Coaches' Heartache

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This is Diana Nyad for KCRW, and this is The Score.

It's not often we find sympathy for filthy rich sports team owners. The Miami Dolphins owner, Wayne Huizenga, earned a particularly cold-hearted reputation when he dumped his previous team, the Florida Marlins. After breaking the bank to bring in a gaggle of superstars and basically buy the Marlins a World Series in 1997, Huizenga sold the team down a proverbial Everglades river the next year. He shed payroll, the stars packed their bags, and the '98 Marlins finished in the basement of the National League East.

Flash forward 11 years to Huizenga's  Miami Dolphins, a team that has been walking the plank toward the indignity of becoming the only NFL team in history to go winless in a 16-game season. Huizenga has been grumbling his intention to dump the losing franchise as soon as possible. It was heartening this past weekend, then, when cameras caught Huizenga literally weeping in the owner's box as his Dolphins pulled out their first win and avoided the weighty walk of shame through the tunnel to the locker room.

Watching Huizenga cry like a baby made me feel for Arthur Blank, owner of the Atlanta Falcons. Surely nobody deserves the current hand Mr. Blank's been dealt. Blank was a kid from Flushing, Queens, who worked his way up through the hardware business. He eventually founded the Home Depot, grew the innovative warehouse concept to a $300 billion success, and today has a personal net worth of $1.3 billion. In 2002, Arthur's dream came true as he purchased the Atlanta Falcons. In 2004, he rendered a young talent named Michael Vick the richest player in the NFL with a ten-year contract for $130 million. The 24-year old Vick said, "A lot of guys come into the league, they bounce around and never really find a home. But I'm very excited to know that I'll be here and have an opportunity to bring a Super Bowl to this city.”"Blank treated Vick as the oldest son of his developing gridiron brood.

On the field, Vick did not disappoint. He rushed for more yards than any quarterback in NFL history. He was dazzling out of the pocket. He electrified the Falcons' fans. Off the field, he seemed a sterling role model to his younger brother Marcus, who was perpetually steeped in legal troubles. But now it's Marcus who stands in a courtroom, their mother sobbing in his arms, as golden-boy Michael is sentenced to 23 months in prison for operating a cruel dogfighting ring. It's been a kick in the gut for Arthur Blank. He says the young man he got to know and trust over these past six years was not the inhumane individual who hanged and drowned innocent animals.

The only solace Blank could muster was that their new coach, Bobby Petrino, had held his head high through this crushed season. Blank turned to Petrino to restore hope to their demoralized, shell-shocked troops.

Last week Coach Petrino suddenly up and quit. He announced he was going to the University of Arkansas and would not even finish out the last three games of the season. He didn't even have the decency to address his players in person. He wrote them a note.

Arthur Blank put his faith in a player who conducted criminal and heinous behavior the entire time he wore the Falcons uniform. Then Blank turned to a coach who showed the gutless and classless stripes others had come to know him for in his previous college-coaching career.

The move Arthur Blank made in recent days, to try to refocus the Falcons' future, was to hire the legendary Bill Parcells as head of football operations. Blank thought the deal was done but at the final moment, Parcells called him to say he was instead signing with another owner. Who is that, Blank asked? Wayne Huizenga who is not going to abandon his Dolphins.

The Arthur Blank sports dream has turned to nightmare. And the heartless Wayne Huizenga cries the tears of a man with a heart after all. Pro sports seem nothing more than big business but, actually, there's plenty of heartache outside the boardroom.

This is Diana Nyad for KCRW, and that's The Score.

Photo of Arthur M. Blank (L) and Wayne Huizenga: Paul Spinelli/Getty Images



Diana Nyad