She’s remembered as one of the most controversial figures in filmmaking history. She was acclaimed as a visionary and a pioneer of an art form. Was Leni Riefenstahl a devious crook or a filmmaking legend? Was she politically apathetic or a National Socialist to her core? And what did she know (or not know) about Nazi war crimes?

Helena Bertha Amalie Riefenstahl, better known as Leni, was born in Berlin on August 22, 1902. Her father, Alfred, owned a successful HVAC company, and her mother, Bertha, was a former seamstress. She had a younger brother named Heinz.

It’s important to note that Reifenstahl was always artistically gifted. While her father wanted her to help with the family business, the young Riefenstahl was much more eager to pursue her passions in sports and the arts, particularly swimming, gymnastics, art and poetry. At the age of 16, Riefenstahl saw a production of Snow White with her mother and decided to pursue a career as a dancer. Without her father’s knowledge, Riefenstahl enrolled in the Grimm-Reiter Dance School and quickly became one of the most distinguished students in Berlin.

Riefenstahl’s dancing skills caught the eye of Austrian director/producer Max Reinhardt, who invited her to tour with his theatre company across Europe. Riefenstahl sometimes made up to 700 Reichmarks per performance and, at this point, had no interest in filmmaking. However, after a series of foot injuries and a subsequent knee surgery, she began to re-evaluate her career plans.

While in the waiting room at her local doctor’s office, Riefenstahl spotted a poster for Der Berg des Schicksals (The Mountain of Destiny), a 1924 adventure film directed by Arnold Fanck. Enthralled by acting and filmmaking, Riefenstahl eventually met Fanck through a mutual friend in Berlin. Fanck liked her as both an actress and potential collaborator, and she made a series of short films for him, learning basic producing and editing skills along the way.

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Riefenstahl’s first major critical success was the 1929 film Die weisse Hölle vom Piz Palü (The White Hell of Piz Palü), which was co-directed by Fanck and G.W. Pabst. A few years later, Riefenstahl both directed and starred in Das Blaue Licht (The Blue Light) which brought her further critical notice outside Germany. With the release of Das Blaue Licht — which won the Silver Medal at the Venice Film Festival — Riefenstahl established herself as an emerging voice in European cinema. Many years later, she claimed that several Hollywood producers had contacted her and tried to get her to move to the US for work, although she declined in order to stay with her then-boyfriend in Berlin. At around the same time, she gained significant attention from an up-and-coming politician by the name of Adolf Hitler.

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The exact nature of Riefenstahl and Hitler’s relationship remains a matter of heated debate among historians. Some claim that Riefenstahl was a masterful propagandist who was a close confidant and the only female member of Hitler’s inner circle. Others insist that Riefenstahl was an apolitical person and only made Nazi propaganda films on her own terms. For her part, Riefenstahl was interrogated by the Allies after the war and went through four separate de-nazification trials. At every turn, she insisted that she had only a cordial relationship with Hitler and systematically denied any knowledge of the Holocaust or involvement in wartime atrocities.

Here’s what we do know.

Riefenstahl first saw Hitler speak in 1932 and was enthralled by his talent and charisma. They eventually met later that year. Ever since he saw her in Das Blaue Licht, Hitler had been captivated by Riefenstahl — he once called her “the perfect symbol of Aryan womanhood.”

To Riefenstahl’s surprise, Hitler invited her to direct a Nazi-funded propaganda film for him titled Der Sieg des Glaubens (The Victory of Faith). It was to be an hour-long film about the Nazi Party’s now-infamous 1933 rally at Nuremberg. Riefenstahl was initially reluctant to film anything for the Nazis, but this was not due to any moral objections to the party platform. Riefenstahl attempted to explain to Hitler that she lacked experience making documentaries and felt that she only had a layman’s understanding of how the Nazi Party operated.

Reifenstahl later stated in her memoirs:

“Hitler said that this was exactly why he wanted me to do it, because anyone who knew all about the relative importance of the various people and groups might make a film that would be pedantically accurate. But this was not what he wanted. He wanted a film showing the Party Congress through a non-expert eye, selecting just what was most artistically satisfying—in terms of spectacle, I suppose you might say. He wanted a film which would move, appeal to, and impress an audience which was not necessarily interested in politics.”

Riefenstahl agreed to the deal, but was given only a few days to prepare in pre-production before the rally itself began, and the deal she struck with Hitler happened entirely without the knowledge or consent of Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels. Goebbels, for his part, always resented Riefenstahl, as she was the only Third Reich filmmaker that was never under his direct authority — although Riefenstahl herself insists that Goebbels hated her because she spurned his advances one too many times.

The Victory of Faith is rarely remembered in Riefenstahl’s filmography today, and there’s a reason for that. Ernst Röhm, leader of the SA and one of Hitler’s closest advisors, was featured prominently in the film; he was murdered on Hitler’s orders during the infamous 1934 purge that became known as the Night of the Long Knives. Immediately after the killings, Hitler allegedly ordered that all copies of the film be destroyed without Riefenstahl’s knowledge.

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Not wanting to jeopardize his friendly working relationship with Riefenstahl, Hitler ordered her to make a new film about the 1934 Nuremberg rally, titled Triumph des Willens (The Triumph of the Will). However, at the time, Reifenstahl was hoping to adapt an acclaimed German opera called Tiefland (Lowlands) as her next feature film. She obtained private funding for the project and even started filming in Spain, but it ran over-budget and was never finished, so she turned her attention to The Triumph of the Will.

The resulting film has been widely acclaimed as one of the greatest — and most effective — propaganda films of all time. I have personally seen The Triumph of the Will and can attest that it was one of the most groundbreaking films ever made at the time. Riefenstahl’s use of cinematography, editing and music were all revolutionary and are still used today. In particular, she was one of the first filmmakers to ever use track and dolly shots, aerial photography and wide-angle lenses. Riefenstahl allegedly staged some of the scenes up to 50 times.

On the other hand, despite the impressive technical achievements, I can’t pretend like this film is anything other than a propaganda piece. While undeniably valuable viewing for anyone who’s interested in the craft and history of filmmaking, The Triumph of the Will might be the most disturbing film ever made.

The opening titles kind of say it all:

Am 5. September 1934, 20 Jahre nach dem Ausbruch des Weltkrieges, 16 Jahre nach dem Anfang deutschen Leidens, 19 Monate nach dem Beginn der deutschen Wiedergeburt, flog Adolf Hitler wiederum nach Nürnberg, um Heerschau abzuhalten über seine Getreuen.

On 5 September 1934, twenty years after the outbreak of the World War, 16 years after the beginning of German suffering, 19 months after the beginning of Germany’s rebirth, Adolf Hitler flew again to Nuremberg to review the columns of his followers.

The Triumph of the Will uses its cinematography, music and tone to establish Hitler as the Aryan man of the people — the one who will liberate Germany from its post-war depression and lead his followers into the promised land of the Third Reich. The film shows adoring crowds, never-ending marches and Hitler Youth rallies to drive home the point, and really does show how basic camerawork and editing tricks can turn something originally mundane into something terrifying .

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Riefenstahl swore to her dying day that The Triumph of the Will was never intended as a propaganda piece and that she was disgusted that the Nazis used it as such. Despite her initial insistence that Triumph would be her last Nazi film, she still made several others, including follow-ups Tag der Freiheit: Unsere Wehrmacht and Olympia.

Tag der Freiheit: Unsere Wehrmacht (Day of Freedom: Our Armed Forces) was a shorter, 30-minute doc about the exploits of the German army, who had felt that they weren’t given enough screen time in The Triumph of the Will.

Olympia was another groundbreaking piece that still has a major influence today. Allegedly funded by the International Olympic Committee for the 1936 Berlin Olympics, the film was secretly bankrolled by the Nazi Party itself and showcased all the major sporting events at that year’s Olympics. Riefenstahl earned critical acclaim for her use of  slow motion shots, underwater footage, extremely high and low shooting angles, panoramic aerial shots, and tracking shots for allowing fast action. Many of these techniques were unheard of at the time, but Riefenstahl’s use of them set a standard for many years to come.

Of course, the 1936 Olympics was also when American track and field athlete Jesse Owens made history with his four gold medals, dispelling Hitler’s claims that Aryan athletes were superior to all others. Much of the surviving footage that we have of Owens was shot by Riefenstahl for Olympia.

The film premiered in 1938 for Hitler’s 49th birthday, and brought Riefenstahl further critical notice. She even embarked on a whirlwind tour of the US, during which she met with dignitaries including Walt Disney, Henry Ford and Louis B. Mayer.

