Making sense of Mike MacIntyre’s misstep

Nov 23, 2013; Boulder, CO, USA; Colorado Buffaloes head coach Mike Macintyre during the game against the Southern California Trojans at Folsom Field. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

It’s too easy.

Too easy to point the finger. Too easy to stand atop a soapbox of righteousness. Too easy, in retrospect, to say what Mike MacIntyre, the head football coach at the University of Colorado, should have done.

If you’re not sure what I’m talking about, stop, and read Michael McKnight’s recent article. That’s not an endorsement of the article, but the background is imperative.

If you are familiar with the topic I’m about to discuss, chances are, you’ve already formed an opinion. That’s okay, here’s mine:

In retrospect, we all know what Mike MacIntyre should have done. Even CU chancellor Phil DiStefano, who penned a response to McKnight’s Sports Illustrated article, said what MacIntyre – and many around him – should have done. These aren’t Chancellor DiStefano’s words, and it might even be a stretch to say that I’m paraphrasing, but here’s what everyone would suggest to MacIntyre now: If you’re privy to confidential information about possible domestic violence between two people, tell anyone and everyone immediately – there is no room for gray area, interpretation, delay, judgement or precaution.

That’s what we’d all say now. Had MacIntyre done that, had the university come out publically – immediately – and said, “We know about this and we’re doing everything possible to help everyone involved,” then the school and the program likely walk away from this unscathed.

But that’s too easy.

Put yourself in MacIntyre’s shoes. Change the names and the situation if it helps.

A friend who is a co-worker (heck, he can be your employee if you’d like) has a girlfriend, and she confides in you. She says her boyfriend is abusing her. But here’s the catch: She also says she wants to keep this relatively quiet. She says that she doesn’t want any harm to come to her boyfriend, doesn’t want him to lose his job and that she loves him and only wants him to get help.

What do you do?

Because of MacIntyre, we know what you’re supposed to do. But this is real life – your life – and you’re all of a sudden in the middle of a predicament.

This is your friend. You know him. You know her. Do you immediately confront him? Do you instantly go higher up the food chain – your boss, his boss, the law? Do you automatically believe her? Do you believe him after you’ve had the chance to talk? What if what your decision impacts his life, even if you don’t know for certain where the truth lies?

There’s no question – to you or anyone – that domestic violence is wrong, but all of a sudden, you’ve been asked to make decisions that could drastically impact lives. Hers. His. Possibly yours. Possibly others yet. And these cause and effect scenarios are taking place whether you do the right thing, the wrong thing or nothing at all. All of a sudden, you’re confidant, judge and jury all in one.

Tough spot, isn’t it?

In the wake of Joe Paterno and Penn State, we were told that the only thing a coach can’t do when he learns of wrongdoing, is do nothing. In that case, if all Paterno had done was notify someone – anyone – who might be able to help, he’d have been “more right.” Paterno didn’t do that. MacIntyre did what we all wanted Paterno to do – he told someone higher up than him – Rick George. That’s not what Tumpkin’s girlfriend wanted, but that’s what MacIntyre did.

And what if you’re Rick George? What if you’re the University of Colorado in general? Is your first instinct to go to the authorities without possessing all the details or knowledge?

Perhaps it should be, but remember, the last time that happened to CU, everyone there was left in a smoldering mess. Boulder Country district attorney Mary Keenan basically stood atop the Flatirons and screamed about the injustices and improprieties within the school’s football team, but when attorney general Ken Salazer ultimately dropped the charges some four years later, it was too late. The damage had already been done.

Should MacIntyre or George have immediately assumed the worst and acted on it? After all, the two of them have done their best to rebuild the program that Keenan practically burned down. Should it have been their instinct to simply turn over this information without at least carefully considering it first?

Policy and the rearview mirror suggest that maybe they should have. But reality – and history specific to the University of Colorado – suggest that it’s not that simple.

It took Tumpkin’s accuser nearly two years to come forward. And thank God she did. By comparison, it took George just over a month to act – first putting Tumpkin on leave and then ultimately firing him 21 days later. Perhaps that’s not “fast” – or maybe just not “fast enough.” On the flip side, gathering information and letting go of someone who’s in the wrong over a 49 day period doesn’t seem unreasonable either.

Could MacIntyre and George have handled this situation differently? Better? More appropriately? Probably, but that’s just too easy to conclude when you’re not in their shoes.

We can agree that what Joe Tumpkin is accused of doing is horrific. That’s indisputable.

But by responding to an unsolicited message, Mike MacIntyre was suddenly thrust between a rock and a hard place. That’s a spot where nobody wants to be. It’s difficult to emerge unscathed from that spot, no matter what happens from there. That spot contains very little black and white, right or wrong. From that spot, it’s difficult to do the right thing according to everyone.

In general, from my own personal experiences (which, by the way, have no immediate relevance to this matter) and the experiences of those I know who know him even better, my belief is that MacInyre is a good human being. Like the rest of us, he’s probably not perfect, but my opinion is that he’s by and large “good.”

That doesn’t mean that MacIntyre, or even George, are entirely in the right. They made mistakes to be sure. But they’re certainly not entirely in the wrong, either.

In hindsight, it’s easy to judge – too easy. So be careful and cautious in doing so.

Editor’s Note: Many readers have responded saying that Tumpkin never should have been promoted to interim defensive coordinator for the Alamo Bowl (following Jim Leavitt’s departure). Per CU, Tumpkin was made the defensive playcaller but never officially received a promotion in title or other form of compensation.

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