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Knee Jerk

San Francisco 49ers v Arizona Cardinals Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

According to the Webster’s dictionary a jerk is a “contemptibly obnoxious person.”

Beyond this weekend and the post game articles about the Cardinals’ game versus the Bucs on Sunday, I am going to try not to write at length about Bruce Arians again.

But for now, something still needs to be said about Bruce Arians’ and his staff’s despicable treatment of D.J. Humphries.

Just yesterday word came out that D.J. had something to say about his former head coach.

For those who have forgotten, condoned or ignored what Arians did to Humphries in D.J.’s rookie year—-here is the gist.

Empowered by winning two NFL Coach of the Year awards in three years (one with the Colts in 2012 and one with the Cardinals in 2013) and being lavished (along with GM Steve Keim) by the Bidwills with a lucrative contract extension following just his second season with the Cardinals, Bruce Arians was obviously feeling his oats and feeling like he could do and say anything he wanted.

Team president Michael Bidwill had even quipped when he first hired Arians that “we knew he was our guy when he dropped three f-bombs in one sentence” during their get-to-know-you dinner at Steak 44.

Through time—-and, in particular, in light of the D.J. Humphries incident—-Michael Bidwill probably wished he had never said that about Arians, because back then it was a rhetorical statement made for the sake of humor.

When D.J. Humphries arrived at the Cardinals facility in April of 2015 he was a giddy, starry-eyed 21 year old from the University of Florida. Pretty much every draft guru in 2015 tabbed Humphries as the most naturally gifted left tackle in the draft.

Assimilating into this new culture, one cultivated by a head coach and a cadre of his coaching cronies who were quick to drop cascades of f-bombs—-could not have been easy.

Humphries hadn’t even had the chance to dress up in pads yet (as it was during OTAs) when Arians and Harold Goodwin went public with their “Knee-Deep” denigration of their 1st round draft pick.

Arians qualified his “Knee-Deep” reference to Humphries by saying that in order to motivate him he needs: “A knee in his (expletive) every day. A foot wasn’t going to do it, so I nicknamed him ‘Knee-Deep.’”

Think about this for a minute.

It was during OTAs when Humphries hadn’t been with the team for more than a month and he was trying to learn a brand new, sophisticated playbook (that took veteran QB Carson Palmer 6 months to get the hang of) while trying to make the transition from left tackle to right tackle—-which if you heard Justin Pugh this past week describe the transition from LG to RT as akin to trying to “wipe your butt with your opposite hand”—-yet, already the coaches are tearing him down and making him a laughing stock.

Some people condone this type of hazing because, after all, this is football and guys have to be tough enough to take the coaching.

But, that’s a crock.

No one should have to be subjected to this type of public and private humiliation at the expense of a new boss.

Anyone who has been harassed and victimized by this kind of ridicule and abuse knows about the kind of scars it creates.

I know this feeling all too well—-as a freshman at an all-boy’s private boarding school in 1969, I was not only given disparaging and embarrassing nicknames, I was physically beaten on a number of occasions. I even watched in horror one time when one of my freshman classmates was hogtied by a group of seniors. Even in my professional life as a teacher, I was harassed by a handful of bosses who tried their best to take me down and break my spirit.

Maybe you have your own scars. I hope for your sake, that you don’t. But man—-I will tell you—-some of these scars never go away.

I remember very well, how I cried out for Humphries in my articles when this happened—-yet how ridiculed I was by Cardinals’ fans who told me that I was a wuss and was making a big deal out of common football coaching methods—-that it was nothing more that the head coach’s typical “tough love.”

Honestly, I had never heard or seen a coach publicly berate a player in this way, except perhaps when Bill Parcells called WR Terry Glenn “she.”

Before I conclude with D.J. Humphries’ most recent reflection on the treatment he received from Arians—-I think it is prudent to add that it was with episodes like this with Humphries that dysfunction started to rear its ugly head in the organization under Arians—-before it started to snowball.

Think about this—-can you imagine what it must have felt like for Steve Keim and his scouts to have drafted D.J. Humphries with such excitement and high hopes—-only to hear the head coach branding the kid as a dumb slacker a mere month into the job?

What kind of a statement does that make to the GM, to the scouts and to everyone in the building? (rhetorical question)

This is where I feel some sympathy toward Steve Keim—-Bruce Arians was so openly disdainful of rookies, in part because of Arians’ contempt for modern college football and his insistence of how poor the college coaching is—-that he was in many ways impossible to draft for. Heck, Arians even flamed out and gave quick hooks to the draftees that he had hand picked, like QB Logan Thomas.

Keim’s plan was to draft Humphries to take over for soon to be unrestricted free agent RT Bobby Massie—-and if you recall—-as bad as this scenario became after Humphries was inactive for all 18 games (16 regular season + 2 playoff games)—-when have you ever heard of a 1st round pick who was a healthy inactive player for the entire season?

Thus, as bad as that was, Steve Keim made a fevered last ditch effort. likely at Arians’ urging, to re-sign RT Bobby Massie. It begs the question—-what would have happened to Humphries then, if Massie has been re-signed?

So—not only was D.J. Humphries ridiculed by the coaches—-he was ostracized.

I will never forget a couple years later listening to Gambo interview 4th round All American G Dorian Johnson and feeling so bad for Johnson—-who was so excited about having the chance to compete for a starting job—-when Gambo interrupted him to tell him that as a rookie he would be relegated to another practice field and that a competition for a starting job under the current coaching was was slim to none, and slim just left Tempe. To hear the abrupt change in Dorian Johnson’s tone right there in that interview will always sting.

The scars remain—-and to D.J.’s credit—-as Scott Bordow of The Athletic and other writers this week set out to romanticize BA’s rapport with former Cardinals, Humphries had the courage to be honest. Here are D.J.’s direct quotes when asked about Arians’ coaching influence.

“When you’re on a different level where you can’t look me in my eye, that’s a whole different conversation,” Humphries said when asked whether he felt bullied.

“It wouldn’t have been that tough if I were learning something new to process. If I was learning while being treated that way there’s a difference, It’s not like it was a nudge in the right direction. It just made me want to punch you in the face instead of taking coaching from you.”

When asked if he ever received an apology from Arians, D.J. said, “He meant what he said. It wasn’t an accident. You apologize for accidents. If I stepped on your shoe right now I’d apologize.”

A little over a year ago when Doug and Wolf asked D.J. about the nickname, D.J. said: “I mean, I still get pissed off every time I hear it. No question.”

Some will argue—-”but hey look at D.J. now!—-he’s playing well—-he’s used this as motivation.”

Yes, to some degree he has—-but he’s now playing for coaches who respect him, and that’s been a significant boost.

But. what about some of the others who were singled out disparagingly as rookies—-like DT Robert Nkemdiche—-how did that turn out?

D.J. Humphries deserves a lot of credit. Steve Keim too, for sticking with him (which was risky this year because of D.J.’s injury history).

But for Nkemdiche—-it goes back to the original question—-when players and students fail, is it all their fault?

I will always believe that the manner in which people are treated makes a huge difference in their futures.

Especially for giddy, bright-eyed 21 year olds in need of sage leadership.