After the success of Olympia, Riefenstahl attempted again to make Tiefland. She shot the film over the course of three months on a budget of seven million Reichmarks. The extras in the film, who were playing Spanish farmers, were actually Gypsies from a nearby concentration camp. Not only were they unpaid and treated poorly, rumors persisted to the end of Riefenstahl’s life that she was complicit in violence and abuse on-set. By the time filming finished, the extras were sent to Auschwitz (without Riefenstahl’s knowledge).

The Tiefland production moved to Prague to finish filming in October 1944, but by then, the war had significantly turned against the Nazis. The last time Riefenstahl ever saw Hitler was when she got married earlier that year. At around the same time, Riefenstahl’s brother, Heinz, was killed in action in a battle against the Soviets.

Reifenstahl distanced herself from the Nazi Party and withdrew from the public eye. While hiking south of Berlin attempting to locate family members in early 1945, Riefenstahl was arrested and detained by American troops.

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The novelist and sportswriter Budd Schulberg, who was temporarily working in intelligence for the U.S. Navy and the OSS, was the first major person to interrogate Riefenstahl. He wanted her to identify Nazi war criminals in concentration camp footage that had recently been seized by the Allies. Riefenstahl could not identify anyone and claimed complete ignorance of the nature of the camps. “She gave me the usual song and dance,” Schulberg later recalled. “She said, ‘Of course, you know, I’m really so misunderstood. I’m not political.'”

Riefenstahl claimed again and again that she was not directly involved with the Nazis in any criminal activity and was completely unaware of the Holocaust. She was held under house arrest for awhile and went through four de-nazification trials. In these, she consistently claimed that, like many Germans, she was fascinated by Hitler, but described herself as “politically naive.”

Whatever the case, Riefenstahl’s numerous attempts to re-start her career in Europe or elsewhere failed miserably due to her connections to the Third Reich. Many of her former colleagues in Berlin from her pre-Nazi days had fled to the US during the war and were unsympathetic to her plight. While Riefenstahl did eventually recover enough footage from Tiefland to premiere it at a Stuttgart theatre in 1954, the film flopped commercially and was the last movie she ever made.

Eventually, Riefenstahl found occasional work as a traveling photojournalist in Africa, working in both Kenya and Sudan with her longtime companion Horst Kettner. She also wrote a memoir and developed a passion for underwater photography. In 1993, Riefenstahl, then age 91, participated in an biographical documentary called The Wonderful, Horrible Life of Leni Riefenstahl, which won several awards.

In the late 90s, legendary actress Jodie Foster was interested in making a film about Riefenstahl’s life and possibly portraying her. Acclaimed director Steven Soderberg tried to do the same. In Foster’s case, the film was shut down before it began by the Hollywood powers-that-be, and Riefenstahl objected to potential scenes being included. Similarly, Soderberg shelved his own project due to fears that it would be a commercial failure.

Ultimately, Riefenstahl won over 50 libel cases against people who claimed that she was a Nazi, Hitler’s secret mistress, a genocide denier, or worse.

“I am one of millions who thought Hitler had all the answers,” she once lamented. “We saw only the good things; we didn’t know bad things were to come.” She later referred to meeting the Fuhrer as the biggest catastrophe of her life.

Riefenstahl’s unusually eventful life came to an end on September 8, 2003 at the age of 101 due to cancer. She was buried in Munich Cemetery.

Leni Riefenstahl was undoubtedly a talented woman who was far ahead of her time, and her legacy as a technical pioneer will always remain intact. And she should also serve as a cautionary tale against using the power of cinema for dubious and unethical purposes, regardless of true motive or intent.

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Basketball is an awesome sport to watch. And in recent decades, it’s become more and more apparent that basketball is a sport that also transcends cultures, languages, religions, etc. While soccer has long been considered the one truly international sport, it’s clear that basketball is catching up rapidly in that category. From China to Cameroon to the former Soviet Union, it’s hard to find people who don’t love the game.

Case in point: I’m a big fan of the Oklahoma City Thunder, particularly their star center Steven Adams, a hulking 7-foot New Zealander. This past July, while on a vacation to New Zealand, I found myself in Adams’s hometown of Rotorua. I spent a few days there and really enjoyed my time exploring the place, but upon purchasing my bus ticket back to Auckland, I struck up a conversation with the young man helping me.

He took note of my American accent and asked where I was from in the States. I mentioned that I currently live in Los Angeles, so he asked if I was a Laker fan. I responded by saying that I actually cheer for the Oklahoma City Thunder, and his face lit up. I told him that I had enjoyed my stay in Adams’s hometown, and asked him if he had ever visited the States. He replied no, but said that if he could go anywhere in the country, he’d pick Oklahoma City every time.

Such interactions are unique and fun reminders about how sports can be such a fun and unifying force in the world. But don’t take my word for it. Take Nanae Yamano.

Yamano takes in her first-ever NBA game between the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Utah Jazz in the first round of the 2017-18 playoffs. She is accompanied by her translator, Neo Onishi.

Yamano is a 43-year-old stay-at-home mom in the suburbs of Tokyo. She had never even seen a basketball game until a few years ago. After dropping her son off at school, she was folding laundry and channel-surfing at home when she found an Oklahoma City Thunder game on TV. Almost immediately, Yamano was taken with the Thunder’s star, Russell Westbrook, and his style of play.

Now, saying that “Russell Westbrook plays with intensity” is a bit like remarking “Antarctica is not an ideal place to live.” It goes without saying right? From his days as an undersized UCLA point guard to his emergence as one of the best NBA players of the modern era, Westbrook has delighted fans and intimidated opponents alike with his absurd athleticism and his jaw-dropping statistics. In case you forgot, Westbrook was the guy who made a triple-double look normal.

Yamano was hooked instantly, and she wanted to let the world know. But she didn’t have confidence in her writing prowess, so she decided to employ her artistic talents.

“It was incomprehensible to me at first,” she told The Japan Times. “There is such a wide variety of illustrators drawing NBA players. I was thinking that they tend to depict athletes as superheroes and my style would not be embraced.”

But it has — to the tune of over 24,000 Instagram followers and international notoriety. Yamano was profiled by Vice, The Wall Street Journal and many others. She’s met the mayor of Oklahoma City, David Holt. She traveled overseas for the first time to watch the Thunder take on the Jazz in the NBA playoffs last season. Accompanied by Tokyo-based NBA writer Reo Onishi (who acted as her translator) Yamano loved every minute of it.

Yamano with OKC Mayor David Holt. Holt liked her drawings so much that he eventually had her make one specially for him, which is now framed in his office.

Steven Adams was the first one to take notice of Yamano’s unique style; he showed some of them to his teammates after a win just because he thought they were cool. Yamano draws them on her iPad and frequently posts them online within half an hour or less after a game is finished. If the Thunder win, she draws in color; if they lose, she draws in black-and-white.

Yamano has also taken note of the different players and their unique milestones and habits off the court. Her more noteworthy and funny works aside from games include:

  • Drawing Steven Adams as Aquaman
  • Calling Russell Westbrook “Thor” while wishing happy birthday to him (Get it? The god of thunder?)
  • Designing a sketch around Paul George’s impressive skills as a fisherman
  • Highlighting Westbrook’s unique fashion style

On a more serious note, Yamano frequently offers well wishes to injured players or comments on notable life events, such as Alex Abrines’s wedding, Nick Collison’s retirement or the recent birth of Russell Westbrook’s twin girls.

Pretty incredible for a woman who had no idea Oklahoma City existed until 2012.

“I was told, ‘Your work is great because it represents the personalities and emotion of the players,’ and I wasn’t certain how they were able to get it,” Yamano said. “Sometimes your message doesn’t come across in Japanese. It’s funny that people in America get it, even though our languages are so different and the backgrounds we have are so different.”

While in OKC, Yamano enjoyed visiting the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum as well as the Oklahoma City National Memorial. She loved the hospitality, too. “I was surprised because there was no way I expected I would be welcomed the way I was,” she said. On an artistic level, she was also intrigued by the prevalence of Native American art in Oklahoma.

Yamano said in a NewsOK interview that she loves capturing the emotion of the game.

“The movement within a basketball game is every way a human being can move. I wanted to depict that. Each play, they get very emotional. There’s so much story behind it, so it’s easy to depict that into my drawing.”




I, Tonya (2017)

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A darkly comedic look at the rise and spectacular fall of Olympic figure skater Tonya Harding, who became notorious after associates of her and her ex-husband physically assaulted rival figure skater Nancy Kerrigan in 1994.


Tonya Harding (Margot Robbie) is a no-nonsense tomboy who has basically been figure skating since she could walk. Raised in poverty by her chain-smoking, abusive mother LaVona Golden (Allison Janney) in the suburbs of Portland, Oregon, Tonya shows herself to be a prodigy from a young age.

