Swarbrick addresses Te’o situation, but questions remain


Or, rather, one very key question remains.

The sports news cycle exploded Wednesday evening with a Deadspin report alleging that the story surrounding the death of Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o‘s girlfriend was in fact a lie allegedly perpetrated in part by the player.  Both the University and Te’o followed that up with separate statements that each came to the same conclusion — Te’o had been duped by and became the unwitting victim of an elaborate hoax.

At a hastily arranged press conference Wednesday, athletic director Jack Swarbrick continued that theme.  In opening remarks before taking questions from the assembled media, Swarbrick described Te’o as “the perfect mark,” saying that the Heisman finalist “was the victim of that hoax. … is the victim of that hoax, and he will carry that with him for a while.”

Based on information relayed to him by Te’o as part of the school’s own initial look into the situation, Swarbrick stated that Te’o received a call in early December from a number associated with Lennay Kekua — the girlfriend who Te’o had proclaimed to be the love of his life — and with a voice on the other end of the line that sounded like that of Kekua claiming she had not in fact died three months earlier.  Three weeks later, on Dec. 26, Te’o took that information to the Irish coaching staff before it ultimately landed in the hands of a private investigation firm.

A report from that investigative firm was delivered to the University Jan. 4 — three days before the Irish played Alabama for the BCS championship — and forwarded to Te’o and his family. “It… is my understanding that they were on a timetable to release the story themselves next week when today’s story broke,” Swarbrick stated.

The hoax perpetrated by multiple unidentified individuals was so elaborate, Swarbrick explained, that there was even “a place to send flowers” after Kekua’s supposed death.

“There are a remarkable number of characters involved,” the AD explained. “We don’t know how many people they represent. There are male and female characters, brothers, cousins, mother, and we don’t know if it’s two people playing multiple characters or multiple people. But, again, it goes to the sophistication of this, that there are all these sort of independent pieces that reinforce elements of the story all the way through.”

Swarbrick at one point was on the verge of tears, pausing for several seconds to compose himself as he described the “tragedy” of “the single most trusting human being I’ve ever met will never be able to trust in the same way again in his life.”  That specific exchange was the overriding takeaway from Swarbrick’s surreal press conference, one that shows, right or wrong, the athletic director is standing firmly behind Te’o’s version of what transpired over the past three years.

Despite Swarbrick’s staunch and eloquent and oft-times emotional support of Te’o, there was one nagging question that the AD simply couldn’t or wouldn’t answer.  What was the nature of Te’o’s supposed relationship with Kekua?

“What I will tell you, this was exclusively an online relationship,” Swarbrick said when asked to explain how the Te’o-Kekua pairing came to be.

That, though, doesn’t jibe with an Oct. 12, 2012 article from the South Bend Tribune — an article, incidentally, that was taken offline in the wake of the Deadspin story — that contained these quotes from Te’o’s father.

“They started out as just friends,” Brian Te’o told the Tribune. “Every once in a while, she would travel to Hawaii, and that happened to be the time Manti was home, so he would meet with her there. But within the last year, they became a couple.”

A short time later, Swarbrick was asked about when the relationship began and how they met.

“I don’t remember the exact length of time,” Swarbrick said, “but it had it began with an online reaching-out to him that he responded to.”

Again, that falls short of the narrative spun in the Tribune story, which focuses on Te’o and Kekua meeting after the Notre Dame-Stanford game in 2009.

Their stares got pleasantly tangled, then Manti Te’o extended his hand to the stranger with a warm smile and soulful eyes.

Lennay Kekua was a Stanford student and Cardinal football fan when the two exchanged glances, handshakes and phone numbers that fateful weekend three seasons ago.

Near the end of the press conference, a reporter again pressed Swarbrick on how the relationship between Te’o and Kekua had been portrayed, intimating that it was the player himself who led many to believe that the two had met in 2009 at Stanford.  Essentially, the whole “hoax” claim was again being called into question, and Swarbrick again danced around any type of in-person meeting between the couple.

Q: …I know there have been reports that Manti said he had an initial face to face meeting with his girlfriend at Stanford at some point. What’s going on with that?

JACK SWARBRICK: Again, I’ll let Manti provide the details, but as I said earlier in this press conference, when Manti took me through the entire story from start to finish, when he first described the contact, he used the verb met. For him, the fact that they connected online, that they met online, was consistent with using that verb. Not one that I might have chosen, but it was for him.

How stares get pleasantly tangled or handshakes get exchanged in an initial online connection is, at the moment, the great unknown and will take an explanation from the player himself to unravel that technological mystery.

Speaking of which, Swarbrick suggested during his press conference that Te’o could meet with the media as early as Thursday.  Whether any additional light will be shed on the bizarre situation, or whether Te’o will further bury himself in the court of public opinion, when that inquisition takes place remains to be seen.

