University of Central Arkansas baseball coach Allen Gum did some things wrong Wednesday night that helped ignite a brawl between the Bears and Arkansas-Little Rock.
He did some things right Friday night.
He admitted failure. He owned the fact that he used poor judgment and exhibited a lack of leadership for his players and his program.
He conceded that he had not trained his players and coaches and disciplined himself to handle volatile, controversial, intense and sudden developments.
“It was my lack of leadership in spending time with our coaches and players, either in the fall or preseason, about how to handle situations like this,” he said. “It’s my fault, 100 percent. That’s training.”
Gum gave his perspective on the incident — which has resulted in various suspensions to three UCA players and an assistant coach and four UALR players — in a radio interview with UCA broadcaster Steve Owens before Friday night’s game with Southeastern Louisiana. He began the interview by imposing a voluntary one-game suspension on himself.
Thursday, UALR coach Scott Norwood, in a news conference, apologized for his role in the fracas, calling it an embarrassment to the university and he intends for he and his program to move forward.
Gum, who had not commented previously, chose to explain his side in the radio interview. We in the media would have preferred to have his version quicker but we’ll cut him some slack he admitted an major error in judgment, accepted responsibility, then asked forgiveness.
“I showed poor leadership at a crucial time,” he said.
Gum said after the umpires reversed a batter’s interference call in the 10th inning, he protested to the umpires, then continued onto the field to try to get assistant coach Nick Harlan, who he said was trying to get the lineup and baserunning situation straight after the decision, back to the dugout.
That was when Norwood also walked quickly onto the diamond, shouting and pointing. Gum and Norwood went chest-to-chest and face-to-face in a heated encounter in front of the mound. Gum admitted the two bumped.
“I was hearing disrespectful language we had heard the whole night,” Gum said. “I should have let the umpires handle the situation but I tried to handle it myself. I could have handled it differently. I could have executed better leadership in that situation and I apologize for that.”
As the two coaches confronted each other, benches cleared the a brawl ensued that continued from the diamond to the backstop.
“One of my responsibilities is to protect the players and when things started escalating, I did a poor job of not putting them in a position that they could be harmed in any way.”
Three UCA players, Tyler Langley of Conway, Nate Farrell and Brandon Montalvo, have incurred four-game suspensions for throwing punches.
While he didn’t excuse the actions, Gum tried to explain them.
“Tyler is out there by himself at the plate and their team (UALR) ran out first,” Gum said. “Tyler is a good kid, a great leader who loves his team, He was faced with a flight-or-fight situation and chose to fight and throw punches. I think all of those players were trying to protect their teammates. Actually, Tyler was trying to protect coach Kline.”
Kline (assistant coach Trent) has been suspended eight games for his part in the fracas, which resulted in Norwood falling or being shoved to the ground (from the perspective of some from a widely circulated video) .
Gum vigorously defending his assistant, who has been criticized widely for making contact and possibly pushing Norwood, who ended up face first in the dirt.
“Actually, coach Kline was trying to get between me and Norwood,” Gum said. “His mistake was putting hands on him. One view of the video that was posted seemed to show he shoved him. Another view I’ve seen seems to indicate Norwood actually tripped over the umpire. Coach Kline didn’t aggressively go at him. He (Kline) backed up when he went down. I’ll defend coach Kline. He’s a good man who cares for our players and has helped them make various types of decisions.”
Gum apologized to his family, the UCA fan, the coaches and his players for his poor judgment in an incident that got nationwide attention.
“All I can ask for is forgiveness,” he said.
A key measure for everybody involved is what they have learned and the manner in which they move forward.
The teams are scheduled to play again in Little Rock later this month. One part of moving forward means whether there is too much baggage and too many lingering, smouldering emotions to play again this season. Brad Teague, UCA’s athletic director, and Chris Petersen, his UALR counterpart, are both classy men who try to do things the right way. They will cooperate about that decision depending on their assessment over the next couple of weeks on whether the fire is out and the case is closed.
Maybe, the teams need a mulligan.
“I think it’s a great opportunity to show things can be done right,” Norwood told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
Meanwhile, time might heal lingering wounds and allow grace to work.
(Sports columnist David McCollum can be reached at 501-505-1235 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on twitter @dmaclcd)