Until last week, Florida Atlantic University administrators and trustees mostly had fumbled their responses to controversies that have harmed FAU’s image in 2013. Administrators, however, made the right decision when they forced out head football coach Carl Pelini and defensive coordinator Pete Rekstis for using marijuana and cocaine.
Mr. Pelini had been with the Owls less than two seasons, hired in December 2011 to replace football program founder and head coach Howard Schnellenberger. Athletic Director Pat Chun began investigating last Monday, immediately after hearing the drug use allegations. Two days later, Mr. Pelini and Mr. Rekstis resigned.
“The university made the decision to gather as much information as possible,” Mr. Chun said. “Once we gathered it, we acted quickly and decisively.”
Defensive line and special teams coach Matt Edwards reported the drug use to Mr. Chun. He swore in an affidavit that he witnessed the coaches using marijuana during an Oct. 18-20 coaches’ trip to Key West, when FAU had an off weekend. Mr. Edwards said he witnessed the cocaine use during the past year. Allison Stewart, whom Mr. Chun described as a “personal friend of some of the coaches,” also swore in an affidavit that Mr. Pelini told her in a text message that he “uses drugs on occasion.”
No student-athletes were present during the drug use. Still, Mr. Chun correctly said suspending the coaches was not an option. “We hold ourselves to a standard here,” he said. “That conduct is unacceptable for a lot of reasons. We all have responsibilities. When you take the role of authority of that university, you wear it 24 hours a day.”
Indeed. Coaches at schools with much higher athletic profiles than FAU have been fired for issues of personal conduct that didn’t always involve alleged criminal actions. Credit goes to the players who were stunned, then rallied to defeat Tulane on Saturday, handing the Green Wave their first conference loss, 34-17.
FAU began its football program in the fall of 2001 as part of its marketing effort to attract more full-time residential students to the mostly commuter campus. That number has doubled from 1,992 then to 4,002, but the sparse attendance at Saturday’s homecoming game in FAU’s three-year-old stadium suggests the increase has little to do with being able to watch football.
The university still is dealing with the effects of the controversy that arose when administrators and trustrees tried to name the football stadium for private prison operator GEO Group in exchange for a $6 million donation. Students protested over GEO’s record of alleged human rights abuses, and GEO withdrew its offer.
Shortly after, the university was once again in the national spotlight over a classroom exercise that involved students stepping on a piece of paper with the letters “J-E-S-U-S” as part of intercultural communications lesson on the importance of symbols. FAU mishandled its reaction in both cases, and former President Mary Jane Saunders and other administrators resigned as a result.
The university’s swift and appropriate action in responding to the coaches’ drug use allegations suggests that administrators have learned from those mistakes. Such a change could be a marketing took all by itself.
for The Post Editorial Board