Slaughter's misstep was decades ago
MORGANTOWN - It is a far too frequent and rather tragic fact of life that often times bad things happen to good people.
It is similarly common and appalling that just the opposite is true - that good things happen to bad people.
On which side of that somewhat broad line falls one Erik Slaughter I have no earthly idea, although I would be inclined to hope and perhaps even suspect it is the former.
There apparently is at least one person in Texas who I am certain leans the other way.
Thus we arrive at the topic of Slaughter and his recent addition to West Virginia's defensive coaching staff. The man has a history - or at least one seemingly isolated incident in that history - that bodes ill for anyone placed in the position of influencing young men.
It does not seem, however, to be what it might appear on the surface.
Four years ago, while teaching and coaching at a high school in Texas, Slaughter was placed on administrative leave while being investigated for an inappropriate relationship with a female high school student. The end result, to make a long story short (although we will try to provide some of the longer version here), was that he resigned his teaching and coaching positions, eventually surrendered his teaching credentials and moved on to the college ranks.
It is, as far as we know, the only blemish on Slaughter's 20-year professional resume, although it is certainly a significant one. It is the elephant in the room regarding his hiring by WVU's Dana Holgorsen and Oliver Luck, one that can certainly be underplayed (i.e. ignored) in some quarters or overplayed (Page 1 headlines in Morgantown's daily newspaper) in others.
We will attempt to do neither and rather explain what we know, simply because it is out there lurking in the shadows and - for Slaughter's sake and that of WVU's football program - must not remain the topic of rumors and innuendo that could spiral out of control left unaddressed.
Slaughter's troubles began in early February of 2008 while he was in his second season as the rather successful head football coach and athletic director at Glen Rose High School in Texas. That was when he applied for and was virtually certain to become the coach at Stephenville High School, also in Texas and in the town where he attended college at Tarleton State.
Abruptly, though, Slaughter withdrew from contention for the job at Stephenville and asked that he might be allowed to return to the job he had yet to leave at Glen Rose. The request was granted, but then on Feb. 14 of that year he was placed on administrative leave. Five days later he resigned.
The reason he was placed on administrative leave was, according to the letter he received from Glen Rose Independent School District superintendent G. Wayne Rolen, "allegations you discussed with me and which were first reported to Stephenville ISD Superintendent Dr. Darrell Floyd by a former female student of that district.'' The letter goes on to say that Rolen reported the "alleged misconduct'' to the Texas State Board for Educator Certification.
Now, all of that seems pretty incriminating, and is even more so now that, four years later, Slaughter has admitted to the charges. If he had not done so before, he did so in a statement provided by WVU officials when asked about the incident, citing "a serious error in judgment.''
But here's where the whole thing becomes something other than a cut-and-dried case of malfeasance: The incident happened not while Slaughter was a thirty-something high school teacher at Glen Rose, but in roughly 1990, 18 years prior. It involved Slaughter, a 21-year-old student teacher at the time, and an 18-year-old high school senior, apparently a couple whose families were even friends.
It's still wrong. Period. No discussion. It's a teacher and student, no matter how you cut it. And it will forever remain a stain on Slaughter's record, as it should.
But it is also obviously not what it appears at first glance and without background, which is that thirty-something teacher and one of his students.
Why did it even come up in 2008, nearing two decades beyond the fact? Well, that's where the good-things-happening-to-bad-people angle comes in. Slaughter was about to take that Stephenville coaching job, which reportedly paid $83,000 (yes, Texas takes its high school football seriously), and someone apparently thought that was a good thing happening to a bad person. Although never confirmed, reports in Texas say the whistle-blower was the now-husband of the female student.
That doesn't really matter, though, because it became known to school officials, who began an investigation. It would appear the investigation was never completed, however, because Slaughter resigned and took a job as the defensive coordinator and linebackers coach at NCAA Division II Texas A&M-Commerce. A year later he voluntarily surrendered his high school teaching certificate and moved on to Stephen F. Austin. He was there three years (part of it with WVU receivers coach Shannon Dawson) before being officially hired at WVU on Tuesday.
Good things happening to bad people? Well, there's at least one person in Texas who is no doubt cringing that by blocking Slaughter's stab at an $83,000 high school coaching job he inadvertently set him on a course toward a $200,000 job at WVU.
But there's also the possibility that Slaughter's "serious error in judgment'' was just that some 22 years ago, which may or may not qualify as a bad thing (albeit by his own hand) happening to a good person.
For their part, Holgorsen and Luck don't exactly have a spotless record in making hires (Brady Ackerman anyone?), but the vast majority seem to have been good ones. And after the Ackerman incident, one would hope that the vetting process at the Coliseum has improved.
That vetting process with Slaughter (Luck referred to a "thorough background check) raised no real red flags beyond the one incident more than two decades ago involving a coach who was then half the age he is now and a student who was legally an adult.
As for Slaughter, in addition to admitting guilt and poor judgment "as a [single] young man,'' he said it was "very early in my career and that incident impacted my life and affected the lives of others. Since then many years have passed and I have matured personally and professionally. I've worked hard to make good decisions and to concentrate on being a good coach and a responsible husband and father.''
For my part, I won't judge Slaughter because I don't yet know him. But if that is his only transgression, it might be time to put it away.
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.