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Insights and Observations


Henry's Highlights
Thursday, October 16, 2003

By Henry Hinton
Broadcaster & Owner of Greenville Cable 7

West Point joins college athletics sleaze-fest


The way university administrators have gone about things the past few years have made me wonder if we have totally crossed the line in college athletics. Power, money and a total lack of sportsmanship on and off the field seem to be the rule of the day.

Army’s decision to fire Todd Berry in mid-season, however, takes the cake.

Have we now progressed to the point where the United States Military Academy thinks that wins are the ONLY thing? What happened to leadership, character-building and integrity? Better yet, didn’t Army's big brass just decide the program could not compete in Conference USA?

So, what was the breaking point? This past weekend’s 38-10 loss to Louisville? Maybe the decision to release Berry was made because the Pirates are coming to town. Perhaps Academy officials see this weekend’s ECU game as their best chance at a win since the 0-6 Pirates are playing like homecoming bait. (By the way, it really is homecoming at West Point).

Would firing the head coach play a role in motivating the troops? Better yet, can the administration take credit for the win if Army is able to beat ECU?

When the news came that Berry was fired on Monday, I could not help but to think back to his days at ECU. In the early nineties, Berry was the offensive coordinator here in Greenville. At that time, Berry was an extremely soft spoken, almost shy person.

Todd and I attended the same church, Oakmont Baptist, and it just so happened that I was in charge of the men’s group. Lining up speakers for our quarterly dinners had become a chore since I had already booked the ECU head coaches for previous engagements. I had even brought in the great Bones McKinney for one delightful evening but the options were getting thin. I needed a speaker.

The guys always enjoyed an inspirational message from someone, usually in the sports field. Since I was “connected” to athletics at ECU the pressure was on to produce another winning speech.

I went to Todd Berry, with whom I had often attended these events, and said, “Todd, it’s time for you to get some speaking experience.”

I got a look of fear from the young assistant coach and an admission that “I’ve never spoken in front of a group before. You’re going to have to look somewhere else. Ask Logan again. He’ll do it.”

Realizing that Steve Logan had spoken to the group less than a year ago and my options for free speakers in Greenville were very small I decided to put on my selling shoes.

“Look Todd”, I said. “You’re going to be a head coach one day soon and you need this experience. I really think you ought to look at this as an opportunity to practice a skill you’re going to need to be a head guy.”

“Alright,” said Berry in a still very reluctant tone. “I’ll do it, I guess."

And he did. While it was obvious that it was his first time, he did a very nice job in delivering an inspirational message which was obviously from his heart. Todd Berry’s character has never been in question.

I could not help but think about that speech at Oakmont Baptist Church several years later when Todd Berry met the league media for the first time at the annual C-USA Media Day five years ago in Memphis. Berry was coming off a successful run at I-AA Illinois State and had just been named the new man to follow Bob Sutton at West Point.

His confidence and demeanor were light years away from his first public speaking attempt. In fact, the joke around the media guys was that we might even have another Rick Minter on our hands. Minter, the Cincinnati head coach, is known for giving very long answers when being interviewed.

Last summer at that very same media event in Memphis I took a stroll along Beale Street with Todd Berry. He had totally injected himself into the Army experience and shared with me that he felt he could not connect with his players unless he was willing to endure some of the things they had to do at the academy.

Berry had brought the spread offense to West Point that had succeeded at ECU and Illinois State. By that time last summer there were lots of whispers that it was a huge mistake and only the option running game employed by Air Force and Army in years prior gave service academies the chance to be competitive.

Berry disagreed. In spite of a tough start he felt he was getting the right guys in place to make his strategy work.

Unfortunately, it never did.

What is so confusing about Berry’s dismissal in mid-season in this particular year is the fact that just months earlier Army announced its intentions to leave C-USA. It had become painfully apparent that the school's storied football program is in over its heads and needed to get back to scheduling some of the smaller schools in the northeast in order to improve the odds of a winning season.

Todd Berry’s dismissal in mid-season is disappointing at best. Blaming him for an 0-6 start on the heels of an admission that the competition is too stiff does not seem in sync with the academy’s mission, particularly when you are talking about a guy with Berry’s character.

I actually had a thought today. Could Vince Lombardi win in this situation?

Sometimes it isn’t the coach. Army’s mid-season dismissal of Todd Berry is shameful.

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02/23/2007 10:12:15 AM


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