CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Uneasy lies the head who wears the title of head football coach.Sure, he might get paid better than school presidents and some captains of industry. But his worries are many, and it's not just trying to get 100 players to come together for a single purpose.No, there are those off-the-field concerns - as Marshall coach Doc Holliday would put it, players making good decisions. Those include not getting in trouble off campus, not skipping study hall, not skipping meetings, not skipping classes and not studying too much.Huh? How did that last item sneak in that list?
"Where" is the better question, and the answer is Rice University. The small private school in Houston can throw its intellectual weight around with similar institutions such as Stanford and Duke.(If you realized all three are playing for a conference football championship today, go to the head of the class.)Rice is being honored by the American Football Coaches Association for a 100 percent graduation rate for members of its freshman football class of 2006. But it's not enough to just graduate at these schools.Chasing honors, Rice players pound the books harder than blocking sleds. David Bailiff, who took the head coaching job in 2007, has had to walk his players down that fine line between brains and brawn."Most of these men are going on to med school or law school," Bailiff said. "Even where it says 'sports management,' actually it's a business degree where you're maybe learning to run an NFL franchise. You have to be sensitive to what they want to achieve academically, because GPAs are so important."Bailiff, a Texas State grad, learned quickly how important."It was our first year here, when we walked down the stairs to the practice field," Bailiff said. "You'd look in the locker room and they'd be in full pads, and they'd have their biochem books open and you'd think, 'What a sight - sitting there in full pads in the locker room.' "Sometimes, there was a price for that."Right after team meetings, you'd go out to the practice field and realized they knew a lot about biochemistry but had forgotten everything they learned in our meetings," Bailiff said. "We had to start taking their books away before practice and just making sure they were watching football a little bit more."Never fear. A Rice student finds ways to compensate."Their first road win they had was against Southern Miss, our first year in '07," Bailiff said. "And we got on the airplane, all the lights came on and everyone opened their book bag and they studied on the way home.
"I had never been on a charter flight like that, where nobody talked, everybody studied."Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130, email@example.com or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.