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Dad of Alabama’s Matt Womack confirms starting RT son to miss spring practice after foot surgery

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Alabama will kick off spring practice later on Tuesday, but the reigning national champions will do so without an integral piece of its offensive line.

The father of the lineman, David Womack, confirmed to Rivals.com that Matt Womack will undergo surgery Wednesday to repair a broken bone in his right foot.  As a result, the rising redshirt junior will miss all of the Crimson Tide’s 15 spring practice sessions.

Per David Womack, his son suffered the injury while jumping boxes during workouts.

Recovery time is expected to be in the range of six weeks, which means that, barring a setback, he’ll be fully healthy for the start of summer camp in early August.

Womack started all 14 games at right tackle in the Tide’s run to its 17th national championship last season.  As a redshirt freshman the year before, Womack, a three-star member of UA’s 2015 signing class, played in nine games.

Kansas loses assistant coach… to the oil industry

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This might be the most Big 12 way ever to lose an assistant football coach.

According to both Rivals.com and the Lawrence Journal-World, Todd Bradford is leaving his post as Kansas’ linebackers coach.  The reason?  He’s returning to the oil business.

Bradford was fired as the defensive coordinator at Maryland in January of 2012, with that dismissal, and the health of his mother, leading to him leaving the coaching profession for a job in the oil field for the next four years.

“A guy that I was involved with and had business dealings when I was in the oil world before I was helping with my mom reached out to me,” Bradford told JayhawkSlant.com when it came to his decision-making process this time around. “He told me he had some companies that were doing really well and he needed someone to come in and help me run them. He asked if I was interested and I told him I was happy coaching.

“Then he called two more times after that and offered me the job after signing day. I turned it down twice. But each time the offer was getting a little bit better and by the third time financially it was oil world money.”

Bradford spent his first two seasons with the Jayhawks as linebackers coach.  The football program had previously confirmed that he would coach safeties in 2018.

NFL assistant Jake Peetz returning to Alabama as offensive analyst

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On the heels of an extended stint in the NFL, Jake Peetz is headed back to Tuscaloosa.

According to Ian Rapoport of NFL.com, Peetz has taken a job as an offensive analyst at Alabama.  Peetz had been slated to serve as Josh McDaniels‘ offensive coordinator with the Indianapolis Colts before McDaniels abruptly opted to remain with the New England Patriots.

The 34-year-old Peetz is returning to a role he held with the Crimson Tide during the 2013 season.  His only other job at the FBS level came in 2007 as a defensive quality control coach at UCLA.

After his first stint with ‘Bama, Peetz spent the 2014 season as offensive quality control coach and wide receivers assistant with the Washington Redskins.  The past three years for Peetz have been spent with the Oakland Raiders, the last season as quarterbacks coach.

Army ‘will probably’ give RB Kell Walker a shot at playing QB

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With uncertainty surrounding Ahmad Bradshaw, Army will apparently leave no stone unturned when it comes to the triggerman for its offense.

While Bradshaw, the Black Knights’ starting quarterback the past three seasons, will be a cadet at the service academy this fall, it’s unclear — or even unlikely — that he’ll be permitted to play football in 2018.  In December of last year, the Army defended an internal investigation that concluded Bradshaw and a female cadet had a consensual sexual relationship.

“We are,” head coach Jeff Monken said according to the Times Herald-Record when asked if the football team is moving forward under the assumption that Bradshaw will not be available this season. “We kind of have to move in that direction because we don’t know what the status is going to be. Right now, we are just preparing for us to have a new quarterback.”

With that in mind, Monken also confirmed this week “that sophomore slotback Kell Walker ‘will probably’ get a look at quarterback when the Black Knights open spring practice Tuesday,” Sal Interdonato of HudsonValley.com wrote.  Walker, who was third on the Black Knights in rushing last season (629 yards) and led them in yards per carry at 7.3, has never played quarterback before at any level.

Army, of course, is unique in that its offense allows them to even attempt such an experiment as their run-heavy system resulted in just 65 passes in 13 games last season.  Conversely, they led the nation in rushing at 362.3 yards per game.

“We will probably play him there some just to see what he is capable of doing,” Monken said of Walker by way of the Herald-Record. “We obviously want to get the ball in his hands as often as we can. He’s a good player for us. I think that would be a way to do that. I just don’t know if he’s going to be the guy that can lead our offense.

“The leadership piece for the quarterback is maybe as important as anything. I think he’s a good leader whether he will be able to lead from that position I do not know.”

The potential loss of Bradshaw, though, can’t be understated.  As a junior last season, Bradshaw ran for a school-record 1,746 yards and accounted for 14 of the Black Knights’ 50 rushing touchdowns.

The Walker experiment notwithstanding, Kelvin Hopkins will likely head into the spring as the favorite to replace Bradshaw under center.  The sophomore was the only player other than Bradshaw to attempt a pass last season, throwing 18 times (six completions) for 76 yards, one touchdown and one interception.  He also carried the ball seven times for 40 yards.