The Percy Harvin Story: Or How Do You Please a Sullen Mope?

I never spent a ton of time with the Vikings when I writing, but I covered a fair amount of the team’s 2009 run to the NFC title game, and that was long enough to be lied to by Percy Harvin.

Back then Harvin had a decent reputation among reporters; I don’t know if that’s changed much. I know that when colleague Brian Murphy drove out to his place in Florida recently that Harvin, though declining to talk — and probably in shock to see Murph walking up the street — was polite.

But back in 2009 I was in the Vikings locker room looking for preview stuff when I spied Harvin, who was having a terrific rookie season, alone at his locker. I approached him and asked for a minute and he told me he had something to do real quick in another room but he’d be right back. Great, I said.

He never came back. Forgot. Was busy. The next day, though, I was back at Winter Park and still hoping to get some feedback from Percy Harvin. Fortunately he was at his locker again, so I headed back but was quickly intercepted by a (nice enough) Vikings PR guy who asked me what I wanted.

To talk to Percy for a minute or two, I said. Nothing major. Harvin was physically with us for this conversation but listening like the omniscient narrator. The PR guy told me Percy had something to do in another room but would be back shortly.

I looked at the PR guy, then at Percy, and said, “That’s exactly what he told me yesterday and he never came back.”

I turned back to Harvin, who was looking at me with a contempt generally reserved for horse thieves and bigamists. It was a mix of unmitigated anger and shock that someone would step beyond such a Rubicon. 

A lot of professional athletes don’t like sportswriters; maybe most, even. I once had a player tell me one of his teammates didn’t like me because he didn’t know me, to which I replied, “How you treat people you don’t know says a lot about you.” To me, that little episode said a lot about Percy Harvin.

I never got to talk to young Percy that day. I do remember him, however, fumbling away a scoring chance at the end of the first half of an overtime loss in the NFC title game in New Orleans. I also remember him not playing a lot because of headaches, or hurt feelings, or agent interference. Whatever the case, I could never figure out just what Percy was so perpetually miffed about.

I’m not sure the Vikings could, either. Here’s a kid getting paid millions of dollars to play football ($2.77 in 2013) who pouted like a sullen teenager. How do you please someone like that? Wisely, the Vikings decided it’s impossible.

Let’s face it: He’s not killing it

In an economy that has effectively strangled competition for the vast majority of professionals, the business of sports has, again, proven impenetrable to common sense. And while logic tells us there is, in fact, an end game here — that paying exorbitant fees to often inadequate personnel is ultimately a losing proposition — well, it sure doesn’t feel close.

Buried near the end of a recent Pioneer Press story about University of Minnesota coaches contracts was an astonishing quote from the school’s new athletics director, Norwood Teague.

“It is going to be an issue going forward, because he’s the lowest-paid by several thousand dollars,” Teague said of his football coach, Jerry Kill. “We’ve got to get him up. When you’re in the bottom of the league, and at the bottom by far from the 11th-place coach, that’s an issue.”

This insanity passed, as far as one can tell, unnoticed in the Twin Cities. Jerry Kill is getting a raise and, apparently, no one wonders why. Certainly no one asked Teague when he dropped this knowledge in front of reporters at the end of February. It may have pricked up the ears of school president Eric Kaler, though; he has been called on the carpet this week to explain to state legislators why the U spends so gosh darn much taxpayer money.

Kill was hired three years ago to replace Tim Brewster, an imposter who convinced Teague’s predecessor — the otherwise admirable Joel Maturi — that he was a football coach. Since then, Kill’s teams have won nine games and lost 16, and the head coach has been paid $1.2 million a year, a salary that seems reasonable only when put into the context Teague provided: that Kill is the lowest-paid coach in the Big Ten.

I don’t know that this is true, but under the circumstances will trust the man who wants to give him a raise.

“We’ve got to work hard to do that,” Teague said. “Jerry feels good. He knows that I’ll help him in those areas moving forward because it’s important.”

Again, the question is why?

What is Kill’s leverage? What other BCS conference team is hot to hire a coach with two years of big boy experience and a 9-16 record? Can Teague possibly be afraid of losing Jerry Kill? The man has a seven-year contract.

In fairness, Kill is clearly a good college football coach. His teams at Southern Illinois and Northern Illinois improved considerably under his watch, and many of the players he recruited to DeKalb were part of the NIU team that played in the 2013 Orange Bowl. But to get Minnesota back to the Rose Bowl, Kill must prove to be a great football coach.

The Gophers haven’t been to the Rose Bowl since 1962, and haven’t had a piece of a Big Ten title since 1967. This is ultimately why Maturi fired Glen Mason, a bold move that because of his subsequent hire of Brewster has been, in hindsight, a disaster. Minnesota, with a new stadium, 40,000 undergrads and a trillion alumni in the Twin Cities alone, wants a relevant football team. And because Kill, unlike Brewster, actually has a resume, it’s not unreasonable to believe he can make that happen.

But he hasn’t, and frankly, nothing that has happened in the past two years indicates he will. The team has no discernible traits, has occasionally failed to show up and, counting a 34-31 loss to Texas Tech in some sort of bowl last season, hasn’t had a winning record. The recruiting classes have been underwhelming.

It’s early, of course. Sure. And though Kill seems a little full of himself — all that talk of “saving” players during the A.J. Barker wing ding was a little much — he appears to be a likable sort. And really, outside of Leslie Frazier, what football coach isn’t full of himself?

What we do know is that he won’t baby his players (see: Barker), has an attractive wife (he keeps reminding us) and has epilepsy (he has suffered seizures during or after three games). In two years, the players seem to have stayed out of trouble; and we’ll assume, because we have to, that they’re going to class.

All in all, $1.2 million seems like good money for a coach like Jerry Kill. I admire Teague’s candor, but giving Kill a raise is the kind of move he might want to try slipping through unnoticed, the way Maturi shuffled a new contract for women’s basketball coach Pam Borton under a stack of papers on his way out the door.

School presidents and economists like to use the word “unsustainable” when assessing the college sports landscape. This is why.

If Kill gets a raise before next season it will be because he didn’t, in the modern parlance, shit the bed. If this were grounds for promotion, we’d all be executive vice presidents. Let’s at least wait until, say, an Outback Bowl. Then it might seem reasonable.