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Howard University administrators deserve blame for truncated Ron Prince era

Football coach’s reassignment raises questions about school’s vetting process

When Howard University announced the hiring of Ron Prince as the new head football coach last December, the move — based solely on a quick glance at his resume — appeared flawless:

Head coach in the Big 12. Assistant and analyst roles in the Big Ten and ACC. Prominent positions with three NFL teams, spanning seven years.

“Coach Prince’s experience in the Big Ten and Big 12 conferences and in the NFL are impressive and in line with our vision of what Howard football can be,” university president Wayne A. I. Frederick said at the time in a media release, adding he was “impressed by his accolades molding students into leaders.”

Less than a year after hiring Prince, Howard placed the coach on leave Wednesday in the midst of an ongoing investigation into allegations that he verbally abused and intimidated his players.

Peeling back the layers of Prince’s career, it’s clear that the decision to hire him was completely flawed.

Was Howard hoodwinked, bamboozled and led astray in the hiring of Prince?

Not at all. The signs indicate the university simply failed to follow through on what should be a basic requirement on a college campus.

Homework.

Prince being sidelined is an extension of an embarrassing series of events for the Howard athletic program that began when Caylin Newton, the school’s most decorated football player in recent memory, announced he was transferring just months after being named the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference preseason Player of the Year.

Perhaps had Howard done its due diligence, Newton, who led Howard to the biggest point spread upset in the history of college football two seasons ago, might still be in uniform.

By no means is this an indication that the allegations against Prince — which includes players being verbally harassed and mentally abused — are true. But there was enough written and spoken about Prince and his alleged treatment of players that should have had Howard on high alert.

A simple Google search would have revealed this passage from a story written by Kyle Meinke, a beat writer covering the Detroit Lions, where Prince coached as an assistant from 2014-17 before being fired.

I’ve been covering the NFL since 2013, and I’ve never heard a coach ripped this much by players, former players and people around the league. He’s not well-regarded for the work he did in Detroit last year, to say the least. His personality was just, like, grating.

This line is from Detroit Free Press football writer Dick Birkett, also written after Prince was fired.

Prince has a very strong personality — some would say abrasive — that rubbed the veterans on the Lions offensive line the wrong way to the point they were put off by Prince’s methods.

And how about these comments made by former Kansas State football players Ian Campbell and Reggie Walker while the two were guests on the Boscoe’s Boys podcast last year? Both candidly laid out a long list of allegations about Prince that included the coach causing mental anguish among student-athletes and threatening to report players to the FBI for point-shaving.

Walker, a former NFL linebacker, called Prince “a petty individual,” and said “all the bad experiences that he had being not a person of power, he took it out on everyone else.”

Campbell went even further. “He would try to find out what you didn’t respond to and, based on the evidence, he would try to crush you. I would see him do it to guy after guy.”

Does that sound like a guy who reflects Howard’s mission “to promote excellence and service on the field, in the classroom, and in the community” which is how athletic director Kery Davis described Prince in the media release that announced the hiring?

Did the university lose access to the internet leading up to Prince’s hiring? And who was in charge of the vetting process that led the university to think Prince represented the best candidate to lead Howard’s football team?

Those are questions I wanted to ask officials from Howard, despite the school’s announcement of Prince’s demotion in a statement that said it “will be the university’s only comment at this time.”

A phone call and text to Davis went unanswered.

So let’s get this straight: Howard wants to brag loudly when Stephen Curry arrives in Washington to announce his intention to fund the men’s and women’s golf teams, and pat itself on the back when discussing two of the nation’s top basketball recruits making official visits to The Mecca. But when it comes to responding to the media to answer the tough questions regarding serious allegations against their football coach — and the perilous position it might have placed its football players in — Howard’s response is to duck, dodge and deflect.

It was the same lack of response when Newton left the team. At least the school, in that regard, is consistent.

(Side note: This week Howard has sent me over a dozen emails providing results for women’s bowling, soccer and volleyball. I’m still waiting for the email announcing that Prince was being removed.)

Howard, on paper, has all the makings of a school that should boast a successful athletic program.

Let’s hope this time the school makes a hire based on the best interests of its players and not to satisfy the egos of administrators eager to boast about their guy’s glossy resume.

Location. Tradition. A long line of dedicated, successful alumni who are fiercely devoted to their university. It’s a history so rich that some of the top athletic recruits in the country are beginning to take notice.

But Howard, like all schools, is not without flaws.

Howard, whose football team has had just one winning season since 2005, should answer the tough questions about its program and not choose to hide behind a simple statement.

The cloud that’s hovered over this current team, which has heavily contributed to the 1-8 season, isn’t going to magically disappear with the passage of time. The administrators made the decision to hire a new head coach when there were many indicators that the move could prove to be imprudent.

And, now, here we are.

Soon a new search will be launched to find the right fit for the team. When that happens there’s a chance that Howard administrators will, again, brag about the “values and forward-thinking vision” of their new hire, as Davis did in December when Prince came on board.

Let’s hope this time the school makes a hire based on the best interests of its players and not to satisfy the egos of administrators eager to boast about their guy’s glossy resume.

And let’s hope the vetting, this time, is thorough, something that clearly didn’t occur last year.

The football players, limping to the end of a humiliating season that will surely leave deep scars, deserve better than the predicament their administration put them in this season.

Jerry Bembry is a senior writer at The Undefeated. His bucket list items include being serenaded by Lizz Wright, and watching the Knicks play an NBA game in June.