Grand Valley State University in Allendale, Michigan, suspended new football coach Morris Berger on Monday after he said in an interview with the school’s student-run paper that the way Adolf Hitler “was able to lead was second-to-none” and that “you can’t deny he wasn’t a great leader.”
Berger was announced last week as the new offensive coordinator for the college’s Lakers football team. In an interview published Thursday in the Grand Valley Lanthorn, Berger said if he could have dinner with any historical figures, one would be Hitler.
“If you could have dinner with three historical figures, living or dead, who would they be?” Lanthorn student reporter Kellen Voss asked.
“This is probably not going to get a good review, but I’m going to say Adolf Hitler,” Berger responded. “It was obviously very sad and he had bad motives, but the way he was able to lead was second-to-none. How he rallied a group and a following, I want to know how he did that. Bad intentions of course, but you can’t deny he wasn’t a great leader.”
The coach then went on to name former President John F. Kennedy and explorer Christopher Columbus as two other figures he’d dine with. It’s worth noting Columbus’ legacy included enslaving and killing countless Indigenous people in the Americas.
After a public outcry around Berger’s responses, Grand Valley State University suspended Berger. The university said in a statement that Berger’s comments “do not reflect [its] values” and it is conducting a “thorough investigation.”
Berger, who is from Missouri, previously worked as a coach at Texas State for a season and before that was on staff for two years with Oklahoma State’s football team.
The school paper added a note on Sunday to its article saying that after initial publication, Berger’s last two responses ― on Hitler and Columbus ― were “mistakenly removed” from the piece. The article was then “reverted back to its original version,” including the full interview.
The Lanthorn told HuffPost that the bottom sections were removed Saturday by student reporter Voss following a request from a representative of the school’s athletic department. Calling this “a lapse in our editorial judgement as student journalists,” the paper’s editor-in-chief Nick Moran said the sections were added back in the next day with an editor’s note.
The student reporter’s response to Berger was also part of the sections removed ― and included the reporter appearing to affirm Berger’s statements on Hitler’s leadership, answering him by saying: “The way [Hitler] was able to get people to rally around him was crazy.”
Asked about this exchange, the paper’s editor-in-chief said Voss was “caught off guard” and had answered “as professionally as he could.”
Regarding the school’s athletic department apparently asking a student reporter to delete part of an article on their coach, the university said it was “committed to the editorial independence” of the student paper and was “reviewing” the events to see if any behavior was “inconsistent” with that.