July 20, 2007 PRINT Bookmark and Share

OPINION: Lowell Exercises its 'Right'

by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor

I had originally written this article to suggest that the firing of Massachusetts-Lowell coach Blaise MacDonald would be entirely justified.

Soon thereafter, however, Lowell officials, and University of Massachusetts chancellor Marty Meehan, decided to reinstate MacDonald. This followed a suspension after he was arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol, failed multiple field sobriety tests, and two Breathalyzer tests found MacDonald at almost three times the legal limit.

Either way Lowell went, it could receive criticism or praise.

The original thought was that a DUI offense, while bad, is a pardon-able offense. But as new facts came to light, things looked grim for MacDonald. Police found four beers and a bottle of Absolut vodka in his car. His car looked like it had hit a tree or bush. And more.

However, it's easy to sit here from a distance, in cold detachment, and suggest that MacDonald should be fired. It's another thing to be his friend for 18 years, and see MacDonald lead a program that has had nary a discipline problem, and has the highest cumulative grade point average of any men's program at the school. That's the issue Lowell AD Dana Skinner faced, and he chose to keep MacDonald.

Thirteen years ago, Michigan made a similar choice when it retained Red Berenson, even though the now-legendary college coach was stopped for DUI and public urination. It certainly can't be said that Michigan is a renegade program by any stretch.

Coaches like to talk about "learning moments" and if handled right, they can turn their own embarrassing episodes into them.

Lowell had an even tougher decision, considering MacDonald's won-loss record at the school is not nearly as sparkling as Berenson's, even at the time, before Berenson had won his two national titles.

Unfairly or not, when you factor in what in many people's eyes has been an underachieving record at Lowell, MacDonald's dismissal seemed even more justified. MacDonald has been known as fun to be around, a glib interview, fiery — in other words, everything his predecessor, Tim Whitehead, was not known for. But that hasn't translated into any more success than Whitehead, who has gone on to prove himself at Maine.

But that only makes this decision by Lowell more palatable. After all, it didn't retain a cretin because he wins — like basketball's Bob Huggins.

So if Lowell believes it can live with MacDonald as its coach, and actually get positives from it, then it's their prerogative to make that decision.

Of course, this couldn't have come at a worse time, the program already embroiled in controversy and fighting for its very existence throughout the spring. Then, just as the program gets a reprieve, and it's announced that all 375 Club seat packages had been sold (meeting a goal), the DUI happens.

So MacDonald has a recruiting mess on his hands, partially, now, of his own making. Perhaps, in a perverse way, that will be his penance.

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