#ItMightMeanTooMuch: What to make of the coach/former SEC grad assistant who'd like to have dinner with Adolf Hitler
Don’t go there. Ever.
Those always have been and always will be the words used when the name “Adolf Hitler” is used in anything but a history lesson.
In any other context, it’s always a hard “no” to reference someone responsible for mass genocide. At least that’s how most human brains have worked for the better part of a century.
As we found out from Grand Valley State offensive coordinator Morris Berger, apparently that school of thought doesn’t apply to everyone.
Instead of providing the usual buttoned-up answers that you’d expect from a newly-hired coach, Berger referenced Hitler as a historical figure that he’d most want to have dinner with during an interview with the Grand Valley State student newspaper.
Here’s his full answer, which appeared on Lanthorn.com:
KV: So you graduated from Drury with a degree in History, you’re a history guy. If you could have dinner with three historical figures, living or dead, who would they be? And I’m ruling out football figures.
MB: This is probably not going to get a good review, but I’m going to say Adolf Hitler. It was obviously very sad and he had bad motives, but the way he was able to lead was second-to-none. How he rallied a group and a following, I want to know how he did that. Bad intentions of course, but you can’t deny he wasn’t a great leader.
KV: The way he was able to get people to rally around him was crazy.
MB: Yeah, that’s definitely one. You have to go JFK, his experience with the country and being that he was a good president and everything. And this might sound crazy, but Christopher Columbus, the ability to go on the journey he was on and his emotion into the unknown. Think about putting yourself in the setting of that unknown, and then to take it all in as you arrive is crazy.
The words “this is probably not going to get a good review” probably should’ve told his brain to swallow whatever word vomit was about to come up. Somehow, it didn’t. And the crazy thing is that Hitler was his first response. It wasn’t like he was scrambling for an answer after he said “Martin Luther King Jr. and Teddy Roosevelt.” Nope. Hitler was just in Berger’s holster.
Also, what does Berger mean by “he wants to know how (Hitler) did that.” If you want to know how he led, there are books, movies, podcasts, documentaries, newspaper articles, whatever. It’s all there, man. Or, if you thought those things didn’t tell the full story about Hitler’s “second-to-none” ability to lead, you can literally buy his book “Mein Kampf” on Amazon without anyone ever knowing.
But you know what you shouldn’t do as a football coach at any level? Publicly say you wish you could sit down with Hitler so you can pick his brain about how to lead. No parent in their right mind would read a comment like that and think “Yep! That’s where I’m sending my kid to play!”
That’s the type of comment that’ll instantly get you suspended by the school that hired you a week ago.
Following Berger’s Hitler answer, the university released this statement (via WoodTV.com):
“The comments made by Offensive Coordinator Morris Berger, as reported in The Lanthorn student newspaper, do not reflect the values of Grand Valley State University,” the statement read. “Berger has been suspended and the university is conducting a thorough investigation.”
By “thorough investigation,” I assume that was pretty simply, hey kid, let us listen to the recording to make sure if that’s exactly what was said. If it was, well, they’d either reinstate him with a major Friday news dumb or they’d begin another search for an offensive coordinator. You know, like someone who doesn’t wish he could turn to Hitler for inspiration.
As we found out on Friday, Berger apologized and resigned following the suspension. According to Footballscoop.com, it was a forced resignation.
From now on, the Grand Valley State athletic director or whoever makes the hires should ask the same question in the interview process that the student newspaper reporter asked. If the answers are either Hitler, Benito Mussolini, Joseph Stalin, Saddam Hussein or Osama Bin Laden, that’s probably a sign that the coaching candidate under consideration isn’t going to be a fit. Like, anywhere.
In GVSU’s defense, I’m not sure anything about Berger’s past suggested he’d bring such negative headlines to the university before he even coached a game. He’s a young coach who spent time working his way up at FBS schools like Texas State, Oklahoma State and … Mizzou. Berger actually served as a recruiting and operations grad assistant at Mizzou for 3 years, and he got a master’s degree in educational psychology while he was in Columbia.
The irony is that at a place like Mizzou with such a respected journalism program, Berger probably never got much of a feel for the coach-reporter dynamic. Grad assistants don’t exactly speak to the media, and his media interactions as the Texas State tight ends coach (that was his position before he got the GVSU job) were probably few and far between.
Berger’s situation should serve as a reminder that in 2020, anyone speaking/tweeting/posting in a public forum has to have a filter. There are certain things you can apologize for, but that doesn’t mean you can take them back.
Fifteen years ago, we probably would’ve never heard about this story. It would’ve been spotted by the diehards on GVSU’s campus who HAD to read about their new offensive coordinator. In 2020, though, it doesn’t take much for that story to go viral … which it did.
Sports Illustrated, USA Today, Awful Announcing, SDS (shameless plug) and plenty of others ran stories on this. The issue is that until this story blows over — who knows when that’ll be — that’s what GVSU will be known for. It won’t be known nationally as the place where Brian Kelly won Division II national titles or as the place where they take dodgeball super seriously (I did my homework).
It’ll instead be, “Grand Valley State … isn’t that where that assistant coach claimed he wanted to have dinner with Hitler?”
As I always say, it’s never good when the negative recruiting is that easy. Even at a Division II school, there’s too much at stake for a football program to go viral for the wrong reasons. I’d argue it’s even steeper at a slope at a small school because those athletic department profit margins are that much thinner.
If Berger has to look for a new line of work following his resignation, I wish the best for him. I hope that he doesn’t go viral for the wrong reasons and that he has a better answer when asked a fairly common question to learn more about his personality. For now, though, Berger can at least hold on to being right about 1 thing.
His answer did not get a good review.