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Gazzolo Column: Rutgers caught in a mess McNeese wants no part of

Last Modified: Friday, July 26, 2013 2:57 PM

By Jim Gazzolo / American Press

Tommy McClelland is in the process of looking for a new baseball coach.

In less than a week he had more than a few eager applicants ready to take on the McNeese State job.

Filling the position won’t be hard. Filling it with the right person is the challenge.

It’s made even tougher when you look at what is going on around college sports lately, specifically at Rutgers University.

In the past three months Rutgers has lost its men’s basketball coach over allegations and video of him verbally and physically abusing players, had his replacement caught in a mistaken statement on whether or not he graduated from the school and most recently the strange case of the new athletic director.

She too has baggage that might in the end bring her down before she even gets started.

While these cases are rare, they are not alone. Coaches have been caught lying on their résumés when it comes to both experience and education.

There is a greater spotlight now on such hires. The internet has made it easier for the general public and media to check one’s background, and it seems all eyes are searching for dirt.

Rutgers is caught in a mess McNeese wants no part of.

“You have to be aware at what is going on at other places,” McClelland said. “It is a lot different than before. There are a lot more eyes on your every move.”

While it may not be Rutgers, this does make the hiring of the new baseball coach at McNeese State a big deal, especially to those who follow the program.

“What is happening at Rutgers and other places heightens the awareness for all of us, but at the end of the day you still have to do your work,” McClelland said. “I’m not all of a sudden going to do better background checks because of the problems at Rutgers. We have done that all along.

“The spotlight has always been there. You had better do your research. You don’t want to make a mistake that sets you back or will look bad on you or your institution.

“You have to always remember that your reputation and your school’s reputation is on the line. You want the right person to keep that positive.”

So McClelland promises to do the vetting process right. He knows there is a time frame to work in, but he wants to make sure he gets it right too.

You only really get one chance to make your first choice the correct one.

“There is no way that you can know everything about everybody,” he said. “You want to find out the most information you can on each candidate before you make your choice. That has always been the job.

“And you want to do that no matter what the coaching position is. You want to do that with the golf coach, the tennis coach and even a football coach.

“You do that by doing your homework, talking to people who worked with that person and checking references. But in the end you have to go with a feeling of that person being the right person for you school. It isn’t easy.”

It has been made tougher by a more demanding public and every increasingly interested media, that has its own ways of finding out about those candidates.

What you don’t want is a surprise like they have had at Rutgers.

“You have to be as sure as you can be,” McClelland said. “But you are never 100 percent sure of anyone.”

That hasn’t changed.

“When you vet somebody it is like you are looking through a peep hole at their life and career,” McClelland said. “What you want to do is expand that peep hole as wide as you can to get a bigger picture of the entire person and body of work.”

Even then you can’t see it all.

“I try to go with my experience and make the right call and then you have to be ready if it doesn’t work out,” said McClelland.

More now than ever before, there is pressure on the process.

If you don’t think the wrong move can make you look bad, take a glance at Rutgers.

No telling how long it will take that school to get out of its current mess.

• • •

Jim Gazzolo is managing sports editor. Email him at jgazzolo@americanpress.com

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