Much Ado About Ike
By Will Stewart, HokieCentral.com, 4/24/00

Last week, one of the most emotional topics on the message board was the question of Ike Charlton's draft position and whether or not the Virginia Tech coaches compromised it by not "supporting" him.

The controversy all started with a small blurb in a Lynchburg News and Advance article. As you know, Ike was drafted in the 52nd spot in the draft, late in the second round, when he was under the impression that he would go in the first round. Halfway through the article, the author, Gary Crockett, dropped this little bomb:

Charlton accused Tech coaches of undermining his prospects by telling pro scouts he wasn't ready for the NFL. With that, he said he doesn't regret his decision to leave school early.

"Oh, no," Charlton said. "I'm totally happy I did it. I enjoyed myself at Tech, but at this point I'm glad I decided to leave. It was pretty frustrating early in the day, but I feel blessed to get to this point."

Those two paragraphs were almost tossed in as an aside, but I knew the instant I read them that this was going to be a hot topic on the message board. I was right. Although very few direct quotes from Ike or the coaches or Ike's agent were ever printed anywhere, things escalated quickly on the board.

Ike took a lot of the heat. I had no idea so many of you thought he was a dislikable hot dog. Ike kept his nose clean at Tech and got his degree, in three and a half years, no less, so I was caught off guard by some of the backlash against him. I met Ike once, briefly, and thought he was a nice guy and pretty charismatic.

Naturally, there was some confusion on the part of Tech fans who read about the situation. Left in a vacuum, they tried to figure out what went on. The situation was probably going to die out on its own with little more than some head shaking and sighs of regret, when Randy King's latest "VT Insider" hit the web last Thursday, titled Charlton Deserving of Personal Foul Flag.

Usually not outspoken, Randy unloaded on Ike:

It always appeared to me that nobody liked Ike more than Ike liked himself. The brash Charlton never hesitated in promoting himself to the media and often came off as being a guy who cared more about himself than the team.

Summing up, I don't think Charlton is as good as he thinks he is. That said, I thought his low blow at the Tech coaching staff was unwarranted. If I'm refereeing this game, I would have flagged Charlton for a foolish interference penalty, plus a personal foul.

Randy defended the Tech coaching staff, saying "I don't believe for one second that any would intentionally degrade a player to the point where his NFL stock would significantly suffer." For the record, I agree with Randy on that point. I can't say whether or not I agree with his assessment of Ike, because I don't know Ike.

In any event, we definitely had a little brouhaha here, and here at HokieCentral.com, we decided to try find out a little bit more about what happened from the other side of the fence, namely from Ike and his agent.

A Conversation With Ray Savage

Ike's agent, Ray Savage, took most of the rest of the flak that Ike himself didn't take. But since almost no direct quotes came to light, it was all a circular discussion, with posters lashing out alternately at Ike and Savage.

We contacted Savage at his office late Friday and had a conversation with him about the brewing controversy. Savage was cordial and forthcoming, and not once during the conversation did he make us stand on our desks and scream, "Show me the money!!" or anything seedy like that.

However, he is between a rock and hard place. He wants to clear the air about the Ike situation, but he fears that by addressing it, he will just give it continuing life, when all he really wants is for it to go away. And he (Savage) knows that as a sports agent and a UVa graduate and former football player, he already has two strikes against him in Hokieland. But, as I said, he was very gracious and tried to explain the situation. Understandably, Savage didn't want to name names, but he did shed some light on the sequence of events.

Savage told us that as the draft approached, he and Ike were under the impression that the most likely spot for Ike in the draft was to go to San Francisco as the 24th or 35th pick.

"On Thursday, the 13th of April," Savage said, "Ike and I got a call from a west coast internet service saying 'Hey Ike, weíve talked to the San Francisco people, and they love you at the 24th pick.' We kind-of knew that, a lot of people told us that.

"Friday, when I get to Orlando, Ike gets a call from the same service saying, 'Hey, do you think the discouraging comments of your coach is going to hurt you with San Francisco?'

"We were like 'What comments?' And we were told that a Tech coach said that Ike sometimes gets moody, that heís a kid whoís selfish and doesnít care about the team, and that this coach didn't think Ike was ready."

"Ike always said positive things about this coach in the past," Savage told us. It was at that point that Savage started getting the feeling that Ike wouldnít go at the 24th pick, and Savage said, "But I kept that to myself, and started working on picks 35 through 60."

At one point prior to the draft, the coach in question spoke with Ike, and apparently tried to give him a subtle heads-up about the conversations that he, the coach, had had with some scouts.

"Ike told me he had talked to this specific coach," Savage said, "and the coach said he had talked to a couple of teams that had called prior to the draft trying to make their decision. Ike said the coach said to him he told them the positives and he told them the negatives, which maybe the coach was saying to Ike, that hey, youíre probably going to get these reports, and not all of itís going to be sparkling, but this is my opinion. And then" -- and here Savage hits the nail on the head -- "it got blown out of proportion."