As a teenager, Tonya drops out of high school to pursue her passion full-time, but is continually dominated at every turn by LaVona. Tonya eventually gains some temporary freedom when she leaves home and moves in with her new boyfriend, Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan). The two have a mercurial relationship and Jeff frequently abuses Tonya physically. LaVona ridicules Tonya for putting up with it. Tonya and Jeff eventually tie the knot, but have trouble making ends meet.

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Concurrently, Tonya becomes one of the best figure skaters in the world under the tutelage of coach Diane Rawlinson (Julianne Nicholson) and later Dody Teachman (Bojana Novakovic). However, judges don’t particularly care for Tonya’s garish, handmade skating outfits or the fact that she skates to 80s glam rock instead of classical music like her contemporaries. Because of her lack of education and poor background, she quickly earns the nickname of “Trashy Tonya.” Nonetheless, she makes history in 1992 by becoming the first female skater to ever successfully complete two triple-axel jumps.

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After a disappointing performance in the 1992 Winter Olympics, a discouraged Tonya fires her new coach, Dody Teachman, before hanging up her skates. She moves back in with Jeff after resuming their on-again, off-again relationship.

Eventually, Rawlinson contacts Tonya and convinces her to give skating another shot, with the 1994 Olympics only a year away. The premier skaters at that year’s Olympics will most likely be Tonya and her fellow American, Nancy Kerrigan. On the day of the Northwest Pacific Regional Skating Championships in November 1993, Tonya receives an anonymous death threat. Scared, she chooses not to compete, while Jeff seeks to get to the bottom of the matter.


Believing Kerrigan’s camp to be behind the threats, Jeff hires his friend, dim-witted Shawn Eckhardt (Paul Walter Hauser), to send death threats by mail in retaliation. Fancying himself as Tonya’s bodyguard, Shawn hires two inept crooks to locate Kerrigan and attack her. The duo find Kerrigan in Detroit on January 6, 1994 and one of them whacks Kerrigan in the knee with a nightstick as she leaves the ice for the day.

The two goons are apprehended fairly quickly, as is Shawn, who is questioned by the FBI. Shawn points the finger at Jeff, claiming he was the mastermind of the operation. An enraged Jeff, who assumed Shawn would only send the death threat letters, confronts him. Meanwhile, Tonya qualifies for the Olympic team, but is horrified when Jeff tells her of what happened to Kerrigan, who has suffered a severe knee bruise and been eliminated from competition.

Realizing she could be found guilty by association, Tonya contacts the FBI and makes a confession, telling them that Jeff and Shawn were behind the attack. Jeff is arrested and later shown Tonya’s interview transcript. After posting bail, he rushes home and attacks Tonya, who escapes and leaves him for good. In response, Jeff implicates his ex-wife, saying she knew about the attack all along. Jeff, Shawn, and the two henchmen are all charged, but Tonya’s trial is postponed until after the 1994 Oympics.

Tonya finishes a disappointing eighth in the competition, while Kerrigan makes an amazing comeback and wins silver. Tonya avoids jail time, but the US Figure Skating Association bans her for life. Heartbroken, she begs the judge to give her jail time, but not to take away the one thing she knows how to do; the judge refuses and tells her his decision is final. Jeff, Shawn, and the two assailants all serve time in prison.

The film ends with a “where are they now” segment (more on that below in the Trivia section) and shows real life footage of Tonya Harding over the end credits.

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I, Tonya is a brutal, sharply funny take on a notorious event. The film is presented as a pseudo-documentary, interviewing the characters years after the fact, and freely admits that the events shown in the movie are based on “contradictory” and “true” interviews, implying that Tonya, her mother, Jeff, and others could all be unreliable narrators. This, strangely enough, allows I, Tonya to simultaneously keep its distances from the subject matter and also fully emerge itself in it. Director Craig Gillespie adopts an alternately serious and tongue-in-cheek tone for a film that was proclaimed as “the Goodfellas of figure skating.”

Screenwriter Steven Rogers became inspired to write the script after watching an ice skating documentary which mentioned Tonya Harding in passing. He arranged interviews with both her and Jeff Gillooly, both of whom remembered details of the scandal very differently. “I decided, ‘Well, that’s my way in,’ — to put everyone’s point of view out there and then let the audience decide,” said Rogers.

The attack on Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding’s subsequent fall from grace is indelibly imprinted on the minds of everyone who was there in the 90s. While it may not have been as explosive, infamous or memorable as the O.J. Simpson trial, it was a watershed moment in sporting history that still provokes debate to this day. Was Tonya really involved in the attack? Did she deserve to be banned for life? All this and more is presented.

This film really is extremely entertaining and consistently engaging, despite the fact that nearly every character is an unlikable prick (pardon my French). Allison Janney, as LaVona Harding, is only a tiny bit nicer than Satan himself, and she earned a well-deserved Oscar for Best Supporting Actress as well as a Golden Globe.

Margot Robbie is a revelation as Tonya Harding. Apart from the obvious physical resemblance, the Australian actress nails the essence of what made “Trashy Tonya” such a fish out of water. Edgy and brash, but also achingly sympathetic, Robbie’s performance received nominations at the Oscars, Golden Globes, SAG Awards and BAFTAs.

Despite the humor and general tongue-in-cheek tone, I, Tonya certainly has some eyebrow-raising moments, primarily some very colorful language and a few disturbing scenes of domestic abuse. I wouldn’t recommend this movie to anyone who is easily offended by either. Either way, I, Tonya is an entertaining and explosive film that features an all-around great cast and razor-sharp writing and directing.

Grade: B+

  • Directed by Craig Gillespie
  • Written by Steven Rogers
  • Produced by Tom Ackerley, Margot Robbie, Steven Rogers and Bryan Unkeless
  • Director of Photography — Nicolas Karakatsanis
  • Music by Peter Neshel
  • Editor — Tatiana S. Riegel
  • Starring Margot Robbie, Sebastian Stan, Allison Janney, Julianne Nicholson, Paul Walter Hauser, Bojana Novakovic, Bobby Cannavale, Caitlin Carver, Ricky Russert, Anthony Reynolds
  • Rated R for pervasive language, violence, and some sexual content/nudity


  • Received three nominations at the 90th Academy Awards — Best Actress (Margot Robbie), Best Supporting Actress (Allison Janney) and Best Editing (Tatiana S. Riegel).
  • Margot Robbie had no idea the screenplay was based on a true story until after she finished reading it. Prior to filming, she met with the real Tonya Harding at her Portland home. Sebastian Stan also met with the real-life Jeff Gillooly.
  • Allison Janney had actually trained to become a figure skater as a child growing up in Dayton, Ohio. She was forced to give it up at age 17 after accidentally walking through a glass door and severely injuring her leg. “I lost like three-quarters of my blood,” Janney remarked in a 2014 interview on Fresh Air. “I lost an artery and cut a tendon….I was in the hospital for like seven or eight weeks. I missed my first year of college.”
  • Director Craig Gillespie said he was attracted to the script because he thought it was a good opportunity to “revisit the story and make a commentary about how the media treats people.”
  • Rogers never had experience interviewing a real-life subject before the film. He initially called Tonya Harding’s agent to obtain the life rights to her story and interviewed her over two days in a Motel 6. When he finally tracked her down, he found her extremely forthcoming in the interviews. Harding admitted that she didn’t feel like she had anything to lose at that point.
  • Janney received 35 nominations for best supporting actress (or the equivalent). She won 20 awards out of 35.
  • Robbie suffered from a herniated disc in her neck throughout the filming process and had to have frequent MRIs to ensure it was safe for her to continue filming.
  • Sarah Kawahara was Robbie’s skating coach and choreographer. Ironically, she was also Nancy Kerrigan’s former coach.
  • Steven Rogers wrote the role of LaVona Golden specifically with Allison Janney in mind. The two are longtime friends, but had never gotten the chance to work together previously. Janney later commented that the role was one of the most challenging of her career.
  • Although Margot Robbie trained extensively for the role, she was not able to perform a triple axel, nor could a skating double be found to do so, as very few women figure skaters are able to perform the jump. The jump was created using visual effects.
  • Allison Janney filmed her scenes in only eight days.
  • Nancy Kerrigan never saw the film and has no plans to do so, stating in an interview “I already lived through that.”
  • Sebastian Stan has blue eyes, but wore brown contacts to match Jeff Gillooly’s real eye color.
  • Every hairstyle that Robbie wears in the film is a wig. The hair team used beer to achieve the desired permed look when regular hair products didn’t produce the desired result.
  • In reality, Margot Robbie is five inches taller than the real Tonya Harding, who is only 5’1″.
  • Nancy Kerrigan has admitted that she never received an official apology from Harding about the attack, and claimed that Harding had prior knowledge of it. The two agreed to a joint special report for Fox Sports ahead of the 1998 Olympics, which examined the incident and its aftermath on both women. In a 2014 interview with Bob Costas, Kerrigan also stated, “Whatever apology Tonya has given, I accept it. I’ve always wished her well. She has her own family, I have my family. It’s time to make that our focus and move on with our lives.”
  • Premiered at the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival, where it was runner-up for the People’s Choice Award.
  • In Harding’s 2008 memoir The Tonya Tapes, she claimed that she wanted to call the FBI to reveal what she knew before the attack, but Gillooly threatened to kill her if she did, even raping her at gunpoint. Gillooly called the allegations “utterly ridiculous” in an interview.
  • In another interview in 2013, Gillooly expressed regret for causing Harding’s downfall, saying that although he believes she is haunted by a guilty conscience, he hates that she is “remembered for what I talked her into doing.” “I’ve had it easy, compared to poor Tonya,” he told Deadspin, while again denying the gunpoint rape allegations. “She tends to be the butt of the joke. It’s kind of sad to me.” Gillooly also went on record as saying that he doesn’t begrudge his ex-wife for avoiding jail, and that his own punishment was just.
  • According to Allison Janney, the filmmakers attempted to track down LaVona Golden, but had no luck.
  • Shot in only 30 days, primarily in the Atlanta area.


