College Football

Charlton Warren leaves Florida to pursue other options; players unable to do the same

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Florida’s former defensive backs coach Charlton Warren left the Gators for the Georgia Bulldogs on Saturday.

Gators fans are pretty upset, though not really because Warren is leaving. Instead, the anger seems to be centered around the timing, namely that the announcement of Warren’s departure coincides with 4-star recruit Kaiir Elam’s official visit. If nothing else, it drove my colleague to the bar after the announcement.

Elam is an important recruit for Dan Mullen this year. But this class already has Chris Steele, Jaydon Hill and Chester Kimbrough at defensive back joining incumbents Trey Dean, Amari Burney, Marco Wilson and C.J. Henderson among others.

There are places where depth is a concern for Florida, but DB isn’t really one of them.

No, Warren’s departure doesn’t bother me because of recruiting. It bothers me because of comments like this:

It’s one of those things where I think the culture has changed a little bit. I think there’s a certain pride people have in competition. There’s certain things that I was taught growing up about not quitting and seeing things through. I think if I would have come home and told my dad that I was going to quit the team, I think he would have kicked me out of the house.”– Nick Saban, Alabama head coach

That was a quote by Nick Saban following the transfer of QB Blake Barnett. But this has been a consistent theme in his interviews with the press. Earlier this season, he spoke of transfers turning college football into “free agency” and whether the SEC wants to facilitate that.

When Kelly Bryant decided to save his last year of eligibility by transferring after appearing in four games for Clemson, the criticism was pretty loud. Todd Blackledge accused him of being selfish on the telecast after Trevor Lawrence went down with an injury against Syracuse and Bryant wasn’t there to step in.

And while his teammates appeared to love him, they certainly weren’t in love with his decision.

 I personally don’t like it. I think that obviously when you start something, I don’t like having to worry about that. It seems like now Week 4 every year is going to be the trade deadline and everyone’s going to have to make decisions. So I don’t like that part of it. When you commit to a school, you commit to a team. I mean that’s your team, right? – Hunter Renfrow, Clemson WR

And then there was the lionization of now-Oklahoma QB Jalen Hurts for staying at Alabama when he could have left (and saved himself a year of eligibility).

Jalen has handled it beautifully when you juxtapose that with what we think we’re seeing at Clemson with Kelly Bryant. Jalen hasn’t said anything since right before the season started, his father said a lot, but he has gone out and played and accepted his role. – Paul Finebaum

So where are the pundits and players who are going to come out and rip Warren? After all, he left the program after early signing day, presumably after telling Steele, Hill and Kimbrough that he was going to coach them in 2019.

Isn’t it bad for college football that he’s just a mercenary who can just be a free agent whenever he wants? Isn’t it selfish of him to not finish what he started at Florida with Dan Mullen?

The truth is that nobody will rip Warren because most people who have jobs recognize that when someone offers you more money, or a better position or a position closer to home that you take that job. It’s not an indictment of your character or a slap in your previous employer’s face. It’s responding to a market force that puts you in a better position.

That’s all Warren has done here.

The issue is that those same market forces are not available to the players impacted by his decision. Steele, Hill and Kimbrough will all end up spending a year in Gainesville, whether they now want to or not. Yes, they knew this could happen from the start, but it still doesn’t make sense that they don’t have the same freedom that their coaches do.

Some might suggest that the NCAA should take away that freedom from the coaches. At that point, everyone would be equally restricted.

But I’m against taking away that freedom. If they don’t want to be somewhere or can make more money elsewhere, they should be able to change jobs just like any other employee in the country.

But players should have that ability too, particularly if a coach who helped recruit them to a program up and leaves. The only reason that they do not is because they are not classified as employees, but rather as “student-athletes”.

Make no mistake, that designation has nothing to do with the welfare of the players and everything to do with avoiding workers compensation and unionization issues that would exist were the players to have employees rights. It’s not a coincidence that the NCAA and Northwestern fought against its players when they wanted to unionize.

