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Michigan Coach Under Fire for Handling of Concussed Quarterback

In the midst of a massively disappointing season, University of Michigan head football coach Brady Hoke is now under fire for yet another reason: his handling of concussed sophomore quarterback Shane Morris during the Wolverines' 30-14 loss to Minnesota this past Saturday.

Early in the fourth quarter, Morris was on the receiving end of a helmet-to-helmet shot that left him wobbly on the field.

The ESPN announcers working the game noted that Morris could "barely stand" and said Michigan had "to get him out of the ballgame." After throwing one more incompletion, one of the two announcers said, "I gotta tell you right now...that No. 7 is still in this game is appalling to me. It is appalling that he was left in on that play to throw the ball again as badly as he was hit...but to have No. 7 in the game on a gimpy leg after a hit like that, that is terrible looking after a young player."

Morris left the field after that incompletion, but would later re-enter the game after his replacement, Devin Gardner, lost his helmet and by rule was forced to sit out a play.

Again, the announcers excoriated Hoke, saying, "This young man looked rocky after that hit. He's being put back on the field. He can barely stand up! This is not good player management. We've talked about player safety in the game, guys getting hit in the head. This is atrocious to me."

After the game, reporters asked Hoke why he allowed Morris to remain in the game.

"I don't know if he had a concussion or not, I don't know that," Hoke said. "Shane's a pretty competitive, tough kid. And Shane wanted to be the quarterback, and so, believe me, if he didn't want to be he would've come to the sideline or stayed down."

During a press conference on Monday, reporters continued peppering Hoke with questions about the situation with Morris. Here are some of the more telling quotes, via MGoBlog.com:

I don't make decisions who plays, who doesn't play as far as when there's injuries and particularly if there was any head trauma or head injuries. And for those of you who know or don't know, I would never put a kid in that situation.

[...]

I think the mentality is as a player and I think how the players are, they love to compete and they love to play. So if you're asking about that mentality, I think that's what they all have. That's what they've done since whenever they started playing the game. I think they also know if the injury is one where you don't think you can continue to go, to go down.

Hoke also told reporters that as far as he knew, Morris had not been diagnosed with a concussion.

On Monday evening, Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon released a statement shedding additional light on the situation. According to Brandon, the team's medical and coaching staffs did not see the hit that left Morris dazed, and thus believed his wobbling to be related to an ankle injury he suffered earlier in the game. Brandon also revealed that "as of Sunday, [Morris] was diagnosed with a probable, mild concussion, and a high ankle sprain."

From Brandon:

In my judgment, there was a serious lack of communication that led to confusion on the sideline. Unfortunately, this confusion created a circumstance that was not in the best interest of one of our student-athletes. I sincerely apologize for the mistakes that were made. We have to learn from this situation, and moving forward, we will make important changes so we can fully live up to our shared goal of putting student-athlete safety first.

Hoke chooses not to wear a headset on the sideline, which could have limited his ability to communicate efficiently with his medical staff. Brandon confirmed that moving forward, the team will have an "athletic medicine professional in the press box or video booth" who will "have the ability to communicate with medical personnel on the sidelines." He also ensured the team will "re-inforce our sideline communication processes...to make sure that information regarding student-athlete availability to participate is communicated effectively amongst the medical team and to our coaches."

Though Morris appeared to dodge a serious, life-changing brain injury, remove-from-play rules exist for a reason. A student-athlete who isn't fully healed from a concussion runs the risk of second-impact syndrome if he or she endures another serious head impact, which can prove fatal in certain cases.

Considering that two college quarterbacks have retired in recent weeks due to concussion-related concerns—the University of Connecticut's Casey Cochran and David Ash of the University of Texas—it's imperative for college coaches to have an expert handling of head trauma.

College football players are "three times more likely than the general population to have symptoms related to chronic traumatic encephalopathy," according to an expert report from the plaintiffs in the concussion lawsuit against the NCAA. The mishandling of concussed players certainly won't help matters in that regard.

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