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Gorman: Pitt had no choice with Chapman

| Saturday, Aug. 24, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Pitt decided to fire then-football coach Michael Haywood in 2011 after he was arrested for an alleged assault.

Tra'Von Chapman's football career at Pitt will be best remembered, if at all, for its brevity after an altercation with a girlfriend.

Sound familiar?

Maybe because it's reminiscent of the disgraced departure of Michael Haywood, who was fired as Pitt football coach Jan. 1, 2011, a day after his arrest for allegedly assaulting the mother of his child.

Pitt coach Paul Chryst on Friday dismissed Chapman, a freshman quarterback from Kent, Ohio, 26 days after he pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of misdemeanor attempted assault.

Pitt had no choice but to cut ties with Chapman, and the precedent it set with Haywood played a primary role.

Pitt officials had no comment on any possible correlation between the dismissals of Haywood and Chapman. The school, however, did release a statement from Chryst that called the decision “in everyone's best interest.”

Whether this decision was made by Chryst, as some have suggested, or for him by the Pitt administration is of little consequence.

It all boils down to this:

How could Pitt allow Chapman, who pleaded guilty to a crime, to play for the Panthers when it deemed Haywood unfit to lead the program following a similar incident where the charges were deferred and later dismissed?

Simply put, it couldn't.

Not when Pitt took a hard-line stance in dismissing Haywood “effective immediately,” only hours after his arrest.

Not when Pitt Chancellor Mark A. Nordenberg stated at the time that the head football coach is “among the university's most visible representatives” and is “expected to maintain high standards of personal conduct and to avoid situations that might reflect negatively on the university.”

Not when a quarterback is among the most visible representatives of the football team, especially with the mass marketing campaign that Pitt has pushed for its inaugural season in the ACC.

And certainly not when Haywood has a pending lawsuit against the university, claiming he is owed $4 million for a five-year contract that had a buyout clause of $750,000 a year for a firing without just cause.

Not at all, really.

Chapman could have been dismissed on principle alone once he pleaded guilty to attempted assault during an altercation with his girlfriend in late April after graduating early and completing spring drills with the Panthers.

Though Pitt suspended Chapman indefinitely, it left open the possibility that he eventually could return to the team.

If Pitt deserves any criticism, it is that it waited until the Friday before fall semester classes start to inform Chapman that it was severing ties with him.

That leaves the former four-star recruit, who committed to the Panthers in June 2012, searching for a new school with little time to spare.

That's what bothers Thad Jemison, Chapman's father and a former Kent State wide receivers coach, even more so than the possibility that his son is paying the price at Pitt because of Haywood's firing.

“I knew there was a possibility that he was going to be dismissed,” Jemison said, “but I didn't look at it from the Haywood situation.”

Neither does Haywood's attorney, Tony Buzbee, who claims Pitt officials reacted to the negative publicity before conducting a proper investigation into the charges.

“With Michael Haywood, they just made a snap judgment without any data,” Buzbee said. “It's so important for people to understand that accusations are just that. They're not the gospel.”

If anything, Pitt did its due diligence before making its decision on Chapman. Jemison said a Pitt athletics official contacted him earlier this month while conducting a background search.

“There may be different standards for players and coaches,” Buzbee said. “Coaches are supposed to set the example. Players are, for the most part, kids. It doesn't mean their circumstances aren't just as bad. That's why it's important, in my opinion, when someone makes an accusation, it doesn't mean you make a knee-jerk reaction.”

Buzbee said Haywood's lawsuit alleges Pitt had another motivation for his dismissal after 17 days, blaming it on “buyer's remorse.”

“It could have been a teaching moment for the young men in the program,” Buzbee said of Haywood, “if his employer had supported him.”

Instead, Pitt delivered its own teaching moment: It took a buyer-beware approach by cutting ties with Chapman, who has only himself — and maybe Haywood — to blame.

Kevin Gorman is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at kgorman@tribweb.com or via Twitter @KGorman_Trib.

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