Fired McMaster head football coach Greg Knox ends silence

We finally have an explanation of the circumstances that led to McMaster’s firing of head football coach Greg Knox.

One version of it, anyway.

Roughly two weeks after the school relieved him of his duties — citing “allegations of harassment and threats of physical violence made against a sideline game official” as outlined in an independent third-party report — the former coach released a statement through his lawyer:

“On September 22, 2018, while coaching the McMaster Marauders during a game against the Wilfrid Laurier Golden Hawks, I, as well as numerous coaches and players were run into well inside the bench area by a member of the stick crew carrying the sticks and chains that are usually carried. I saw this as a safety issue and as Head Coach I reacted by yelling at the officials. After being struck from behind, in the heat of the moment, I approached the sideline official in charge of the stick crew and yelled at him to address this behaviour. Although I was given a warning, I proceeded to yell at the stick crew member in question and was subsequently given a 10 yard penalty for objectionable conduct. While I believe my communication with the officials was within the customary decorum of what happens on a football sideline — it does not make it right and I was penalized accordingly by the OUA who determined it to qualify as a minor violation of the OUA Coaches Code of Conduct.

“I am not trying to justify my actions. I acknowledge I should have handled the situation better. I apologize to those negatively impacted by my words and to the McMaster University community at large. I have now put this matter behind me and look forward to moving forward and being involved in the sport of football. I would like to thank McMaster University, the Marauder players, parents and coaches, and the administration for the opportunity to contribute to football at McMaster University.”

While this blow-by-blow certainly fits with the rough outline of what we’ve heard before, it is Knox’s version alone. Attempts to see if other participants in this drama agreed with his narrative were generally unsuccessful.

Ontario University Athletics CEO Gord Grace says he was not part of the discipline committee — which gave Knox a one-game suspension — so he doesn’t know all the details. As a result, he can neither verify this version or disagree with it.

“In general, he was sanctioned for verbal abuse of officials,” Grace says.

The head of officiating for Ontario university football wasn’t weighing in, either.

“I have to stick with a no comment,” Dave Hutton says.

And the university largely reiterated what it has previously said in previous statements.

“McMaster is focused on the future of the team and we’re confident that future will include a culture where harassment and threats of physical violence are not accepted,” director of communications Gord Arbeau said in an email. “The University is committed to student athletes and to supporting and strengthening not only the football program, but all athletics and recreation teams and activities.”

Finally, Knox’s lawyer, Wade Poziomka, says Knox will be making no further comments. So we’re left with this account as a framework to understand this story.

It unquestionably leaves a few things unanswered. Especially since this version of events really doesn’t sound much different than plenty of incidents you’d see in various levels of football every season involving angry coaches and officials. Other than the fact that those working the first-down sticks are rarely the target of coaches’ ire. Yet, coaches in these situations generally aren’t fired.

How we get from here to his dismissal seems to require an additional piece of information — or a few of them — that isn’t available.

Top of the list? We still don’t know exactly what words were said to the official. The OUA says it was verbal abuse, the school goes further and says it was harassment and threats. But the fact that the league banned him for only one game seems to limit what might have been uttered. You’d think that if it was something monumentally egregious, the penalty surely would’ve been more severe than that.

Either way, the comments at the end of Knox’s statement about wanting to move forward and thanking the school would suggest some agreement may have been reached between him and McMaster. Poziomka wouldn’t say whether that was the case but did say, “There’s no legal dispute between the university and Greg Knox.”

So this drama may now be over for both sides.

That being the case, and with Knox’s comment about looking forward to being involved in football again, we should probably expect to see him on a sideline — whether in college or the pros — sometime soon. He’s had too much success in the game to remain unemployed for long. Remember, he was the defensive co-ordinator all three years the Marauders went to the Vanier Cup. Those kinds of results usually find a home unless there’s some compelling reason otherwise.

While this episode certainly hasn’t enhanced his reputation, nothing that’s publicly emerged from all this has yet tainted him with the kind of unforgivable black mark that would prevent another school or team from hiring him.

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