Brian Murphy: Southwick’s final ban shocks Boise State program

bmurphy@idahostatesman.comDecember 22, 2013 

Boise State quarterback Joe Southwick (16) warms up before the New Mexico football game Saturday Nov. 30, 2013, at Bronco Stadium in Boise. Southwick threw a touchdown to start the game, his last in blue and orange.

DARIN OSWALD — doswald@idahostatesman.com

Even in a Boise State season that taught us to expect the unexpected, the news of senior quarterback Joe Southwick being sent home from the Hawaii Bowl is a stunner.

Southwick, with no prior record of troublemaking, worked feverishly to rehab a broken right ankle suffered against Nevada on Oct. 19. His cameo in the regular-season finale — he led Boise State to a touchdown on its first possession of the game at Bronco Stadium — was a sign of his progress.

The plan was for him to split time with Grant Hedrick in Tuesday’s game against Oregon State, perhaps even start his final game.

And then, poof, Southwick was suspended for the game, banished from the islands back to Boise, his career finished.

Swiftly. Shockingly.

“It’s one of those things you don’t really expect,” receiver Matt Miller said.

Everyone wants to know what he did — and why.

What could he have done to warrant such a punishment? Why would he put himself in that position?

Unless Southwick talks (and he did not respond to a text message sent by the Idaho Statesman on Saturday), we may never know what happened on his first night in Hawaii, or why he was willing to risk it all.

Bad decisions are an unfortunate part of growing up. And even senior quarterbacks aren’t immune from poor choices.

Interim coach Bob Gregory and Athletic Director Mark Coyle were left to deal with the aftermath. New coach Bryan Harsin was informed of the decision, but was not consulted as part of the process.

“Bob informed me of what happened. We got together, and we were both on the same page,” Coyle said. “He gave us steady leadership, and we made a decision.”

Gregory and Coyle moved quickly and didn’t shy away from suspending a high-profile player. That alone should tell you something about the level of Southwick’s transgression.

“Those are hard decisions to have to make, but at the end of the day, we have a bigger program, a bigger culture that we’re going to maintain and protect,” Coyle said.

Coyle, beginning his third year on the job, already had to find a replacement for uber-successful coach Chris Petersen this month. Now he had to ship home a player he respected.

Boise State, the last month has proven, must be bigger than one coach, one player, one bowl game.

Coyle knows that.

His actions have shown he believes it, too.

“It’s a difficult spot for everybody. Obviously I have great appreciation and respect for Joe Southwick. I got here when Joe took over and Joe replaces Kellen Moore, and as you know, and rightfully so, our fans base thinks of Kellen as ‘the guy,’ ” Coyle said. “And I really appreciate and respect how Joe stepped into that role and worked hard and fought hard, and unfortunately we all make decisions that aren’t the best decisions, and again those have consequences.”

Southwick’s two-year tenure as starting quarterback started with what he was not — and never could be. Perhaps with the buffer of time and a new coach, future quarterbacks won’t be compared against Moore, the all-time winningest quarterback in major college football history and someone who handled every moment seemingly perfectly.

Southwick’s on-field accomplishments never measured up to Moore. And now this mistake will sully his off-field reputation. It will be a blemish on his Boise State legacy, which also includes some terrific stats but a lack of success in the biggest of games.

Southwick had the perfect ending, a touchdown pass in his final play on the blue.

And now this — as a lasting takeaway, a final memory.

“When he had the ankle injury, that kid worked so hard to get back here. Again, it’s just an unfortunate situation for everybody involved,” Coyle said. “Joe has been put in a tough spot with who he replaced here. He’s worked hard. He’s battled through everything, and it’s a lesson for all of us. I know Joe’s going to get better from this. We’ll get better from this, and we’ll all move on.”

Boise State has one more game — and if you know what kind of performance to expect from the Broncos on Christmas Eve, then you’re one step ahead of me — before it can move on from this season of the unexpected. Before it can transition fully from Petersen to Harsin. Before it can begin a new chapter.

And Southwick, stunningly, won’t be there to close this one out.

The program and its culture move on — as they must.

Brian Murphy: 377-6444, Twitter: @murphsturph

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