  • Tonya Harding pleaded guilty to felony conspiracy to hinder prosecution. In addition to her lifetime ban from figure skating, she was fined $100,000 and given three years’ probation and 500 hours of community service. She briefly had an amateur boxing career, but had to give it up due to asthma-related issues. In 1995, she married her second husband, Michael Smith, but they divorced only a year later. She married for the third time to Joe Price in 2010, and they have an eight-year-old son, Gordon. Harding has worked odd jobs as a welder, painter, deck builder and hardware sales clerk. In April 2018, she was featured on Dancing with the Stars. She now lives in Washington state.
  • Jeff Gillooly publicly apologized to both his ex-wife and Nancy Kerrigan and accepted a plea bargain deal. He was sentenced in July 1994 after pleading guilty to racketeering and later changed his name to Jeff Stone. He briefly owned a hair salon and resides in Washington state with his third wife and their two children.
  • LaVona Golden also lives in Washington state and has been estranged from her daughter for decades.
  • Shawn Eckhardt also pleaded guilty to racketeering charges and served a year in prison. The two assailants he hired, Derek Smith and Shane Stant, were convicted of conspiracy to commit second-degree assault. Upon his release, Eckhardt changed his name to Brian Sean Griffith. He founded a software company in 2001, which later went bankrupt, and later served three years’ probation for a misdemeanor assault charge. He died at the age of 40 in 2007.
  • Nancy Kerrigan retired from professional skating after the 1994 Olympics and later become an ice show performer. She was inducted into the U.S. Figure Skating Hall of Fame in 2004. Like Harding, she competed on Dancing with the Stars and also has a foundation which raises awareness and support for the vision-impaired (her mother is legally blind). Kerrigan is married with three kids and lives in the Boston area.

2018-19 coaching carousel (part 2)

There were seven unexpected head coaching vacancies in FBS college football from December to January. Here’s my recap.

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#7 – Thomas Hammock, Northern Illinois Huskies

  • Age: 37
  • Hometown: Jersey City, New Jersey
  • Alma Mater: Northern Illinois University
  • Previous Job: Running Backs Coach, Baltimore Ravens

When Rod Carey left NIU after six-plus seasons to become the head coach at Temple, NIU athletic director Sean Frazier had to scramble to find a suitable replacement in the final two weeks before National Signing Day in February.

Hammock is an NIU alum and former assistant, but he’s far from a known quantity. Still, the 37-year-old has Big Ten and NFL experience and he inherits a roster loaded with talent. First order of business? Win a bowl game. The Huskies went to six of them in seven years under Carey and lost all six.


#6 – Jamey Chadwell, Coastal Carolina Chanticleers

  • Age: 41
  • Hometown: 
  • Alma Mater: East Tennessee State University
  • Previous Job: Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks Coach, Coastal Carolina

This one wasn’t too much of a shock. Former head coach Joe Moglia temporarily stepped down during the 2017 season — the Chanticleers’ FBS debut — due to health problems and resigned for good on January 17th of this year. During Moglia’s leave of absence, the Chadwell-coached squad went 3-9, but were competitive in almost every game. This past season, CCU went 5-7.

The overall transition should be seemless; Chadwell is well-liked by his players and has had three previous head coaching stints: D-II North Greenville, D-II Delta State and FCS Charleston Southern.

However, fans might be worried about Chadwell’s ethical standards: at Charleston Southern, he had 18 wins and a Big South Conference championship vacated due to a variety of NCAA violations, including using academically ineligible players and allowing athletes to buy electronics and jewelry items from the campus bookstore.

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#5 – Chip Lindsey, Troy Trojans

  • Age: 44
  • Hometown: Madison, Alabama
  • Alma Mater: The University of North Alabama
  • Previous Job: Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks Coach, Auburn

About time, am I right? Lindsey’s name had been buzzing around the head coaching ranks for years since he’s the classic hot-shot high-riser in the profession.

Lindsey is a former high school coach just like his longtime mentor, Gus Malzahn. He landed his first coordinator job running the spread offense at Southern Miss in 2014. After two wildly successful seasons there, he moved on to Arizona State and then Auburn, before replacing yet another young superstar, Neal Brown, at Troy.

There’s a reason that Troy is one of the most consistent mid-major programs in the country. They’ve got fantastic facilities, a history of winning, and a very passionate fanbase. Kudos to Brown for staying for awhile and not jumping at the earliest opportunity. Will Lindsey do the same?

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#4 – Rod Carey, Temple Owls

  • Age: 47
  • Hometown: Madison, Wisconsin
  • Alma Mater: Indiana University
  • Previous Job: Head Coach, Northern Illinois

Carey is a lifelong Midwesterner, so he might seem like an odd fit in South Philly, but this is actually a very smart hire. Carey’s NIU teams went to six bowl games in seven seasons, winning 52 games over that span. Before he took over as head coach, he was the offensive line coach at NIU for a year for ex-coach Dave Doeren (now at NC State). Carey’s Huskies were known for their tough, physical play and he developed a number of future NFL Draft picks, including Detroit Lions receiver Kenny Golladay.

Carey inherits an excellent roster at Temple, a program that just graduated the winningest class in school history (four straight bowl games). The days of this program being a laughing-stock are over, but with UCF, Memphis and Houston, the American Athletic Conference isn’t getting any easier. Can Carey keep the Owls near the top?

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#3 – Neal Brown, West Virginia Mountaineers

  • Age: 38
  • Hometown: Danville, Kentucky
  • Alma Mater: The University of Massachusetts – Amherst
  • Previous Job: Head Coach, Troy

Brown is an Air Raid disciple who took the Trojans to new heights during his tenure, winning 35 games in four years and earning back-to-back Sun Belt championships in 2017-18. Known as a straight-shooter and a person of integrity, Brown has notable recruiting chops and should be able to compete in the Big 12. Problem is, with Oklahoma’s dominance and Texas’s recent resurgence, the conference has become more competitive than ever. Brown should turn out just fine as a long-term hire, but he has to embrace the expectation to win immediately in 2019.


#2 – Dana Holgorsen, Houston Cougars

  • Age: 47
  • Hometown: Mount Pleasant, Iowa
  • Alma Mater: Iowa Wesleyan University
  • Previous Job: Head Coach, West Virginia

Holgorsen’s track record speaks for itself: a protégé of Mike Leach who had a ton of success with both Leach and Mike Gundy in Air Raid offensive schemes, and as a guy who won 61 games in seven seasons at WVU. However, Holgorsen never seemed to have a great relationship with the fanbase or the school administration, as highlighted by a protracted struggle with a new contract that went on throughout this past summer and into the season. It’s clear that he was ready to move on.

Houston, meanwhile, is not a program known for its patience. They’ve won a lot lately on the gridiron, but they’ve also been labeled as the epitome of the “stepping-stone job.” (What do Kevin Sumlin, Art Briles and Tom Herman all have in common? They’re all ex-Cougar coaches who eventually jumped ship and became successful at other programs.) Most recently, Major Applewhite got only two seasons behind the head coach’s desk following Herman’s departure in 2016.

The point is, Holgorsen is a good coach who understands high expectations more so than most. But recent history suggests that he and his family should rent, not buy.

