It has been a frustrating season for the Cincinnati Bearcats (4-5, 1-4 AAC), and that frustration may have boiled over after this past weekend’s loss to BYU.
It was an ugly game. The Bearcats lost 20-3, notching a field goal on their very first drive and nothing else for the rest of the game. Cincinnati had to punt four times in the first half, and in the second half the team missed a field goal and turned the ball over on downs twice.
Frustrating may be a light word to use when looking at the second-half drive charts, but when added on to the context of the season it gets even worse. The Bearcats are supposed to be one of the better teams in the AAC, so much so that when Big 12 expansion talk was really hot Cincinnati was one school at least mentioned for the big jump to the Power Five.
Cincinnati hasn’t had a losing season since Tommy Tuberville has been head coach, though it’s worth noting that the Bearcats are trending in the wrong direction. He went 9-4 in his first two seasons and 7-6 in 2015. Tuberville is 0-3 in bowl games with Cincinnati — which is a concerning stat — and 2016 is threatening to be the worst season yet for his Bearcats.
They’re on a two-game losing streak and have lost four of their past five. They’ll need to win two more games to reach bowl eligibility, but that’s in no way a guarantee against UCF, Memphis and a hot Tulsa team.
So yeah, it makes sense that there’s some frustration, both from a fan’s perspective and within the team.
That doesn’t excuse what Tuberville said after the loss to BYU, though.
As he was heading back to the locker room after the game, Tuberville was heckled by a fan. It was a home game, but even if it was someone partial to BYU, there’s no reason a college football coach should ever let something like that get under his skin.
Tuberville did, though, likely feeling the frustration of the season and the ugly loss to BYU start to boil over. His reaction was caught on film below:
— Keenan Singleton (@KJMSingleton) November 6, 2016
Tom Groeschen of Cincinnati.com was able to transcribe what the fan was saying to Tubberville. “Hey Tommy, you’re stealing. You’re stealing from this university. You’re stealing, Tommy,” was the loud heckle from what was most likely a Cincinnati fan. Tuberville’s response was clear as day. He instructed said fan to find a job among the devils and demons of Hades. Whether or not there’s actually a booming job market in hell is up for theological debate, and that’s a story for a different article.
It wasn’t exactly a classy response from a guy who has been a college head coach since 1995. Soon after, Tuberville released a statement of apology.
“I don’t like losing any more than our fans, donors, players and supporters. Emotions can get the best of us. I had a regrettable outburst at a moment of great frustration. I apologize for that and we will fix it. We are committed to get this thing right. We are already back at work to make this football team better. Our season is not over and we are going to keep working hard.”
Cincy’s athletic director, Mike Bohn, also released a statement.
“Coach Tuberville was put in a no-win situation in front of his team last night, which resulted in an out of character response from him. He expressed frustrations from an emotional game. Our team, led by our seniors, is fully engaged with coach and his staff to fight to the finish.”
Tuberville’s apology was all find and dandy, and it does appear that the administration was willing to back him up, but the question now becomes this: should they?
Cincinnati is trending in the wrong direction under Tuberville, and his ability to win a big game with the Bearcats should be in question. And for a program that apparently has its sights set on shedding the “Group of Five” tag and presenting itself as a big-time football destination, that kind of record won’t cut it.
There’s also this to consider: In the midst of a poor season, fan support is always a tough thing to keep high. It’s the one thing that can keep a program relevant, though, and more importantly, it’s the one thing that can keep a program making money. If the fans don’t want to show up and buy tickets to games, buy hats and jerseys and give their money to support the Cincinnati cause, Bearcats football loses its value.
Remember, this is amateur athletics, but college football is still big business, and just like in the service industry — the customer is always right.
Tuberville easily could have ignored the fan who was heckling him. Coaches and players deal with that on a weekly basis, so much so that it’s basically part of the job description.
A player popping off on a fan? That’s not a good look but it can be excused, mainly because players are college kids who are still learning how to be adults. A coach, though? The expectation is that a head football coach is already a grown man and he can deal with adversity the way a grown man is supposed to.
Telling a fan to go to hell and get a job is not how a grown man should deal with a heckler, and it took something that would have been a forgotten moment and turned it into a full-blown story. Tuberville gave Cincinnati fans another reason to be frustrated with him. He went after one of their own. He crossed the line and showed a weakness. Showed that perhaps this downward spiral is getting to him.
Combine his outburst with Cincinnati’s underwhelming results as of late and it would make sense if the seat under which Tuberville sits starts to warm up a bit more. It would make sense if Bohn re-evaluated his program after the season and decided to go in a different direction.
He would have had cause to do so without Tuberville’s outburst, but now he basically has a built-in excuse. Tuberville’s frustrated comments very well could have been the beginning of the end. The man told a fan to go to hell and get a job, after all.
That’s not a good look for a football coach, and it’s certainly not a good look for a grown man.