What follows is the text of the letter I sent to Athletic Director Greg Byrne. I have only edited out my personal contact information. I am by no means anonymous, but let’s not make it too easy, eh?
Dear Mr. Byrne,
Let me begin by first telling you that the Alabama community absolutely understands the impossible situation in which you have been placed. In athletics, as with many professions, new management is very often saddled with underperforming personnel, administrators, coaches, and programs for which they had no input and bear little love. Nevertheless, as professionals, we forge ahead, mindful of that fact that our personal feelings on an antecedent hire still affects scores of people’s livelihoods, and, in your case, the well-being of young adults, their educations, and their families. Few competent professionals in the public sector want to make their initial impact felt by cleaning house or making a highly-publicized firing. Yours is a risk-averse profession in a field where too many irrational, mercurial voices urge you to imprudence.
Keeping those things in mind, Alabama baseball coach Greg Goff must be terminated, and he must be terminated immediately.
I say this not as fan of the program or the sport, although I am that. I say that as an alum, a father of a college student, a Tuscaloosan, and as someone who loves the University — every blade of grass, every brick — more than almost anything on this earth. And, I say this as someone with a louder voice than most.
In his short tenure, Coach Goff has managed to take a competent-but-underperforming baseball program and reduce it to cinders. The ashes come not just from the execrable product he has put on the field, but from the bridges that he has burned, interpersonally and professionally, in less than a year.
Bear in mind, I speak only from first-hand experience: I am not merely repeating innuendo, nor engaging in vicious rumor-mongering:
He has managed to alienate first-round caliber draft picks; he has lost the faith (and allegiance) of several committed recruits with his caustic personality and inflexibility. I have heard from high school coaches in this state where he has damaged the ability of Alabama to recruit, including one memorable instance where he and his staff have been labeled persona non grata and shall be told they are no longer welcome should the occasion arise.
He has shorted alums of the programs, seeming to go out of the way to ignore or actively offend those who would be program ambassadors. He not integrated himself into the university community (and has made no attempt to do so.) There is never a question, even in other non-revenue sports, that the coaches see themselves as an integral part of the university and athletic community — they are, to use a Catholic analogy, known by their works.
And, it is Goff’s works that trouble me profoundly.
Pick a coach at random, any one of them: Coach Avery Johnson, Coach Jay Sewell, Coach Dana Duckworth, Coach Nick Saban, and listen to their words, watch their deeds. They see themselves rightly as important mentors and parental surrogates to their student-athletes.
In addition to honing athletic acumen, that mentorship has civic and moral dimensions. Part of that mentorship is valuing and encouraging the educational development of their charges. Go back to any Greg Goff interview over the past 11 months and see if you can find one holistic mention of these student-athletes as more than players; as persons, as students, as growing professionals. You won’t.
You will, however, find countless instances — most of which have been televised, where this man has been nothing less than a petit tyrant; worse, has been a tyrant with poor judgment.
It is a pattern and practice of very loudly denigrating, cursing at, and otherwise exploding towards teenagers, even when they succeed. Not one person on this team deserves the personal insults hurled at them from a profane supposed-adult. Embarrassingly for the University, and in what surely must be a first, he directed a profane tirade at SEC officials after a game sufficient to earn a suspension for the following game. In any competitive venture, tempers flare and harsh words are spoken. I know that. But when they are the corpus of your persona they reflect not just poorly upon yourself, but upon everyone associated with the program.
It is the random team meetings following a loss where he threatens scholarships because “they are messing with his money.” It is the team meetings demanding what amounts to a loyalty oath.
It is withholding, mislaying, or misappropriating meager travel per diem for reasons known only to Goff. I, among others, would be very curious to see an accurate accounting of the program revenue.
It is the cutting corners, mislaying, withholding or misappropriating equipment for the team, such that bats must be shared and other apparel or equipment becomes a scarcity, when it even appears. Why? We simply do not know.
It is imposing travel hardships upon students based upon his preferences, fears, or a wish to horde cold, hard cash. Why? We simply do not know.
It is the plummeting fan attendance and season ticket sales. It is not that Alabama fans are not interested in baseball; to the contrary, we want a program to believe in and to cheer for. At the same time, we have voted with our wallets and our attendance: it is a cast-ballot that shall grow louder as we stay away in droves and revenue becomes increasingly scarce.
It is not heeding the growing bodies in which he has charge over: it is the exorbitant pitch counts on 18- and 19-year old kids (and 100+ pitch bullpen “warmups); it is ignoring their voices as to what they physically can and cannot do. Injuries can and do happen; so too can they be mitigated. He has failed to do the latter, and that represents significant potential liability to the University. Why has he done so? A divining rod would be of equal use as his press conferences.