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#1 – Manny Diaz, Miami Hurricanes

  • Age: 44
  • Hometown: Miami, Florida
  • Alma Mater: Florida State University
  • Previous Job: Defensive Coordinator/Linebackers Coach, Miami

On December 13th, Diaz was hired to replace Geoff Collins at Temple. Barely two weeks later, he decided to stay in Miami after Mark Richt’s unexpected retirement on December 30th. Diaz was apologetic to Temple’s fanbase, but there’s a number of good reasons why he chose to stay. He orchestrated some truly nasty defenses for The U over the past two seasons and was the obvious heir apparent if anything should happen.

Richt seemed to lack the magic touch with quarterbacks that he was praised for at Georgia, and that has been the perennial issue for the Canes: inconsistent offense and a lack of scoring. If Diaz can inject just a little bit of offensive prowess into his roster, Miami could be back in business. No one is more passionate or more dedicated, and Diaz might have what it takes to finish the job that Richt left for him.


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You don’t have to be a fantastic hero to do certain things — to compete. You can be just an ordinary chap, sufficiently motivated to reach challenging goals. The intense effort, the giving of everything you’ve got, is a very pleasant bonus.

–Sir Edmund Hillary (1919-2008)

Sir Edmund Hillary was many things: a folk hero, a national figure of New Zealand, and a decorated philanthropist who spent large sums of time and money in Nepal, a country that had helped him achieve his greatest claim to fame.

Speaking of which, did I mention he was the first person to summit Mount Everest — the highest point on the planet — alongside his Nepalese companion Tenzing Norgay?

But above all else, Hillary was a humble, blue-collar guy who prided himself on doing things the right way. No fame required.

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Edmund Hillary was born in Auckland, New Zealand on July 20, 1919 to Percival and Gertrude Hillary, both descended from Yorkshire immigrants. Percy Hillary was an ANZAC veteran of the Gallipoli Campaign who worked as a journalist before heading off to war. A year after the calamitous Gallipoli battle, he was discharged due to a chronic medical condition and returned to New Zealand, where he became the founding editor of the Tuakau District News. Percy Hillary built a house on a small plot of land in Tuakau, a farming community about 70 km southeast of Auckland.

Edmund, the middle of three siblings, attended primary school in Tuakau, but at age 15, moved north to attend the prestigious Auckland Grammar School. Although he had finished primary school two years early, he achieved only average grades while at Auckland Grammar, and as a commuting student, he wasn’t able to participate in after-school sporting activities. Naturally shy and very lanky, Hillary wasn’t coordinated enough to be a serious athlete at the time, but began gaining confidence when he took up boxing as a hobby. At the age of 16, he went on a school field trip to Mount Ruapehu, a 9,177-foot peak in the middle of New Zealand’s North Island and became fascinated by the idea of mountain climbing.

Hillary chose to attend Auckland University College for further study, but became distracted by his newfound outdoor hobby, dropping out after two years. He then returned to Tuakau, where he helped his father and his younger brother Rex with a new beekeeping operation. There he kept bees in the summer and went out climbing and tramping (Kiwi slang for hiking) in the winter.

As a young man, Hillary became a fan of psychologist Herbert Sutcliffe, leader of a life philosophy movement called Radiant Living. While not a natural motivational speaker, Hillary liked mingling with new people and said he enjoyed Sutcliffe’s teaching on healthy eating and positive thinking in particular. While developing the philosophies that would serve him well later in life, Hillary began climbing small peaks in the Waitakere Ranges outside Auckland. In 1939, at the age of 20, Hillary completed his first major climb: Mount Ollivier in the Southern Alps.

When WWII broke out, Hillary considered joining the Royal New Zealand Air Force, but as a religious pacifist, he later withdrew his application. When the draft arrived in New Zealand in 1943, Hillary eventually enlisted, much to his father’s chagrin. Percy Hillary even attempted to petition the New Zealand military to not allow his son to go to war, on the grounds that beekeeping and honey production were essential agricultural activities.

Hillary served as a navigator in both the 5th and 6th Squadron, but a horrific accident nearly killed him while he was stationed in the Solomon Islands. While riding a boat with his fellow soldiers, the boat’s motor burst into flame. When Hillary leapt overboard, the boat hit a large wave and he was flung over the back. Badly burnt, he swam 500 meters to shore and walked a quarter of a mile for medical assistance. Many years later, Hillary quipped, “The pain was quite considerable. I remember thinking, ‘Now I know what it’s like to be a rasher of bacon.'”

Doctors feared for Hillary’s chances and told his parents he would be recovering for months. But, against all odds, he was out of the hospital in only a few weeks. Upon his return to New Zealand, he was part of several different mountaineering expeditions in the Southern Alps, including Mount Cook, the highest peak in New Zealand. He later claimed that some of his climbing companions, including George Lowe and Harry Ayres, were the first real friends he ever had.

Even after successfully summiting every peak in the Southern Alps, Hillary wasn’t satisfied. He had his sights set higher. Much higher.

Straddling the border of Nepal and China’s autonomous Tibet region, Mount Everest is the highest mountain in the world at over 29,000 feet. In 1953, no one had successfully reached the summit and many had died trying. In addition to the obvious physical challenges, the political realities of the time were difficult for outsiders.

In 1949, China closed the summit road to Everest to all non-nationals; concurrently, Nepal began limiting the access to the mountain to only one or two per year. Many applications to climb the mountain were rejected. A Swiss expedition nearly reached the top in 1952, but were forced to turn back due to bad weather around 800 feet below the summit.

Hillary, meanwhile, had been named to a new British expedition in 1953, led by Colonel John Hunt. Hillary liked Hunt’s determination and relentless enthusiasm, and felt that he was the best candidate to lead the trip. Charles Evans and Tom Bourdillon were named as one team, while Hillary teamed up with Tenzing Norgay, a local man from Nepal’s Sherpa ethnic group. Norgay had taken part in the previous Swiss expedition and had also participated in two unsuccessful summits from the Tibetan side of Everest. Smart and resourceful, Norgay proved to be an ideal partner for Hillary.

Working their way up slowly alongside Hunt and his men, Hillary and Norgay made their path through the treacherous Khumbu Icefall, nearly 18,000 feet above sea level. The passage is based around a dangerous glacier that can move unpredictably, especially on clear days when direct sunlight has partially dampened the ice and snow. Eventually they made it.

The expedition’s final camp was set up at nearly 18,000 feet, but bad weather delayed their plans for two days. Bourdillon and Evans attempted to reach the summit, but were forced to turn back when Evans’s oxygen system suddenly failed within 300 feet of the summit. Hunt then directed Hillary and Norgay to make an attempt starting on May 28th.

After climbing several for several more hours and maneuvering past obstacle after obstacle, Hillary and Norgay became the first men at the world’s highest point at approximately 11:30 AM local time on May 29, 1953. Norgay left chocolates as an offering, while Hillary planted a small cross given to him by Hunt. They spent about 15 minutes at the summit before venturing back down.

Upon returning to Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal, Hillary was amazed to hear that he had already been knighted! Fittingly enough, the news of his ascent to the summit had reached London in time for Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation.

You might think that Hillary would be satisfied after conquering the world’s highest mountain. You’d also be wrong. He climbed 10 other peaks in the Himalayas from 1956-1965. He led a boating expedition from the mouth of the Ganges River in India to its source. In 1958, he reached the South Pole, leading the New Zealand portion of the Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic Expedition, becoming the first party to reach the pole by using motor vehicles. He teamed up with another legendary pioneer — Neil Armstrong — in 1985, when they journeyed to the North Pole together.

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As always, Hillary remained low-key and humorous about his extraordinary achievements.

“I think I mainly climb mountains because I get a great deal of enjoyment out of it,” he once remarked in an interview. “I never attempt to analyze these things too thoroughly, but I think that all mountaineers do get a great deal of satisfaction out of overcoming some challenge which they think is very difficult for them, or which perhaps may be a little dangerous.”

In 1992, Hillary was honored as the first civilian to be featured on his country’s currency; the New Zealand $5 note features his likeness, alongside a portrait of Mount Cook, the mountain he summited in preparation for Everest. In 2003, he became the first foreign-born national to ever be named an honorary Nepalese citizen.

From 1960 onwards, Hillary dedicated himself to the Nepalese people, specifically the Sherpas, with help from Tenzing Norgay. His efforts resulted in countless schools and hospitals being constructed all over the most remote regions on Nepal.

Hillary was the Honorary President of the American Himalayan Foundation, a US non-profit that helps improve the ecology and living conditions in the Himalayas. He was also the Honorary President of Mountain Wilderness, an international NGO dedicated to the worldwide protection of mountains. From 1985-88, Hillary served the New Zealand government as the Ambassador to Nepal and the High Commissioner to India and Bangladesh. He also wrote 11 books, including Two Generations, co-written by his eldest son Peter.

