The veteran of six NFL teams during a turbulent 11-year career, Rison is back as the head football coach at his high school alma mater, Flint (Mich.) Northwestern, where he's emphasizing better grades and attendance over winning games, according to an interview he gave the Flint Journal.
"It's not just about football," Rison said. "It's about getting in the mindset of education comes first. Football, we'll deal with the X's and O's. But we've been working on character building, being on time and doing well in school more so than the X's and O's right now."
Those sound like the right things for a role model to say. The question is whether Rison can actually be a role model for high school athletes, starting with his team's season opener tonight. The onetime Michigan State star has been beset by near constant delinquency over child support payments in Atlanta (not to mention at least one prior count of public drunkenness within the past two years). SportsbyBrooks dug up a February report, also from the Flint Journal, that detailed the full extent of Rison's child support issues. The numbers aren't pretty:
• In 2004, Rison spent a month in a Georgia jail after failing to pay $107,000 in back child support.
• In 2007, Rison declared bankruptcy, which led to defaulting on more child support payments
• As of Feb. 2010, Rison still owed $30,000 to the mother of two of his children.
It took the lawyer representing the woman owed that back child support to say his client had no intentions of suing Rison to get that $30,000 outstanding balance for the former receiver to be cleared to coach at Flint.
It seems a bit ironic that a man who couldn't serve as a suitable father for his own children is now deemed the right man to be a father figure for a whole team of impressionable teenagers. That's particulalry poignant in Flint, one of the nation's most depressed cities. If any athletes need truly uplifting leaders in their lives, it's kids in Flint.
Regardless of his past, Rison is the man charged with leading Flint Northwestern forward, starting with tonight's game against Beecher High School, which provides a fascinating mirror image for Rison: Beecher's coach is Courtney Hawkins, a former NFL and Michigan State wide receiver himself.
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If things go according to Rison's plan, Northwestern will take a step forward from 2009, when the team went 5-4 for the second straight season and finished a game short of a state playoff berth. If he can get the Wildcats to 6-3 and the playoffs, Rison might achieve what he cites as his real reason for turning to coaching.
"Sports are a great window of opportunity for them to earn a scholarship to college," Rison told the Flint Journal. "I drill them on how they can make a difference, not only with themselves, but with their community, and I think they're buying into it."
The new job seems like quite a turn of face from Rison's past. Then again, everyone with a troubled past has to start a character resurrection somewhere. Maybe Rison's starts in Flint.
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- Andre Rison