Sports editor Mark Heller: Another unofficial declaration was made Monday: Only winning matters. What better explanation is there for Basha principal Ken James shipping out Tim McBurney and hiring Bernie Busken?
Another unofficial declaration was made Monday: Only winning matters.
What better explanation is there for Basha principal Ken James shipping out Tim McBurney and hiring Bernie Busken?
Character? McBurney was a little old school, gruff at times, and had clear philosophical differences with James, which played a significant role in his departure. Yet nobody — not even his detractors — ever accused him of not having a soul or caring about his kids on and off the field.
Academics? McBurney had several kids to go Ivy League and military academy schools and hundreds of others who went on to two- and four-year schools (football and otherwise). He gushed about them regularly.
A 45-24 record with five consecutive playoff appearances — including the state semifinals in 2006 and a play or two away from another in 2009 — apparently wasn’t good enough. Nowhere near good enough since the Bears brought Busken back to the East Valley along with his three state championships, welldocumented player abuse allegations and eventual firing at Mountain View in the late 1990s.
Before and after Mountain View, controversy followed. He allegedly threw a helmet at a player when he was at Brazoswood (Texas) in the early 1990s. He was accused of abuse by two Southern Utah football players as an assistant in 2002 (those allegations were eventually dismissed by the school). Ponca City (Oklahoma) hired him in January 2004, then he resigned two days later when they found out what happened Mountain View.
In the case of Ponca City, that’s the administration’s fault for not doing its homework, which is exactly where the hammer will fall this time if James’ bigsplash move sinks. James said all the right things. He talked about all the people the hiring committee spoke with: former players, coaches, parents and administrators. He knows the backlash will never leave. He pledged to be Busken’s “shadow” and “under the microscope.”
Talk is cheap.
What happens when a kid makes a few mistakes in practice? Or says something? Or it’s the fourth quarter in early November and the quarterback throws an interception? Or a lineman or defensive player misses an assignment and the Bears lose?
What will Busken do behind closed doors? Or in the weight room Saturday? Or Monday’s practice?
Most of us believe in second chances, and whether Busken should be allowed another coaching chance or not is more-than-fair fodder, but it won’t answer the two most troubling questions:
Of the dozens of qualified candidates who went after this job, why is the need to win a semifinal or even state championship worth more to the school than opening itself up to controversy, unmatched scrutiny, public relations backlash and every brand of (mostly negative) spectacle under the sun?
Not even his harshest critics could deny Busken’s Xs-and-Os acumen or ability to win, but why is Busken and the baggage he brings worth another “W”?
“I would say it’s a gamble because of the way people are going to respond and react, but I hope they realize I didn’t just wake up one day and say, ‘OK, I’ll hire Bernie Busken.’ ” James said. “That’s not how this worked.
“There were lots of conversations with lots of people. Otherwise I wouldn’t have hired him.”
We strong pessimists can still be proven wrong by Busken — James and his reputation are counting on it — but until then it’s Exhibit X that high school football has become the BCS and NFL Lite, where the most important life lesson taught to teenage kids is winning comes first, second and third.