On April 22, 2007, the 87-year-old Hillary collapsed while in Nepal and was hospitalized upon returning to New Zealand. Sadly, he passed away nine months later on January 11, 2008 due to heart failure. His body was cremated and was given a state funeral at Holy Trinity Cathedral in Auckland. Then-Prime Minister Helen Clark declared Hillary’s death a “profound loss to New Zealand.” Part of his ashes were scattered in Auckland’s Hauraki Gulf and part went to a Nepalese monastery.

A 1997 survey named Hillary as the most admired person in New Zealand — across all walks of life, religions and ethnicities. But as always, Hillary himself was never one to consider himself the greatest or the best. In the forward of his 1975 autobiography, he wrote “I discovered that even the mediocre can have adventures and even the fearful can achieve.”

Or, as he later stated,

My life has been a constant effort to illustrate how a very mediocre person with very mediocre talents — which I have — can create quite a lot if they really drive themselves.

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The Island Paradise That Wasn’t: Modern-day Pitcairn Island and its Disturbing Secrets

West side of Pitcairn Island
Pitcairn Island, a lonely rock in the South Pacific roughly halfway between Peru and New Zealand. It is home to only 47 people, most of whom are descended from the legendary Bounty mutineers.

Note: I wrote previously about the historic mutiny on the Bounty, a true story from 1789 that has since been immortalized in many books and films and remains popular to this day. Consider this blog an extension of that.

Following the now-infamous 1789 mutiny against Captain William Bligh on the HMS Bounty, the ship’s acting captain, former first mate Fletcher Christian, chose to return to the pleasurable tropics of Tahiti to gain supplies and then go forth to find a suitable island for a new colony.

Many of Christian’s fellow mutineers elected to stay in Tahiti upon their arrival, while Christian and eight other men chose to journey onwards, accompanied by six Tahitian men and 12 women, the latter of which had grown enamored of the sailors when they had stopped in Tahiti prior to the mutiny.

Christian’s desired island paradise proved elusive. He and his men attempted to settle in nearby Tubuai, but encountered hostile natives and abandoned the settlement after only two weeks. The Bounty scoured the South Pacific for thousands of miles in search of a better spot.

Rummaging through Bligh’s ship library one day, Christian stumbled upon a name — Pitcairn Island. It was prohibitively isolated — roughly equidistant from Peru and New Zealand — moreover, it had initially been mischartered when the English had discovered it in 1767.

While tiny (a mere two square miles), Pitcairn’s terrain was very rugged, the island was unpopulated and inaccessible, and the land was thickly forested. Most importantly, the men had freshwater sources and suitable land for farming. By the time the mutineers arrived, they were sold. They burned the Bounty down to the waterline and left the remains in the tiny inlet that was the closest thing to a harbor.

Pitcairn Landing
A view of the South Pacific overlooking Bounty Bay, where the Bounty itself was burned to the waterline after the mutineers settled on Pitcairn. The large shed in the corner of the frame houses the Pitcairn longboats as well as quad bikes, the primary method of transportation on the island.

Part 1: Chaos

Despite the initial joy the men had at founding their own settlement with their Polynesian companions in tow, the situation on Pitcairn soon deteriorated. The Tahitian men who had considered the mutineers their brothers began to get the short end of the stick on Pitcairn. The mutineers divided Pitcairn’s arable land into nine plots for each of them, but the Tahitian men received nothing and were effectively made their servants. All of the Englishmen took Tahitian wives, but the six Tahitian men were made to share three women among them. Unsurprisingly, this created an awful atmosphere of sexual tension on the tiny island.

This culminated in a veritable free-for-all, resulting in violent skirmishes. All of the Tahitians and many of the mutineers eventually met grisly ends, including Christian himself, who was allegedly hacked to death and dismembered with an axe while tending his crops. His precise date of death remains unknown and his burial site was never found.

By 1798 — a full nine years after the mutiny — Pitcairn was relatively stable, with a number of mixed-race children having increased the population. However, mutineer William McCoy concocted a powerful brew of spirits from one of the island’s plants; subsequently, many of the islanders developed serious drinking problems. McCoy eventually committed suicide by jumping off a cliff while intoxicated, while Matthew Quintal threatened to kill the entire community while he was in a drunken stupor. Fearing for their families, the only two remaining mutineers, Ned Young and John Adams, murdered Quintal.

Adamstown, the only settlement in the islands
Overlooking Adamstown, the lone settlement (and capital) of the Pitcairn Islands. 

Part 2: Redemption & Rediscovery

Weary of the bloodshed, Young and Adams began to lay out their plans for Pitcairn’s future. A well-educated man, Young taught Adams how to read by using the Bounty‘s Bible, which affected Adams deeply. Adams converted to Christianity shortly before Young’s asthma-related death in 1800; suddenly, Adams was the only father figure to a tiny community of nine women and two dozen children.

Back in England, all of the mutineers had either been tried, hanged, or acquitted, Bligh was still languishing in the Royal Navy, and Britain was at war with France. The whereabouts of the notorious Fletcher Christian & Co. remained a total mystery until 1808, when American merchant Mayhew Folger stumbled upon Pitcairn.

Folger, commander of the whaling ship Topaz, was astonished to be greeted by three Polynesian-looking men who all spoke perfect English and were devout Christians. Upon meeting Adams, Folger informed British officials of his discovery, gushing about the Christian values of the Pitcairners.

Once the Napoleonic Wars subsided six years later, two naval officers descended on the island. Adams, by now very elderly, told them the story of the young colony and his conversion, eventually getting an amnesty deal out of it. By now, the legend of Pitcairn — an unspoiled, isolated territory of well-mannered, multiracial Christians — was in full swing and would never die. Despite the island’s mutinous beginning, the British chose to annex Pitcairn and make it a crown colony in 1838.

Part 3: Increasing Fame

Pitcairn Islanders, 1916
A 19th century photo of Pitcairn Islanders. While many share the dark skin and brown hair of Polynesians, many others are very fair-skinned.

It is impossible to overstate Pitcairn’s isolation. It’s nearest neighbor (Mangareva, French Polynesia) is over 300 miles away. The nearest developed countries are New Zealand (3,300 miles) and Chile (3,600 miles). Pitcairn has no harbor, no airstrip and has never been home to more than 200 people. The island has only one school and teaches from kindergarten up to age 15, upon which Pitcairners finish at a school of their choice in New Zealand. Nearly all of Pitcairn’s inhabitants are descended from at least one mutineer, and they remain fiercely protective of their legacy.

Pitcairn’s jurisdiction also includes the uninhabited islands of Henderson, Oeno and Ducie. Oeno and Ducie are coral atolls, while Henderson is an uplifted coral island, and they were annexed to the Pitcairn territory in 1902. Henderson is seven times larger than Pitcairn and has a thickly forested interior that could theoretically hold a small human population, but it has a lack of freshwater resources and has never been knowingly inhabited.

The only way on or off Pitcairn is ludicrously complicated: take a flight to Tahiti, wait for the weekly flight to Mangareva, then board a cargo supply ship on a 30-plus hour open boat journey to Pitcairn. Once you arrive, you will see that there’s no safe anchorage, so you must wait offshore as the islanders bring out an aluminum, diesel-powered longboat, which will then ferry you to shore. If the weather is bad or the waves too choppy, you might not be able to get on the island at all.

But I digress.

By the 1850s, the Pitcairners were outgrowing their island and had suffered a series of devastating droughts, so they appealed to Queen Victoria for help. She offered them Norfolk Island (roughly halfway between Australia’s east coast and New Zealand’s north island) and they left in 1856. A former penal colony, Norfolk Island, like Pitcairn, had lush vegetation and an isolated location, but after 18 months, a number of Pitcairners chose to return to their homeland. (Today, Norfolk Island is an external territory of Australia and has a population of roughly 1,700, around half of which are Bounty descendants.)

Formerly a devout Anglican community thanks to John Adams, the Pitcairners eventually converted to Seventh-day Adventism en masse in the 1890s, largely due to the work of American missionary John Tay. Among other distinctives, Adventists worship on Saturdays instead of Sundays and strictly adhere to teetotalism and vegetarianism. At one point, all alcohol, dancing and public displays of affection were outlawed on Pitcairn.

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A detailed map of Pitcairn with landmarks. Notice Bounty Bay, John Adams’s grave, the island radio station and Fletcher Christian’s cave.

