Former NFL kicker Mike Vanderjagt, who cut a controversial swath through a nine-year NFL career, is in trouble again. The first kicker in NFL history to go through an entire season without missing a field goal or extra point (he did that in 2003), Vanderjagt is better known for two incidents related to the postseason.
In the 2005 playoffs, he missed a 41-yard field goal against the Pittsburgh Steelers with seconds left in the game -- not only would the successful try have tied the game at 21, but Vanderjagt threw his helmet to the ground in frustration after the spectacular duck-hook and incurred a 15-yard penalty for his trouble. And after the Colts were eliminated from the 2002 postseason, Vanderjagt criticized head coach Tony Dungy and quarterback Peyton Manning, which led Manning to call Vanderjagt "our idiot kicker who got liquored up" when asked about it at the Pro Bowl.
In that interview, Vanderjagt said that Dungy was too mild-mannered, preferring a more volatile approach. "I think you need a guy that is going to get in somebody's face when they're not performing well enough," the kicker said.
Apparently, Vanderjagt has taken that philosophy into his post-football life, with very disturbing results. According to the Naples (Florida) Daily News, Vanderjagt, now a coach and school parent at Charter Middle School in Marco Island (not to mention the owner of a local pizza joint), allegedly assaulted a student who brought back a very painful memory.
[On March 12], Police responded to a call from Mark Albanese, dean of students at the school, who reported an adult male grabbed a student by the throat. Since the incident happened at the end of day, the student involved and witnesses had gone home. Police investigated the following day, talking to students at the scene and to Vanderjagt. One student was taunting Vanderjagt by yelling "wide left, wide left" through a rolled-up poster board that acted as a megaphone, according to a Marco police report.
"During his career, he missed a very important field goal attempt during a playoff game," the report stated. Vanderjagt, a school parent and volunteer, was walking through the parking lot when he overheard the comments. One student alleged Vanderjagt walked up to him, grabbed him by the throat and started cursing at him, according to the police report. Another student corroborated his story.
Vanderjagt, for his part, claimed that he was just holding the student in place while he gave the kid a good talking-to. Hmmm ... didn't Bob Knight used to use that one? As it turns out, a group of kids at the school had been taunting Vanderjagt with the "Wide left" burn for months (which proves one thing -- these kids need a better education, as the kick in question went wide right), and he had reached the point where enough was enough. On May 14, local police said that no charges would be filed, leaving the matter in the hands of the school board.
Vanderjagt also claimed that school principal George Abounader was in the vicinity when the incident happened. Abounader responded that he was outside at the time, but was involved in directing traffic and providing safe walkways for the students.
School athletic director Roger Raymond told the Daily News that he would have no problem asking Vanderjagt back to coach the football team this fall. School board member and volleyball coach Gayle Collins said that she had only ever seen Vanderjagt in situations where he was good with the students, and parent Douglas Dye had never seen Vanderjagt be anything but respectful around the kids.
When speaking before the school board after the incident, Vanderjagt said that he loved coaching and enjoyed working with the students.
Vanderjagt's post-football life sounds a bit like his kicking career -- a consistent success marred by a very high-profile miss. The question is, should be be allowed to coach if this is his only offense against the kids? Given the leeway allowed to serial bullies like the aforementioned Knight, I'd say the "idiot kicker" deserves a chance to make this right.