SALT LAKE CITY — If this were politics, it would be business as usual, a vitriolic late night Trump tweet, or a trash-talking moment on “The View.” Instead, it was a dad sticking up for his son. And a man who has plenty of reasons to appear, in contemporary jargon, unhinged.
In a Wednesday interview with "BYU Sports Nation," Merril Hoge, father of BYU player Beau Hoge, unloaded on the Cougar coaching staff, and in particular assistant coach Ed Lamb. After spring football, the younger Hoge was told he would be moved to running back.
Merril Hoge, a former ESPN personality assigned to the NFL, reacted like he had been chop blocked. He vilified Lamb, calling him “a weasel,” and labeling the decision “stupid” and “as bizarre and smelly as anything I’ve ever seen.” Nothing in his experience — including eight years in the NFL — compare, he said.
He went on to claim his son was not allowed to compete for the position. That triggered Wednesday's rant, questioning the capability of Kalani Sitake’s coaching staff. The tirade was classless, poorly timed and ignorant, in light of the fact he called Lamb the linebackers coach — insinuating Lamb had little to do with quarterbacks — when in reality Lamb is also assistant head coach.
Still, this was his son Hoge was talking about. As a friend of mine once said regarding objectivity, “When it’s your kid, all bets are off.”
The team would be wise to limit comment, other than to say it disagrees. Football teams have conflict weekly, and this blip isn’t likely to be a major distraction. It will take the starting quarterback one win before the situation isn’t an issue with anyone except the Hoges.
But there is more to this story than a defensive father and a hopeful quarterback. In that light, the episode is completely understandable and, yes, even forgivable.
The elder Hoge’s frame of mind can’t be great right now. He was laid off in 2017 by ESPN after 21 productive years with the network. That’s a soul-crushing experience. He and his wife divorced several years ago. A study called the Holmes-Rahe Stress Inventory lists life’s most traumatic events. Hoge has hit four of the top 10 over the years: divorce (2), death of a close family member (5) major illness (6) and job loss (8).
Hoge was always someone who could overcome long odds. His mother died when he was 19. He played high school football in Pocatello, Idaho, and says he didn’t get a serious scholarship from anyone other than Idaho State. But he became a star running back with the Bengals, moving on to an eight-year NFL career in Pittsburgh and Chicago. A brain injury tied to concussions forced his retirement in 1994. He tells of flatlining on a training table after a second concussion in five weeks.
In 2003 he was diagnosed with stage two non-Hodgkin lymphoma, which he overcame. In 2015 he had surgery to repair an enlarged aorta.
Hoge has called his son “a magical player.” While a lot of things have collapsed around him in recent years, he undoubtedly took solace in the success of his son.
I feel for the coaches who were branded incompetent and worse by an angry parent. I wish success for Beau Hoge, who may actually one day be grateful for the switch. But most of all I feel sorry for the dad who has been dealt more trials than he deserves and, at least for now, has taken one more blindside hit. Hoge wrote a book called “Find A Way,” about overcoming adversity. It is based on a 3-by-5 card he pinned to the corkboard as a boy, dreaming of an NFL career.
I’m hoping his son succeeds at running back, in part because Beau wasn’t the one who went public with the complaint. And I’m hoping the elder Hoge overcomes this setback as he has so many others. Most of all, I’m hoping people give him some space. Parents can occasionally be excused for getting emotionally involved. But a parent who has dealt with what Hoge has deserves a one-time pass.