Cook: Nutting made right call on Coonelly
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The ridicule is out there, and Pirates president Frank Coonelly deserves every bit of it.
"Coonelly drives the same way he runs the Pirates!"
"If I were in charge of the Pirates, I would drink heavily, too!"
Or, my favorite in terms of cleverness:
"What does it say about the Pirates that Coonelly's blood-alcohol level was nearly as high as Pedro Alvarez's batting average?"
OK, I know. There is absolutely nothing funny about drunken driving. It is a horrible crime. I don't need angry emails to be reminded of that.
Coonelly was arrested Dec. 22 after a traffic stop in Ross and was charged with driving under the influence, driving with a suspended or revoked license, driving the wrong way and careless driving. News of his arrest became public Thursday and quickly was followed by his admission of guilt and his apology "to all of the fans and friends of the Pittsburgh Pirates."
Pirates owner Bob Nutting is standing behind Coonelly, the biggest part of what he once called, laughably, "the single best management team in all of baseball, maybe in all of sports."
"These mistakes are not characteristic of the man that I know and I am confident that he has learned from them," Nutting said in a statement.
That's the right call -- the fair call -- by Nutting despite many screaming for Coonelly to be fired immediately.
I have to admit, defending Nutting and Coonelly in any way feels new and strange to me.
I have written and said many times Nutting might just be the worst owner in all of sports. I also have written and said many times that a good case could be made for firing Coonelly based on the lousy on-field performance during his four-year watch.
I also understand why Coonelly has no chance of winning in the court of public opinion. He's not a popular sports figure in this town because of the Pirates' record string of 19 losing seasons and because of his thin skin and his many public gaffes, including playing loose with the truth about contract extensions for general manager Neal Huntington and former manager John Russell. I don't remember nearly the same outrage when Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward was charged with drunken driving in July, a charge that was dropped Wednesday after Ward pleaded guilty to reckless driving. Ward, of course, is a Super Bowl hero, a Steelers legend and a future Hall of Famer.
But Coonelly, who had no record of such behavior, doesn't deserve to be fired because of this one mistake.
It was a serious lapse of judgment, to be sure. When Coonelly got behind the wheel of his car that night, he could have hurt or killed not just himself but others. He never should have put himself in that position.
"There is no excuse for ever driving under the influence of alcohol," Coonelly said in a statement sent out by the Pirates.
I liked the man's response. He owned up to his actions rather than trying to run from them. He talked of being "irresponsible" and "wrong" and "embarrassed." He apologized.
I respect a person who stands up publicly and owns his or her mistake. I'm not always sure what to believe when he talks about the Pirates, but I trust his sincerity in this case. I also agree with Nutting: Coonelly will learn from this. It won't happen again.
Coonelly is scheduled to face his day in court March 20 and, presumably, will accept his punishment. He should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. He deserves that, just as he deserves the ridicule.
But Coonelly already has paid a big price.
He has been humiliated, not just locally but nationally. It's always big news when a high-ranking official of any professional sports team -- even the Pirates -- is arrested on any charge. He knows that and accepts it as part of being a public figure.
Taking Coonelly's job from him would be piling on.
First Published February 24, 2012 12:00 am