tribune sportswriter Michael Hutton

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Coming Monday

Mike Hutton analyzes the type of coach that would be the best fit for VU.

Updated: December 18, 2013 6:55AM



VALPARAISO — This is how to fire a football coach quietly, with as little notoriety as possible.

On a Sunday afternoon, during the din of a basketball game, after the team he coached lost to Butler by 60 points. The week before, the Crusaders had lost to San Diego by 44.

There was no e-mail to media.

There was no formal announcement.

There was just a four paragraph release on the Valparaiso University website, thanking Dale Carlson for his effort. A quote from Mark LaBarbera, the athletic director, said the “on the field results have not met the expectations of the university.”

Carlson was 3-40 in four seasons as the VU head coach. That’s all Carlson got — a 171-word going-away post on the VU website. There wasn’t much to say. That amounts to 57 words per victory. Please be gone, and use the back door.

Carlson, unintentionally, has turned into a sympathetic figure for the larger issue troubling the program. This goes way beyond his abilities and skills as a football coach.

A good man, and coach in the right set of circumstances, he was put in an awful situation by the administration. This was an institutional failure. He was allowed to twist in the wind for at least 11 games too long and then asked to exit via the back door.

The Crusaders lost their last game of the 2012 season 76-24 to Morehead State, a 3-5 team last year. They shouldn’t lose by 52 points to MSU and with just two wins in three seasons, the period should’ve been put on the end of the sentence then.

Carlson never should’ve been the guy from the beginning, yet he was the guy who coached the VU football team for 43 games. His hiring was a mistake. He didn’t understand the nuances of coaching at a Division I non-scholarship university. He never found the right mix of student/athletes that could excel at VU. He never endeared himself to the broad network of former players who were eager to help in anyway possible.

There was a total misread by the administration, by the people who do the poking and prodding and investigating, by the professionals who are entrusted to run the athletic department, on his qualifications for the job. Nowhere on the official release did it say, “Sorry, we screwed up.”

This means VU now has a credibility problem. The guys that were good, the players that helped create a competitive culture and even helped the team win championships, are skeptical about the administration’s motives. They don’t know if the administration doesn’t care, is incompetent or just made a mistake. They’re all taking a deep breath and hoping for the latter.

The state of the program is a deep source of heartache for the former players. They are hemorrhaging brown and gold and they’d like some answers. It’s been a decade and two coaches since the Crusaders have excelled.

“This just stinks to see this happen,” Matt Kleczewski, an offensive linemen who played from 1996 to 1998, said. “I get calls. I get texts. It’s embarrassing. I think it’s easy to make him (Carlson) the scapegoat.”

Kyle Padgett, a four-year starter on the offensive line and a 2004 graduate who coaches football at Indianapolis Scecina, a Class 2A powerhouse, said he was never contacted about recruits during Carlson’s tenure.

“Amongst the alumni, the general feeling is that the school is not committed to winning,” he said.

There are layers of possibility that could help improve the program:

A new stadium or a renovated stadium.

New football offices.

Easing some of the academic restrictions for student aid for the players.

All of this is completely irrelevant if the school can’t find the right guy.

It won’t be easy but it’s possible.

Tom Horne finished 67-103-1 in 16 seasons as coach. His team won the Pioneer Football League the year before he quit.

He was a good coach who maximized the Crusaders’ potential after a rocky start. They were generally good and sometimes they were even champions. His charge from the top was to compete for championships every third or fourth year and be competitive in between. That daily goal hasn’t changed.

Finding that person is imperative for LaBarbera. This is a legacy-building moment for him. Basketball was conveniently taken care of for him by the Drews. The good thing for him is that he didn’t have to follow Carlson out the door.

Now, he has a second chance. He needs to get it right this time because there are plenty of people who have noticed.

And they don’t like where this program has been.

For those alumni, those guys who had the opportunity to be good, those memories are irreplaceable. And they feel responsible for getting it back.

“Some of the best days of our lives,” Padgett said.

He wants a future generation of Crusaders football players to be able to say the same thing some day.



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