Coach cuts tailback — but says the tailback quit

In December of 2012, the JMU football team cut tailback Jordan Anderson. The coach, Mickey Matthews, however, said publicly that Anderson quit the team. I spent about a month working on this story, talking to several people about the situation and getting perspective. This story ran Jan. 10, 2013.

HARRISONBURG, Va. — Jordan Anderson wants people to know this: It wasn’t his decision to leave the James Madison football team and forgo his senior season.

When JMU coach Mickey Matthews announced in December that the 5-foot-11, 215-pound tailback would not return for his fifth season, Matthews said it was Anderson’s choice.

Not so, said Anderson.

“He told me I wasn’t coming back,” Anderson said in a recent interview, “and said I’m not being invited back because he’s the head coach and he evaluates everything on his team, and he says that I want to go to school more than I want to play football, and I’m taking my free education, and it’s wrong for me to do it, but football was harder than that, and since I want to go to school, he’s not going to invite me back.”

Matthews admitted this week that he cut Anderson from the team, saying he hoped to protect the player’s image by telling the media it was Anderson’s decision to leave.

“It’s in our players’ handbook that it is a privilege, not a right, to come back as a fifth-year player,” Matthews said. “And we elected not to invite him back for his fifth year. … I just said it would be easier for you — publicly it would sound better if you elected not to come back.”

Matthews added: “If you think about it, if you’re a player, I’d rather it be their idea than be cut. I think most people would like to have that.”

Matthews refused to elaborate on why he cut Anderson, but the former Westfield (Chantilly) High School standout’s role on the team diminished substantially in 2012. Anderson averaged 3.4 yards on 67 carries in 11 games. He scored one touchdown and his longest run was 24 yards.

Even though Anderson is no longer on the football team, JMU is honoring his scholarship until he graduates, Matthews said. That not only gives Anderson an essentially free education, it also ensures that Madison doesn’t lose academic points under the NCAA’s APR formula.

Anderson, a health sciences major who plans to go to medical school, said he intends to graduate from JMU this spring. Anderson said he hasn’t decided if he’ll transfer and use his final year of eligibility. If he graduates and starts a new degree at another Division I-AA school, he would be permitted under NCAA rules to transfer and play immediately.

Anderson, who redshirted as a freshman, said he wanted to return to JMU for his senior year.

“JMU is my home,” he said. “I never chose school over football. I wouldn’t leave my team behind to pursue anything solely for myself. This team is my family, and I always had full intentions of coming back and ending my career at JMU.”

Matthews, coming off a disappointing 7-4 season, announced in December that Anderson was one of three players who would not return to the team in 2013. At the time, Anderson declined to comment on his situation because he first wanted to meet with JMU senior vice president Charlie King and athletic director Jeff Bourne regarding his treatment by coaches.

Bourne said Wednesday that he listened to Anderson, who — along with his mother Veronique, an Air Force attorney — met with King and Bourne in December. JMU, he said, is investigating their complaints.

“Charlie King and I met with both Jordan and his mother, and we listened to … the issues that they discussed or brought forward,” Bourne said. “We’re looking into those. We’ve discussed those among ourselves. We’ll, obviously, meet with Coach Matthews and discuss it from that standpoint. It is something we’re looking into. Obviously, our program only wants the best for out student-athletes. We’re all about the student-athlete’s well-being and doing the right thing for all of our student-athletes.”

Bourne said he has already talked to Matthews about Anderson once.

“We’ve had what I would call a first discussion regarding it,” Bourne said. “And then we’ll have another sometime next week. We’ll sit down and have a more in-depth discussion regarding the issues around it.”

Bourne said JMU is also looking into criticism of Matthews contained in an anonymous letter, delivered to both Madison and the News-Record. But Bourne said he knows that players aren’t always going to agree with their coaches.

“From time to time, there are going to be students that, for one reason or another, are not going to agree with the coach’s call or the coach’s position on playing time, and we understand that,” Bourne said. “I think the issues we look more in-depth at are issues that are more serious in nature. And, again, I go back to the general well-being of our student-athletes, and that’s our top priority.”

Anderson’s playing time dropped significantly from 2011 to 2012. In 2011, he carried the ball 169 times in 13 games and averaged 5.1 yards per carry and 66 per game, finishing as the Dukes’ second-leading rusher. He also had big games against Richmond (162 yards and two touchdowns) and Maine (212 yards and one touchdown).

Anderson missed much of spring practice last year because of class conflicts.

JMU has three tailbacks with game experience returning next season: starter Dae’Quan Scott and reserves Jauan Latney and Dejor Simmons. Also returning is Andre Mealy, who redshirted in 2012.

Scott, who will be a senior next year, is the only tailback with significant experience. Latney and Simmons combined for just 42 carries last season. Latney averaged 3.7 yards per carry in 10 games, and Simmons averaged 5.2 in nine games.

The Dukes have two verbal commitments from high school tailbacks: Heritage’s Khalid Abdullah and Warwick’s Cardon Johnson. They can’t sign until February.


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