Vahe Gregorian

Maty Mauk case is a delicate test for new MU coach

Maty Mauk
Maty Mauk The Associated Press

Maty Mauk has been an enigma as the University of Missouri quarterback, a role he has dramatized with equal parts brilliance and inexplicable lapses.

He can exasperate with what looks like reckless obliviousness in one moment. He can exhilarate with seemingly calculated bravado in the next.

Or as we put it after his typically contradictory performance in MU’s 33-17 win over Minnesota in the 2015 Citrus Bowl: Mauk “tends to create his own dramas and dilemmas.”

Who knew there potentially were parallel off-field implications to that?

Now there is this 9-second video circulating of someone who looks like Mauk and appears to be snorting something that seems to be cocaine.

As MU investigates the video in question, Mauk has been suspended for the third time in four months and only weeks after he’d been reinstated by new coach Barry Odom — whose grace period already is being interrupted by trials.

This sort of thing may or may not have any relationship to Mauk’s erratic judgment on the field.

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But it can’t help but make you wonder about the connection, especially since The Star’s Tod Palmer confirmed through multiple sources that Mauk’s first suspension was for a failed drug test.

Although no one has directly confirmed that it’s Mauk in the video, none of those defending him is saying it’s not … just that the video is old.

That’s what Mauk’s father, Mike, told Palmer, and it was reiterated on receiver Keyon Dilosa’s Twitter account: “That video is from 2 years ago. Everyone has made a mistake before(,) somebody just felt like it’d be cool to ruin his life. ... He’s been clean.”

The point was made more emphatically by Mizzou linebacker Michael Scherer via Twitter. The video, he wrote, is “very old,” and Mauk “has been doing everything he can to be a better person and … you should look at yourself in the mirror before pointing out someone else’s problems. No one is perfect. Everyone makes mistakes.”

Too true.

So let’s hope for the sake of Mauk, who also has been contending with his father’s cancer treatment, that it is an outdated video.

Let’s hope that since then, and since the initial suspension, he has gotten vital help for any demons he might be grappling with.

Snide remarks aside, notwithstanding concerns about what his status means to a football program at a crossroads, there is exactly one priority here: efforts to ensure that Mauk is healthy and, if not, given every tool and means to get appropriate help.

Moreover, if the video is from before his first suspension, MU is duty-bound to consider that carefully in how it treats Mauk now: Essentially, he already has been punished for earlier transgressions.

So unless Mizzou learns otherwise, or that there was more to what it thought then, the only reason to further discipline him is simply yielding to pressure and embarrassment about a matter it already had ruled on.

That doesn’t mean that couldn’t be valid, but if Mauk hasn’t been implicated in any known drug issues since then, the purpose and reasoning to do it would be more about image than substance.

That premise assumes, of course, that the previous process was handled fairly and with all due diligence, something there is no way to know.

Still, there are other questions that come with this for MU football, for which Mauk was 17-5 as a starter and stands fourth in career touchdown passes with 42.

If the video is indeed of Mauk and is, in fact, old and well-known to players, then teammates evidently bore witness to it.

It’s widely believed that at least one player finally did speak up to coaches in 2015, but even if that’s true it’s not clear how long he knew without going forward.

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So there is a useful lesson in this for us all about the consequences of staying mum when someone is engaged in behavior that might be destructive to themselves or those affected by them.

What might have been seen as a betrayal of Mauk was, in fact, a disservice both to him and the team: Their leader eventually was suspended for failing a drug test that dominoed into missing most of a season — and now he has this shadow cast over him anyway.

Much less important but still of significance were the unintended consequences of not promptly seeking a way to get Mauk help:

Did drug use have an impact on his play?

Did knowledge of it among players splinter a team as it spiraled to 5-7 after going 23-5 the previous two seasons with back-to-back SEC divisional titles?

Other obvious questions surface and linger here:

Is there more to this story yet to come?

What did then-coach Gary Pinkel and his staff — and now Odom — know, when did they know it, and how did they approach it?

Because of privacy laws, of course, they were limited in what they could say about Mauk then.

And that’s probably why Odom has been vague when he has spoken of what Mauk had to do to gain reinstatement.

But without explicit comment on their approach or knowledge, there is a gnawing void in the storyline.

Meanwhile, old or new video and whatever else might be looming here, Odom has a quandary on his hands with Mauk’s indefinite suspension and the various messages keeping him or cutting him loose would send as he tries to set a tone for a new program.

Consider, too, that only last week Odom suspended indefinitely defensive tackle Terry Beckner Jr. a day after Beckner’s arrest and citation for misdemeanor marijuana possession. Odom is being tested before he even coaches his first spring practice.

Dramas and dilemmas, as it happens, that will say something early about Odom’s ability to solve problems and what he wants the program to stand for.

Vahe Gregorian: 816-234-4868, @vgregorian

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