Part 3: The Enduring Legend

The only reason the Bounty story — and, by extension, Pitcairn — is remembered today is due to the series of Bounty-related novels and films. American authors Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall wrote a trilogy of books recalling the historic events: Mutiny on the BountyMen Against the Sea and Pitcairn’s Island. These were followed by epic Hollywood blockbusters In the Wake of the Bounty (1933), Mutiny on the Bounty (1935), Mutiny on the Bounty (1962) and The Bounty (1984), which cemented Fletcher Christian as the legendary rebel, flanked by his brave midshipmen and adoring, scantily-clad Polynesian women.

It doesn’t take a genius to see why the average joe would be enamored of the Bounty story. He could also fantasize about living like a modern-day Pitcairner, isolated from the whole world and taking pride in raw, blue-collar, relaxed living.

In the 20th century, Pitcairn began to enjoy more exposure to the outside world. Cruise ships would frequently make pitstops, allowing wealthy westerners access to the island. Pitcairners would hop aboard the cruise liners and work their charm, selling woodcarvings of the Bounty, authentic locally-sourced honey and fish, and breadfruit-based meals. Philately also became an unexpected source of revenue for Pitcairn due to the island’s rare assembly of stamps. In more modern times, Pitcairn began selling internet domain names with their “.pn” suffix.

Visitors were blown away by the islanders’ self-reliant lifestyle, as well as their kind spirit and warmth. Children were educated. Adults were hard-working, good-humored and well-behaved. By all accounts, Pitcairn was peaceful, orderly and well-grounded.

Pitcairn was also the pride and joy of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, the second-most widespread Christian denomination in the world. Islanders were ferried around the globe to attend church conferences, and the SDA church itself pumped large amounts of money into the island’s infrastructure. Ministers — usually from Australia or New Zealand — were told they had the easiest job in the world and that the islanders were the most pious, sincere group of believers around.

A group photo of several islanders. Randy Christian, the goateed man in the back, was one of the Pitcairners eventually convicted of sexual assault.

Part 4: Trouble Begins

In 1997, a Pitcairner, 20-year-old Shawn Christian, was questioned by visiting British detectives for the alleged rape of an 11-year-old girl, the daughter of the local Seventh-day Adventist minister. The case was dropped due to lack of evidence, but Christian claimed the sex was consensual. He was let off with a warning.

In 1999, after a party at a local man’s house, an island visitor, Ricky Quinn, was investigated for a sexual assault on an underage girl. A New Zealander, Quinn had multiple marks on his record, including several drug offenses, but he had cousins on Pitcairn, so he was allowed on the island for several months.

By coincidence, a British police officer, Gail Cox, happened to be on Pitcairn at the time. Despite the island’s alleged crime-free nature, the UK had been concerned about the adequacy of Pitcairn policing for sometime, and had sent Cox to train the local officer, Meralda Warren.

By this time, Pitcairn had only about 50 permanent inhabitants and had been suffering a long-term population drain to New Zealand and Australia, mainly for education and work opportunities. Only four primary families remained on the island, and each had its own place in the Pitcairn hierarchy.

Once Cox began her initial investigation, she noticed a very troubling pattern among young girls on Pitcairn. Many were alarmingly precocious, showing knowledge about sex-related topics even as young as five or six years old. Cox heard rumors that the accepted age of consent in Pitcairn was only 12. The island’s schoolteacher, Sheils Carnahan, and the resident Adventist minister, Neville Tosen, mentioned inexplicable mood swings among island children, as well as inappropriate jokes about island girls among the Pitcairn men.

What was equally alarming was the openness of the adult women on Pitcairn. Many of them viewed sexual activity between young kids, or between young girls and adult men, with a collective shrug. That claimed that (among other things) Pitcairn had been historically neglected by the British and that it was in line with Polynesian customs to “break in” girls for sexual activity at a very young age. Many of the adult women bragged about losing their virginity before they hit puberty and staunchly defended the Pitcairn men as vital to the life of the community, attacking anyone who disagreed as racist or ignorant of Polynesian life.

Eventually, the truth came out: Pitcairn was a veritable haven of pedophilia. Nearly every able-bodied male on the island had raped or indecently assaulted scores of girls over the course of the past few decades. Several off-islanders who now lived in New Zealand were also accused. Nearly everyone was related, closely or distantly, to both an accuser and a defendant.

Wary of Pitcairn’s inaccessibility as well as the obvious logistical challenges, the British government pondered whether or not to prosecute. Eventually, they did, and seven island men were to go on trial for a combined 55 counts of child sexual assault and/or molestation. Among them was Steve Christian, the mayor of Pitcairn and a direct descendant of Fletcher; Randy Christian, Steve’s son and a very influential man in his own right; Jay Warren, the former island magistrate; Len Brown, the oldest man on the island at the time; Len’s son, Dave Brown; Terry Young, descendant of mutineer Ned; and Dennis Christian, the Pitcairn postman.

A combined herculean effort from both Britain and New Zealand helped arrange judges, prosecutors and lawyers for what became one of the most bizarre, disturbing and historic trials in UK history. A pool of six journalists were accredited for the trials, which lasted six weeks on Pitcairn in the spring of 2004. Providing for an impartial jury proved to be impossible due to the community’s tiny size.

After an extremely expensive and drawn-out legal battle, the sentences were handed down by the British judges. Jay Warren was the only man acquitted, while Dennis Christian — who had cooperated with investigators and formally apologized to his victim — received community service. Due to his advanced age and mental state, Len Brown was given a light sentence of home detention. Steve Christian, Randy Christian and Dave Brown were all sentenced to terms in the newly-built Pitcairn prison, which the men had built themselves.

Several other men, including Brian Young and Shawn Christian, were tried separately in New Zealand and sentenced there. Only one non-islander was ever named at the trials: Albert Reeves, a New Zealand schoolteacher who allegedly molested a student or two when he lived on Pitcairn from 1969-70. Suffering from dementia, Reeves was deemed unfit to stand trial and his accuser dropped the charges.

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A photo of Pitcairn’s longboat on the open ocean. Nearly one-half of the entire population can fit inside, and the longboat is the only way on or off the island.

Part 5: How It Happened

Lots of people were dumbfounded by the pattern of abuse and the code of silence surrounding it on Pitcairn. But the more I read about this strange and harrowing story, the more sense it made.

Pitcairn is formidably isolated and has an enticing history to it. The culture has always been raw, untamed, and male-dominated. You have to be self-reliant and the community has to cooperate on many things, whether they like it or not. Pitcairn was founded, effectively, by pirates and the early years were fueled by sexual jealousy, violence and alcohol abuse. Combine this history and these modern elements with a neglectful colonial power and you have a recipe for disaster. It also didn’t help that  megalomaniacs like Steve Christian used their ancestry and island status to intimidate people.

On the other hand, you can find widespread child abuse virtually anywhere in the world. Big cities, small towns, Native American reservations, religious cults, etc. While it’s tempting to view Pitcairn as a real-life Lord of the Flies scenario, the reality is more complex than that.

The main difference, in my opinion, is the mythological image of Pitcairn as a tropical island paradise. To many people, Pitcairn will always be a perfect place to live, regardless of the crimes committed there. To others, the island will always be a crowning achievement of Adventist missionary work, even if (as of recent reports) only three islanders attend church regularly. The romanticized past will largely obscure the ugly present, and the islanders see to it that the myth prevails above all else.

People from all over the world chomp at the bit to get a glimpse of Pitcairn and meet the mutineers’ descendants. Cruise ship passengers go out of their way to buy Pitcairn arts and crafts. They bicker in internet message boards about obscure details of the island and debate the merits of the various Hollywood films. They follow the Pitcairn online newspaper, the Miscellany, and fawn over images of the islanders’ children. Unfortunately, many self-described friends and fans of Pitcairn believed the islanders’ version of events and joined in the growing chorus of conspiracies. Speaking of which…

The Adamstown Seventh-day Adventist Church. The entire population converted to Adventism in the 1890s and the religion plays a large part in the Pitcairn story. The church is the only house of worship on the island and dominates the town square. Only a handful of Pitcairners attend church regularly, but many still choose to observe Saturday as a day of rest out of respect for the more devout islanders.

Part 6: Conspiracy?

Let’s put on our tin-foil hats for a second.

Britain and New Zealand have made a shadowy pact with each other to get rid of Pitcairn as an overseas UK territory and forcibly relocate the population. Making up for years of neglect, the UK wants to rid itself of an expensive, headache-inducing burden in the middle of the South Pacific.

Therefore, alleged victims were bribed, evidence was planted, and the islanders’ reputation was dragged through the mud. Additionally, the Pitcairners, despite being a British territory, were completely unaware that their laws (including laws against rape) applied equally on Pitcairn itself.