Draft day came and went, and as you know, it didn't go the way Ike would have liked. He and Savage spent the day on location with Lee Corso in Orlando, an event that was recently chronicled in detail by Greg Zesinger in a HokieCentral Voice of the Fan article called Ike's Big Day.

Understandably, Ike felt that any unflattering comments that a VT coach might have made were the reason his draft stock slipped from what he and Savage expected. And he let the press know about it, to Savage's regret.

"I told Ike to just let it go, to not put a damper on what heís accomplished," Savage said. "Looking at it from his perspective, I can understand where heís coming from. Heís just a young kid who wears his emotions on his sleeve."

So what about the supposed comments by the Tech coach that Ike was "moody and selfish," and the accusations by Randy King that he cared more about himself than the team?

"Ike made mention about being an only child, and not being outgoing," Savage says, trying to explain how someone could draw the conclusion about Ike that he was moody. "Ike and I talked after we heard the first report (about the negative comments), and he explained to me that he thought maybe the coaches didnít always like him because he didnít always want to be social at every event.

"I asked him, did you ever tell the coaches you werenít going to do this or werenít going to do that? He said 'No Ray, Iím just myself.' And I agree. He doesnít drink, he doesnít go out and party, he just sits around and watches television and plays video games. Heís just not the kind of guy thatís going to get in trouble. And some people see that as not being outgoing enough. I see it as something good."

Does Ike have an ego problem? "Ike has always felt like he hasnít gotten the respect he shouldíve gotten," Savage continued. "Media people sometimes take things the wrong way. And cornerbacks are on an island. They can be the biggest egos in football. I wonít deny that the kid (Ike) has that kind of ego. He has to in order to be good."

Ultimately, Savage makes a comment that is the voice of reason in all this.

"I still find it hard to believe that Tech coaches said something bad about him. Iíve got to think that having been through that process myself, that maybe the coaches were being honest and said, well he needs to work on his press coverage a little bit, or he gets turned around a little bit, maybe heís a little temperamental at times. If said in that respect, the coaches are just telling the truth of what they think about a player, and a lot of times, a player will take that as talking bad about them."

What We Have Here is a Failure to Communicate

I keep going back to that last comment by Savage, and I think to myself that to this day, no one, including Ike, really knows what was said by the Tech coach in question. Ike got his information at least second hand, and maybe third hand or worse.

My conversation with Savage did not change my original estimation of this situation. I felt all along that the Tech coaches, when contacted by scouts, had probably honestly listed Ike's strong points and weak points as a player and as a person, calling it as they saw it. I also felt that anything they had said about Ike that was not favorable had probably been passed on to Ike second or third hand, getting blown out of proportion in the process. And lastly, I felt that Ike, as an emotional young man going through an extremely important stage of his life, had probably let his emotions get the better of him.

After talking with Savage, I still draw those same conclusions, but it is neither comforting nor gratifying to know that I was right. This is an unpleasant situation all around, with no winners, only losers. To some degree, Ike, Savage, and the Tech coaches all look bad or have been hurt by this sequence of events.

Assuming that a "negative" comment or two by the Tech coaching staff caused Ike to slip in the draft, then he was hurt by that. And his emotional reaction, in which he made negative comments to the press about his school, though understandable, was ill-advised. It is now generally thought that if you don't suck up to Ike, he might take a shot at you, unless he matures and learns to control that urge. It will take some time for Ike to dig out from under that impression.

As for Savage, if he made a mistake, it was in not warning Ike more clearly that he was about to slip in the draft, and in not counseling him how to carry himself when and if that happened. In the future, Savage will no doubt do a better job of meeting a situation like this head on and telling his clients how to handle it.

Everyone here has credibility issues. The Tech coaching staff, in my opinion, is obliged to give an honest and forthright appraisal of any Tech player that is headed to the pros. That includes the good and the bad. Their only responsibility with regards to negative comments is to make sure that any they make are rooted in fact, not opinion.

For Ike, the credibility issue is his attitude, which has now been called into question. Is he a guy who can be counted on to keep his head in the meat-market world of pro football, where a player's strengths and weaknesses are played out daily and discussed endlessly? Or will he shoot off at the mouth on his way out the door?

As for Savage, well, he's an agent. Credibility is an uphill battle with those guys, with regards to the general public and many coaches. His credibility issues are with his current and potential clients, as well as the teams he pitches their services to.

Savage is upset about the entire sequence of events, because he wants to have a good reputation and relationship with the coaching staff and players at Virginia Tech. In the end, he's a businessman, and he wants to establish good relations with Virginia Tech, which could provide a significant amount of business for him if he "does right" by the Tech players and coaches that he deals with.

In the final analysis, the fact that this little drama played itself out publicly is nothing but bad news for Virginia Tech. Opposing coaches in the recruiting wars now have a juicy little quote about Charlton's draft prospects being "undermined by the Tech coaches" to use against Tech, truth be damned.

Sounds like everybody in this little drama could use a good night's sleep, a few days perspective, and something else to think about. I sure could.

Will Stewart is the founder and General Manager of HokieCentral.com.  He writes the News and Notes section, game previews, and game reports for HC, and he contributes a column when time permits.

          

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