It is micromanaging students’ existence with petty rules to the point where their development as kids is ignored, their relationships suffer, and they become little more than homunculi dancing upon the string of a weak man.
It is the association with NCAA rules violations, particularly with respect to ensuring academic eligibility of junior college transfers. There was a pending NCAA case against Campbell University when he was hired. As a result of that investigation, last August the Committee on Infractions vacated all wins Goff’s baseball program accrued between 2010-2014. Alabama, needless to say, is one of the most scrutinized athletics programs in the country, and is a repeated monitored for missteps, real or perceived. Knowing that, how this man, who already did not have the coaching pedigree for an SEC program, was allowed to have a job at Alabama (of all places) being associated with a program with pending NCAA violations is simply mind-blowing. Moreover, how this has not triggered a for-cause termination is staggering.
Last, and perhaps worst, it is the constant threat of revoking scholarships (or actually doing so soon) based upon performance or caprice in favor of, and because of, overcommitment to recruits and junior college prospects — “his guys”: A practice as flatly prohibited as it is morally repugnant. Bearing that, keep an eye on the program over the coming days. See how many dread “violations of team rules” you see come down the pipe, and how many of these will be Mitch Gaspard recruits, despite there being no documented academic or misconduct suspensions preceding them — players like Chandler Taylor, Jake Walters, Chandler Avant. None of these students will go on record as yet. They hold out hope, perhaps vainly, that this man will do the right thing.
So, too, should you keep that in mind when people in the program or administrators who had an input on this hire, try and sell you the “we’re close” mantra. I need hardly tell you that releasing five-of-six scholarship performers, including an all-SEC player, would hardly show a commitment to winning those games. It would be a purge. And this purge would arise because Goff, in his small-minded insecurity, would be selling one set of prospects a bill of goods, while simultaneously destroying the educational opportunities of persons who have made this institution their home — those players who just so happen to both be the best performers and ones that preceded his arrival. For someone who has displayed so little concern for education and the well-being of student-athletes, that he would impose that hardship and disruption upon they and their family should hardly come as a surprise.
None of these are tough love; they are not coaching: they are part of a campaign of terror. Worse, in an era where the zeitgeist increasingly favors a balancing of student-program obligations and rights, it is a throwback to a darker time where student-athletes were little more than pawns for abusive, duplicitous adults who wish to win at any cost. These are not the values that anyone in the University should celebrate, foster, or compensate.
Keep an eye on the program; keep an ear to the ground; keep your office open — people want to speak about these and many more issues, and will do so if invited.
Your phone, in-box, and in-tray will be undoubtedly crammed over the coming days and weeks as you evaluate the state of the baseball program with correspondence from boosters, ticket holders, students and other stakeholders in and around the program. That correspondence will surely address the whyfors of how Goff is not a suitable coach. Incidentally, they will mostly be correct — he is simply not a good enough game manager, developmental coach, or recruiter to have a job in the nation’s premiere baseball conference.
The mere fact that he is not a good coach is not enough, however. It is that he is not a role model, a mentor, an ambassador for Alabama or the sport. I would not send my child to Alabama to participate in this program, and that is about the damning indictment I can make.
The University of Alabama can handle the losses; we’ve gotten through bad times before. But, what the program cannot survive is the destruction of goodwill in the baseball community, the exposure to liability he represents, the damage to recruiting pipelines, the alienation of alumni, the loss of donations from boosters, the support of students, and the hard-earned money of fans. The program cannot survive season-after-season of a beautifully-renovated $42 million dollar facility that has become little more than a mausoleum, a sad-but-hopeful monument to what could be. In short, what the program cannot survive is the loss of its credibility, credibility I fear that is already evaporating.
Again, you bear no fault for any of these things, Mr. Byrne. A change was required in the baseball program. However, Coach Battle was dealing with his own issues and likely (and understandably) had one foot out the door to a well-earned retirement after faithfully serving the University. To that, he also received terrible counsel from those within the administration: no “baseball person” had Goff on their radar for this job, for a reason. So, we do not personally fault him either: thus it is as ever the king’s court, and not the king.
However, the baseball program does now become your responsibility.
There is not a single contingent of Alabama fans, students, alums, boosters and if polled, even players, that will fault you for making the hard decision that you must. In fact, you will earn inestimable goodwill by doing so and by then carefully, patiently making an appropriate hire, one that should have been made a year ago. Your reputation as an aggressive, savvy athletic director precedes you. We hope to see that reputation borne out in the coming days.
I thank you in advance for your time and consideration, and am available to speak with you should you wish. Please know that the criticisms I lay come not from malice but from love for my alma mater and my concern for these students, who -- like you -- have done nothing to earn their present lot.
Very truly yours,
Erik Evans, ‘98, ‘00