Dick Harmon: Does recruiting bad apples help football teams?

Published: Wednesday, Sept. 5 2012 3:00 p.m. MDT

Notre Dame's fighing Irish logo on Robby Toma while playing against the Navy during their NCAA college football game in Dublin, Ireland, Saturday, Sept. 1, 2012. It's been five years since Notre Dame won 10 games, and the Irish have had only two 10-wins seasons in the last 19 years. Notre Dame has lost 10 of its last 12 bowl games.


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Does a football coach need to recruit a few criminals to win?

Somebody thinks so.

At least one radio broadcaster said so and got suspended from work for three games. His name is Allen Pinkett, a former star running back for Notre Dame. He made those comments while Notre Dame played Navy in Dublin, Ireland, last week.

Does having a few bad apples on a team give a squad a certain attitude? Does it make it better?

Notre Dame is one of those storied football programs that will forever find a niche as legendary and is an enduring stereotype of the successful part of the college game.

But the Fighting Irish haven't exactly lived up to that reputation the past few years. Some say it's because Notre Dame's high academic standards have made great bookworms and poor runners and pass catchers.

It's been five years since Notre Dame won 10 games, and the Irish have had only two 10-wins seasons in the last 19 years. Notre Dame has lost 10 of its last 12 bowl games.

This from a program that has won 11 national championships.

The alumni base is restless. Fans are anxious. Former Notre Dame players are embarrassed.

Perhaps that is why, after coach Brian Kelly suspended four of his players last week, Pinkett found it easy to say on the air the punishments may be a sign Notre Dame is gaining an "edge" that will help get back to winning.

Doing his job as an analyst on Notre Dame IMG Radio Network, a job he's had since 2001, Pinkett drew from his experience as a two-time All-American to make the following comment on WSCR-AM 670:

"I've always felt like to have a successful team you've got to have a few bad citizens on the team. I absolutely mean that."

Pinkett went on to buoy up his theory by using Ohio State as an example.

"That's how Ohio State used to win all the time. They would have two or three guys that were criminals, and that just adds to the chemistry of the team. I think Notre Dame is growing because maybe they have some guys that are doing something worthy of suspension, which creates edge on the football team. You can't have a football team full of choirboys."

Needless to say, those comments caused an uproar in the Midwest, and an apologetic Pinkett later said he was sorry for comments he said were inappropriate.

He'll be back on the air by the end of September, having served time for his mistake.

You can kind of understand how Pinkett, steeped in a deep desire to have his alma mater show more spunk on the field, could let his words get away from him. But in the world of common sense and actual reality, where does that kind of thinking come from?

How does losing four players — or even one player who might have big roles on a team — do anything but signal selfishness, irresponsibility, knuckleheadedness, stupidity, immaturity, and lack of discipline and self control? How does getting into trouble make a team better? How does it not do anything but cost teammates?

How do bad acts inspire a football team?

In my experience, I've seen many star players make bad decisions and be suspended or dismissed from teams for a while or for good. From the high school ranks to college and the NFL, it's hard to see just how that made a team better.

If anyone has insight into where Pinkett's kind of thinking has merit, I'd love to hear from them.

If Kelly's blueprint for success is to recruit criminals to Notre Dame to give the Irish an edge, that has failure written all over it.

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