Thu Feb 05 11:54am EST
Somewhat lost in the nonstop recruiting news Wednesday was an eye-opening New York Times profile of Brian Butler, handler and "mentor" to superstar Wichita, Kan., running back Bryce Brown, as well as Brown's older brother, Arthur, whom Bryce is expected to join in Miami next fall. Two previous Butler profiles appeared on major sites last week, and they were wildly divergent in their portrayals: ESPN's Bruce Feldman was skeptical but not very probing (in his defense, he was only calling Butler for a relatively shallow blog post), while CBS' Dennis Dodd, on location in Wichita, was excessively fawning in a much longer piece, eager to paint Butler as a well-connected, above-board role model living in borderline poverty whose goal is "to help, not exploit." For lack of more information, Dodd was pretty effective on that front.
The Times' Pete Thamel and Thayer Evans (he of the infamous Jamarkus McFarland scoop on Christmas Day; Texas fans may thus ignore everything that follows) provide just such information, and all of it serves to obliterate Dodd's rosy picture of Butler's endeavors. Some things, such as the structure of Butler's recruiting-related businesses and the weekly Web site subscription for "updates" on Brown's recruitment, we already knew. There's a wealth of material about Butler that failed to make Feldman or Dodd's profiles, though, every bit of it casting the "mentor" as a sketchy, AAU basketball-style leach:
• For an ex-athlete who makes a living in part as a "trainer," Butler is incredibly unfit. Based on weight and height, a "normal" body mass index, according to the FDA, is between 18.5 and 24.9. Butler is 5'8" and weighs 350 pounds, for a BMI of 53.2, more than twice the FDA's minimum standard for obesity.
• In addition to running a local cell phone store (we knew this), Butler has worked as a telemarketer and at a liquor store. He's also a former rapper known as "Big B." (Not to be confused with this Big B, or this Big B, or any of these Big Bs). The Times cannot confirm his claim to have once opened for Ludacris.
• Butler is very, very far from Dodd's self-effacing, "I'm just here to help these kids" community activist: "I’m doing a dang good job ... I know that I’m the most connected guy in Wichita and probably in Kansas. Probably in the Midwest, and let some people tell, probably in the dang nation when it comes to high school recruiting."
• Butler has considered having Bryce Brown skip college altogether and go pro immediately -- in Canada. But the money is not remotely worth it: The salary cap for an entire team in the CFL is $4.2 million.
• As suggested by Feldman, local high school coaches despise Butler's influence, one of the reasons so many of his players come from Wichita's suburbs. The Browns' high school coach, Brian Byers (why does every Wichitan in this story have the same initials?), describes Butler's approach as “all about me, me, me" and accuses Butler of telling the Brown brothers to "shut it down" in games once their individual stat lines were secure. Bryce Brown didn't travel with teammates to one camp and didn't participate in another for fear of injury, and sometimes didn't even stretch with the team before games. Byers: "We had supposedly the best football player in the country in high school, and we went 6-3. We didn’t have a team because of that. ... Our team chemistry was nonexistent."
Recently fired Kansas State coach Ron Prince also discouraged KSU boosters from donating to Butler's program, largely because it could come back as a recruiting violation if the Wildcats landed one of his players.
But by far the most damning charge the Times' story levies against Butler surrounds one of his clients, Huldon Tharp, for whom Butler apparently fabricated a scholarship offer from Miami out of thin air in order to attract interest from other schools. Tharp comes from a suburban school that has never produced a I-A football player, and his high school coach admits to being "very surprised" when he heard Tharp had an offer from the 'Canes. When the Times' reporters actually sit down with the kid, the exchange is almost painful:
Tharp said he never knew Miami was recruiting him as a fullback. Late Tuesday night, Tharp said that he never received a written scholarship offer from Miami. He said he "was just talking to them."
He said, "Like they said, they were going to put it out as an offer," adding, "It was like over in the media and like for the recruiting Web sites and everything."
Asked if Butler told him he had received a scholarship offer to Miami, Tharp said, "Like what I’m telling you, like to start off my recruiting, they were going to do an offer so other schools see that and kind of get it rolling."
Asked if he and Butler agreed to say he had a scholarship offer from Miami, Tharp said, "He said, like, they were going to put it out in the media, that Miami was, and it was like going to get my recruiting going so like all the other schools would be at and offer, you understand?"
Asked if Butler told him that he was going to tell people that he had a Miami scholarship offer that did not technically exist, Tharp said, "Yeah."
"There’s not a problem," Butler said, adding, "It’s a 100 percent fact that he was verbally offered [by Miami]."
Miami officials confirmed twice late Tuesday that they did not offer Tharp a scholarship ...
Obviously Miami did not sign Tharp Wednesday, nor another obscure Butler client (who the school actually admitted to offering), Riley Spencer.
If you want to wrap the story up in two-line bow, there's this quote, via Byers, from an anonymous college coach: "'You’re telling me the University of Miami is leaving Florida to fly all the way to Mulvane, Kan., for a white kid that is a good 4A high school player? Something's not right there.'" Yeah, no kidding.