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Hawaii coach learns an expensive lesson

If you've ever been asked to speak in public — at church, a school classroom, a banquet, a funeral — then you probably know how absolutely embarrassing it is to say something you thought was pretty dang funny ... and nobody else in the room sees the slightest bit of humor in it.

For an instant, you wish the floor would swallow you up. You wish you could pull those silly words back, stuff 'em right back in your mouth and quickly say something else.

But, unfortunately, the damage has already been done.

Welcome to the world of Greg McMackin, head football coach at the University of Hawaii, who opened his mouth and stuck both feet in it.

McMackin, in case you hadn't heard by now, was in Salt Lake City a few days ago for the annual Western Athletic Conference football media day. In a vain attempt at humor, he repeatedly used a slur generally targeted at gay men to describe a chant that was performed by Notre Dame players at a banquet before last year's Hawaii Bowl.

McMackin, who used the offensive language three times while talking to members of the media — some of whom could be heard chuckling in the background as McMackin rambled on — quickly realized the error of his ways and apologized publicly and profusely for his poor judgment.

And from the tone of his apology, he is sincerely, deeply, truly, tearfully — and financially — sorry for making those remarks.

"What I was trying to do was be funny, and it wasn't funny," he said. "It's not funny. Even more, it's not funny to me. I was trying to make a joke and it was a bad choice of words. And I really, really feel bad about it. ... It was really stupid."

We live in an age consumed by political correctness, but no one will argue with him on that last comment. It was a really stupid thing to say.

On Friday, he was suspended for 30 days without pay. And, to show how terrible he feels about his misguided rant, he has also volunteered to take an additional 7 percent pay cut from his $1.1 million annual salary. His battle with foot-in-mouth disease will cost him roughly $169,000, to say nothing of damage he's done to his reputation and respect, as well as that of the school he represents.

Rule No. 1 in public speaking: You've gotta know your audience. Sure, there might be some things that would fly if you're just sitting around a table with your buddies at a sports bar, or sitting around a campfire up in the hills while deer hunting.

But flapping your gums about sensitive topics in front of a room full of sportswriters armed with tape recorders, pens and notebooks? Not smart at all.

I'll say this much for McMackin, who formerly served as defensive coordinator at the University of Utah in the early 1990s: He certainly helped spice up what is often a mundane ritual in which coaches gather and generally try to blow smoke up the backsides of the media and their fellow coaches.

He's not the first sports personality — and certainly not the last — who caused himself unnecessary heartburn by speaking without thinking.

Famed football prognosticator Jimmy "The Greek" Snyder and longtime Los Angeles Dodgers' front-office executive Al Campanis both lost their jobs for racially charged comments they thought were harmless. Former Cincinnati Reds' owner Marge Schott and relief pitcher John "Off His" Rocker each made mindless comments that offended millions of people. So did well-respected Monday Night Football announcer Howard Cosell.

McMackin now has his place in that long line of folks whose mouths moved faster than their brains did. At least McMackin was very remorseful for his remarks — something Snyder, Campanis, Schott and Rocker never quite figured out.

Oh, by the way, Notre Dame throttled Hawaii in their bowl game, 49-21. Victory is always the best revenge, I suppose, even when it comes before the insult took place.

e-mail: rhollis@desnews.com