Opinion: Now’s the time for candor at MSU

MSU baseball coach Andy Cannizaro addresses the team during practice

The news that Mississippi State baseball coach Andy Cannizaro resigned from his position only three games into the 2018 season on Monday hit Starkville like a 98 mph fastball to the gut.

It was a rough 0-3 starting weekend for the Bulldogs in Hattiesburg, but I thought surely there must be something more sinister being addressed behind the scenes to prompt such a swift exit.

The headlines began to trickle out late in the evening hours, and by Tuesday morning, the social media sphere was saturated with rumors and innuendo as to why the second-year successor to beloved former coach and current Athletic Director John Cohen had tendered his resignation.

Even as I write this column, the details are still not fully known, in part because the university opted against a traditional press conference, in favor of issuing a 208-word statement that featured a remorseful Cannizaro asking “the fans and people affected” for forgiveness.

Prior to the official statement of confirmation, the news leaked out to the media right before the evening presses started humming and all hell broke loose from there.

No media availability with any MSU officials was held in the day following the revelation that Cannizaro was out, and while that could change on a dime Wednesday, the seconds continue to tick away.

Cannizaro, up to this point, seemed like he could do no wrong. In the dugout, the 39-year-old Louisiana native was rarely without a smile and quickly became the firebrand who many assumed would lead the storied MSU baseball program forward for years to come.

Those thinking that aren’t without cause, either, with Cannizaro leading the Bulldogs to the 2017 Super Regional in his first year.

On social media, Cannizaro cut a likable image for himself, often seen working out with players in the weight room. His public profile was also regularly boosted by his expressed excitement for the possibilities to come with future talent and new facilities, along with his support of other civic and athletic programs.

For a Louisiana native that played ball at Tulane and coached at LSU, it seemed like he had found his home in Starkville.

It all came crashing down this week, though, and Cannizaro’s bubbly public persona was reduced to a solitary paragraph statement. While many in the community and across the country voiced their surprise, inhabitants of the rumor mill began to propagate a host of unconfirmed conspiracy theories and saucy scandals fit for the silver screen.

But the truth of the matter is, we as media really don’t know right now just what happened, at least with any kind of on-the-record certainty, and I hope in the coming days those questions are answered for the innumerable fans and MSU supporters across the country who are in disbelief. After all, the fanbase is what makes any program successful.

Maybe the reason for Cannizaro’s abrupt departure was not known or fully understood by university officials as the week began, which in turn could be the cause for silence from the podium at the athletic department.

Still, I’m left wondering - along with many other journalists - just when the university plans to field questions and provide answers other than a prepared statement that clearly telegraphs some degree of wrongdoing on Cannizaro’s part. The social climate concerning college athletics is simply too polluted by scandal after mishandled scandal to let minutes, hours and days pass without setting the record straight.

As the speculation festers in the court of public opinion, the precedent should be noted that the administrative approach to these kinds of scandals can often leave more collateral damage than originally intended. Baylor, Louisville, Michigan State, Penn State … and the list continues to grow.

I do understand the delicate nature of the issue at hand and am somewhat willing to be patient, but the longer questions go unaddressed and the rumor mill keeps spinning, the longer it will be a negative distraction from the great things being done at MSU.

In the wake of innumerable college sports scandals, like the Hugh Freeze debacle that saw Ole Miss picked apart under the NCAA microscope, it seems that transparency and candor would be the best policy when addressing a high-profile controversy.

Take the lumps and move on.

So, I implore the university to quickly address the laundry list of questions left lingering, so the cloud can be lifted from over the heads of the players, fans and staff who have invested so much in a program that is so near to the hearts of those in the community.

Ryan Phillips is the executive editor of the Starkville Daily News and Daily Times Leader. The views expressed in this column are his and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of either paper or their staffs.