Eighteen months into his tenure, West Virginia football coach Neal Brown is facing his first crisis. It’s not hyperbole to say how he handles it could affect the rest of his career at WVU.
Vic Koenning, Brown’s defensive coordinator at West Virginia, has become the center of an accusation firestorm generated by West Virginia safety Kerry Martin, Jr. In a lengthy social media post on Tuesday, the sophomore accused Koenning of a myriad of abusive behavior directed at Martin and other players. In response to the allegations and ensuring media uproar, WVU athletic director Shane Lyons announced Koenning has been placed on administrative leave pending an investigation of Martin’s accusations.
That’s not enough. Brown needs to fire Koenning.
This is the moral case for firing Koenning. Here is the football case.
Martin’s post outlines multiple instances that, on their own, are each dismissible offenses. Taken in totality, there is no ethical justification for Koenning to return to the program.
Martin said Koenning called him “retarded” for using poor technique during a practice
This is completely unacceptable. It’s 2020. It shouldn’t have been acceptable in the 60s or 70s. Sorry, not sorry, you just can’t describe a subordinate in the 21st century without repercussions. And that’s what the relationship is between Koenning and Martin – supervisor and subordinate. Martin said it made him uncomfortable particularly because Martin said he has family members who have dealt with mental illness.
West Virginia University football is a multi-million dollar corporation. Yes, football practice is a different atmosphere and culture than a bank. Some things are acceptable to be said on a football practice field that are not in bank office. Some thing are acceptable in neither. Calling a subordinate “retarded” is clearly the latter.
Martin said Koenning repeatedly attempted to proselytize Martin and former WVU defensive back Derrek Pitts
“Coach Vic has antagonized Derrek Pitts for believing in something that he didn’t believe,” Martin wrote. “He would make remarks about the Bible and talk about religion in front of Derrek, making him want to question the things he believed.”
Martin said he converted his religion and that Koenning would consistently to talk to him about Christianity.
West Virginia University is a public institution. Not only is a WVU employee proselytizing to his students while working unethical, it’s unconstitutional.
But that’s not the worst of it. What makes this offense so egregious is Koenning’s role as a superior and the player’s (in this case Pitts and Martin) role as subordinate. It’s not an exaggeration to say that Koenning controls the lives of his players. He controls their playing time and, as such, possibly their potential future as professional football players. A coach pushing his religion tells a player, if not explicitly then implicitly, that adopting the coach’s religion will make the coach like him more and thus could/will result in more playing time. It also implies the opposite, that if the player doesn’t openly accept the coach’s religious beliefs then his time of the field could/will shrink.
Koenning might argue that he would never dictate playing time based on a player sharing his religious beliefs. That might be true. It might not. It doesn’t matter. Just the possibility that it could be true is all the reason that this is completely unacceptable.
Many fans, usually white, will immediately react to these kind of accusations by siding with the coach. They automatically assume the player is either lying or soft or both. They give the coach every benefit of the doubt. Koenning did release a statement that didn’t deny or refute Martin’s claims. This isn’t about the fans. It’s about the players. It’s about the program. It’s about what’s right.
Brown must fire Koenning.