I’m not a labor lawyer, so I can’t tell you how to get that particular issue changed. What I can say is that I felt at the time – and feel even stronger about it now – that Kelly Bryant should have been lauded for his decision to leverage the power that he had for his own well-being. Because if Saban had retired and Alabama had come calling to pay Dabo Swinney $10 million per year, you can bet that he would have leveraged that power against Clemson and left players like Bryant hanging.

Again, I have no ill-will towards Charlton Warren. He did what was best for him and his family. Good for him.

But we’d all be wise to remember his actions the next time some coach or ex-coach starts waxing poetic about the “good old days” when players redshirted, didn’t play until their junior seasons and couldn’t transfer around like free agents. Or when a pundit starts blabbering about loyalty.

Charlton Warren – and almost every other head coach in college football today – is loyal to money and career. It’s a reasonable action for him to take based on his incentives. But I understand why some Florida players would be ticked off. He’s likely been in their homes talking about family and loyalty and the Gator Standard.

But loyalty is supposed to be a two-way street. Only for many in college football, the expectation is that it only flows one way.

5 Comments

  1. Charles Simpson

    I was really hoping there would be an explanation of exactly why he did leave. Was it more money , better job title or closer to home?
    He certainly did the Gators no favors with him leaving this close to signing day and his character could be called into question if he left to flip a recruit to his new school.

  2. Mark

    The only thing I really don’t like about this situation – the part that is really slimey to me – is that the news was actually leaked last week and both sides denied it. Then this week, during Elam’s visit “coincidentally”, they release the news. I understand that maybe they hadn’t signed the contract and so maybe Warren did it to try and give himself a save spot in Gainesville in case it fell through with UGA, but it is a really crappy way to treat your former employer to try and leave at the worst possible second for them and screw them with a top recruit. Yes, he did it to help his CURRENT employer (UGA), but again: I believe a certain level of respect is owed here.

    I do not blame Warren for leaving, AT ALL. But I think the timing of it was a really crappy way to repay the school that employed him this year. I would liken this to him leaving without giving a two-weeks notice in the middle of a big project at a normal job. Well within his rights, but still a crappy thing to do if you could possibly help it.

  3. Eddie Williams

    What I don’t like about pro football and why I have no team to faithfully follow is its corporate mentality. There are few “teams” anymore, just corporate brands. Change cities, buy and sell players, screw the fans. I used to bleed for the Miami Dolphins, as my roommates did for the Packers – long term coaches and returning players created teams. Now collegiate football pays for the entire sports budget of a school and coaches make more than the college president and wield commensurate power. I agree that following tha dollar is the capitalist way. Accordingly, spread the wealth and pay the players. Let the wealthiest alumni associations buy up all the best players and let player free agency reign. Good high school players should have agents and publicists. I’m sure national sports colleges could evolve, where education is a byline, perhaps effected by personal tutors. Let the three star players and below go to the academic colleges and play on real teams, from which an occasional player might be drafted to the pros. Those are the teams I would watch, not expecting perfection but appreciating resolve and heart and sportsmanship. Or….maybe there should be a quota system – no more than 2 five star and 5 four star players could be signed per year per team. No preferred walk-ons. Let the best coaches meld the gifted with the mere grinders and create teams. No commitments until October prior to year of entry and a binding letter would accompany the commitment. One official visit per school but unlimited official visits. No coaching contracts could be let between September and February.

  4. Carey Freeman

    Easy solution to the conundrum for players: Demand an NFL minor league. Demand that the players in FB have the same options as those in baseball. I think that’s the best we can do and offers a far better option for the players than transferring between schools. Only problem is we’re dealing with, quite literally, the greediest league in the world and this will cost money, money they currently save by prostituting the NCAA as their minor league. I’ve always believed this is more of an NFL problem than an NCAA problem. They are the only major league in the USA that doesn’t give kids this (pro) option.

    • Neil

      Agree but what player would choose to risk injury as well as playing time in minor league football…unless choosing to dispense with a college education. That degree, plus connections made, are the consolation prizes for college football players who don’t make it into the pros.

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