TAMPA, Fla. - Oregon coach Willie Taggart can send a lasting message to his team and future players by removing senior wide receiver Darren Carrington Jr. from the Ducks, or at the very least issuing an extended suspension that makes him an afterthought.
Carrington's DUII arrest early Saturday morning was a slap in the face to Taggart and the program. The very talented wide receiver during his career has displayed mostly self-destructive behavior that has hurt the team and his future. Taggart must not allow Carrington to take him down with him.
Everyone who covers, follows or has been involved with Oregon football knows that Carrington has been a discipline issue. But Taggart, who took over for former coach Mark Helfrich last December, held out hope that the Carrington could turn things around under a new regime and with his NFL future clearly hanging in the balance.
Through six months, all appeared well. Taggart expressed extreme pride in Carrington's progress as recently as Friday afternoon.
CSN is in the Tampa area this weekend to report on Taggart and his family for a television special that will air later this summer. While riding along with Taggart on Friday from Tampa to his home town of Palmetto, Fla., the new Oregon coach talked briefly about how well Carrington had been doing on and off the field since under the new regime.
"He's been great," Taggart said. "Academically. As a leader. He's been doing all the right things."
About 13 hour later, Carrington betrayed Taggart's belief in him when he was arrested at 3:15 a.m., Saturday morning and cited for DUII. According to reports, Eugene Police have accused Carrington of driving into a pole at a McDonald's drive-through before being arrested.
Taggart suspended Carrington indefinitely and said he would gather more information about the incident before making a decision about Carrington's future.
This will be a tough decision for Taggart. Carrington is Oregon's best receiver on a team thin at the position. Losing him could cost the Ducks a win, or two next season. He is that good. He's also probably more trouble than he is worth.
In 2014, Carrington was suspended before the national championship game after testing positive for marijuana use. The six-game suspension extended into the following season and another game was tacked on after he violated a team rule during the fall. Last year, Carrington was accused of shoving and injuring a man in Eugene.
At this point, Taggart must decide if keeping Carrington around is worth the headache. He clearly has learned nothing from recent Oregon examples of blown opportunities displayed by former star players, Cliff Harris and Colt Lyerla.
Carrington, a sure-fire NFL prospect, repeatedly makes bad decisions that are costing him millions of dollars. At this point, there is no reason to believe that he won't mess up again over the next six months.
Keeping Carrington, if proven to be guilty, could hurt Taggart's credibility with the team as a disciplinarian, especially if the receiver were to mess up again down the road. Carrington has received numerous chances to fly straight and his transgressions have been quite serious. He repeatedly places his desires and impulses ahead of the team and his own career.
By removing Carrington from the team, Taggart would be telling the entire Ducks community that he won't tolerate players who put themselves ahead of the team, no matter how talented and gifted they might be.
Keeping Carrington around could have the opposite effect. How could Taggart tell young players to fly straight or else if Carrington were to have been allowed to smoke weed, allegedly commit assault, get arrested for DUII and a commit a host of other minor offenses by breaking team rules, etc., yet still remain on the team?
Taggart giving Carrington a chance under a new staff was admirable, even though many who knew the receiver believed him to be incapable of not being a problem.
Now Carrington has directly betrayed Taggart.
When former co-offensive coordinator David Reaves was arrested for DUII back in January, it took the university all of a day or so to begin the process of terminating him. Former wide receivers coach Jimmie Dougherty, with Reaves that night, was encouraged to leave the program, as well. He landed at UCLA.
A coach should be held to a higher standard than a player. But this is not Carrington's first brush with trouble. So it would be inconsistent to let him stick around after getting rid of Reaves so quickly.
However, Taggart must also weigh the fallout for Carrington if he were to be removed from the team. There is a chance Taggart goes the same rout that former UO coach Chip Kelly took with LeGarrette Blount after he punched a Boise State player following a season-opening loss on the road.
Kelly initially kicked Blount off of the team before having a change of heart and ultimately suspending the star running back for what amounted to 10 games. Blount remained on scholarship and on the team but still paid a severe price for his actions.
By remaining on the team, Oregon allowed Blount to salvage his future, and although he wasn't drafted into the NFL the following spring, he has carved out a nice career that includes a Super Bowl championship.
Does that happen if Kelly had completely ended Blount's college career following the Boise State incident? Tough to say. But Blount certainly benefited from Kelly's compassion.
Carrington could do the same if Taggart shows some mercy. Carrington clearly needs help and would benefit from remaining within the structure of the program. At the very least he must be hit with at least a very lengthy suspension, one that makes Carrington an after-thought as practice fodder on the scout team for most of the season while he gets help.
Or, maybe it's best for the Oregon program to simply let Carrington go. He could transfer to an FCS program and rehabilitate his image there if an FBS program won't take him. Carrington, who has alredy graduated, could go anywhere as a graduate transfer.
This won't be an easy decision for Taggart to make. But it's clear that the decision he makes could have a lasting impact on the program, for better or worse.