Pitcairn couldn’t function without the longboats being crewed by the men, so the conspiracy was intended to rob Pitcairn of its able-bodied men, and by extension its livelihood. Every single girl who accused a Pitcairn man is either a liar, delusional, or both. Every single sexual encounter was, in fact, consensual, and having sex at a very young age is a time-honored Polynesian custom.

Sounds ridiculous, right? Not really. That argument was, in fact, used by the vast majority of the island women to defend the men who had abused children for decades. For many of them, underage sex was was as natural as watching the grass grow.

Was Tahiti a hotbed of child rape and sexual experimentation back in the day? While there is certainly abundant evidence that the Tahitians were very promiscuous by 18th century standards, there is not much to indicate that assault or abuse was widely practiced or tolerated. Investigators into the modern-day crimes on Pitcairn noted that, while abuse was tacitly accepted, it was never done publicly.

“In India, they have child brides. We might not agree with that, but at least it’s out in the open,” says Sheils Carnahan, the former island schoolteacher. “If this was really Pitcairn culture, then why keep it secret?”

Similarly, one of the accused men who lived in New Zealand was alarmed that he could be jailed for his offenses and made comments to his lawyer to that effect. He was clearly aware how child abusers were treated in most prisons.

“The irony is that we’ve got convictions for really serious offending and had them confirmed on appeal, and these people are locked up for really serious sexual crimes, and yet their supporters will still come out and say that it’s all cultural,” remarked Simon Moore, one of the case’s prosecutors. “Which, apart from being not true, is offensive, racist and patronizing.”

Part 7: Objectors & Naysayers

While I may have created the impression that Pitcairn was an echo-chamber of toxicity, there were a few outsiders in the community besides the resident teacher and pastor.

For example, Mike Lupton-Christian is a British expat who married Brenda Christian, Steve’s sister. Vaine Peu, a Polynesian man from the Cook Islands, married a Pitcairner, Charlene Warren. Both men were unfamiliar with Pitcairn before they settled there and staunchly supported the island women. Peu, in particular, repudiated the idea that Polynesians historically experimented with or “broke in” young girls. “Sex with a 12-year-old? That’s not normal,” he said shortly before the trials started. Lupton-Christian quipped that if something similar had happened to his own children in London, there would only be one trial — his own, for murdering the would-be rapist.

Other outsiders, such Kari Boye Young, wife of Brian Young, were more ambivalent. Kari, a Norwegian, relocated her kids from Pitcairn to Auckland when they were still relatively young. Like many outsiders, Kari knew that child abuse and molestation were rife on the island, but refused to believe Brian’s accusers and declared the trials a miscarriage of justice.

One of the few native islanders who defended the women was Pawl Warren. Known affectionately as “Pirate Pawl”, Warren’s daughter was good friends with the girl who was assaulted by Ricky Quinn after the house party in 1999. Warren has Pitcairn bloodlines and was born on the island, but spent most of his childhood and early adulthood in New Zealand. He returned to Pitcairn in the early 90s after seeing the Hollywood Bounty films and growing nostalgic.

Pirate Pawl is one of the few Pitcairners who has a firearms license. After the trials, most of the islanders had their guns confiscated due to fear of suicide. Breadfruit still grows on the island, and Pawl uses his shotgun to shoot the so-called “mutiny fruit” down from the trees — although by his own admission, there are a few other places (read: people) on the island he’d prefer to point his rifle toward.

Similarly, Tom and Betty Christian, one of the most respected couples on the island, took a courageous stand. Tom, who sadly passed away in 2013, was Pitcairn’s long-time ham radio operator. In addition, he traveled the world speaking about Pitcairn’s unique society, starred in several Pitcairn-based documentaries, and was an elder in the Seventh-day Adventist Church. He and Betty appeared to have mixed feelings about the trial at first; Betty once commented that the Pitcairn men “were young and wild once, but now they know better.” Nevertheless, Tom and Betty eventually testified that Pitcairn was, in fact, a British possession and the islanders were feigning ignorance about not knowing the laws. This made them almost permanent outcasts in the community.

Tom and Betty’s eldest daughter, Jacqui, was one of the few victims who spoke up without using a pseudonym. Jacqui had been subject to repeated and relentless sexual assaults on Pitcairn before leaving at age 15 to go to an Adventist high school in New Zealand and later to pharmacy school in Australia.

Jacqui was living in London at the time of the trials, but amazingly, she chose to go back to Pitcairn and try to set a better example. Jacqui hopes that Pitcairn will slowly rebuild its reputation as the island faces an uncertain future.

Part 8: What Now?

The islanders all received very lenient sentences at the Pitcairn prison. Many were allowed out early on good behavior, much to the dismay of their victims. Randy Christian, whose crimes had been the most severe, still only got a three-year sentence and was out in two. Steve Christian, meanwhile, was forced out as mayor and replaced by his sister Brenda, causing deep division in the community. Brenda was eventually replaced by Mike Warren, who was later arrested and charged on child pornography charges in 2016. Shawn Christian, Steve’s son, was later elected mayor despite his record.

Jacqui Christian returned to the island to a frosty welcome; many islanders refused to speak to her at all. However, Steve Christian eventually volunteered to help her clear some land for a new house, and she was even named to Pitcairn’s influential internal committee.

Pawl Warren, meanwhile, rarely interacts with others in the community and frequently opens up his home to island visitors. He calls his house “Switzerland,” as only there are you allowed to speak openly.

There are signs that the wounds are healing. Irma Christian, Dennis’s mother, passed away in 2016, but before she died, she made a speech at the town hall stressing the need for Pitcairn to be more hospitable to outsiders.

Pitcairn is at a crossroads. With a permanent population of only 47, the island is in desperate need of new blood (both figuratively and literally). It should come as a surprise to no one that the vast majority of Pitcairn expats, particularly women, refuse to return.

From 1991 to 2012, a mere two children were born on Pitcairn, and there is currently only one child on the island — Cushana Warren-Peu, the 10-year-old daughter of Vaine Peu and Charlene Warren. Cushana has a list of safe adults to contact and is driven to school daily by Brenda Christian, now the island’s police officer. At no time is she left alone.

Cushana Warren-Peu, age 10. The only child left on Pitcairn, Cushana is the daughter of Vaine Peu and Charlene Warren. All of Cushana’s five older siblings live in New Zealand, where they finished their education. 

Even prior to the trials, Pitcairn has never been known as a pleasant place for outsiders. The majority of immigration and tourist inquiries are rejected; as recently as 2013, nearly 700 inquiries are made each year, but not a single application has been formally lodged. A recent research study predicted that by 2045, if nothing were done, only three people of working age would be left on the island.

Pitcairn will actually pay migrants to live there and give them a plot for their own land, but they are prohibited from taking part in local work until their probationary period is complete and must have a minimum of NZD $30,000 in savings.

According to Pitcairn’s official immigration website, “No one will migrate to the Pitcairn Islands for economic reasons, as there are limited government jobs, a lack of private sector employment, as well as considerable competition for the tourism dollar.”

Immigrants are desperately needed to replenish the Pitcairn population and ensure the island’s future. Whether they come from the UK, New Zealand or elsewhere is inconsequential. Without this, the island will revert to nature and the community will die off.

The most important question that needs answering, obviously, is whether or not Pitcairn is safe.

“I believe in a strong future for Pitcairn, but you can’t have that if there’s any risk to children,” says Jacqui Christian. “If we can make it better for the little kids growing up now, and the generations after them, then it will all have been worthwhile.”

A trained pharmacist who has lived in the UK, New Zealand and Australia before returning to her homeland, Jacqui remains optimistic about Pitcairn’s future and has attempted to bring new industry to the island; she has even discussed opening up an acupuncture and massage retreat.

Others aren’t so convinced, including Peter George, one of the detectives who interviewed Shawn Christian on the sexual assault charge in 1997.

“If police and social workers were to go away, the sexual abuse would be back within five to ten years,” George claims.

Rhiannon Adam, an Irishwoman who now lives in London, visited Pitcairn in 2016 for three months to conduct a photojournalism project. Nearly all the islanders were hostile to her while she was there and proved despondent when forced to talk about the trials. While her experience wasn’t entirely negative, Adam remarked that the Pitcairners remain indifferent to outside opinion. “It’s their rock, and they’ll do what they like with it,” she said.

Former island commissioner Leslie Jaques feels similarly: “If mindsets don’t change, Pitcairn will die with these people. No one will come home, and if no one comes home, this will be the last generation. The old people will die, and the young people will leave. This is the last throw of the dice for Pitcairn.”

2018-19 coaching carousel

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#20 – Tom Arth, Akron Zips

  • Age: 37
  • Hometown: Cleveland, Ohio
  • Alma Mater: John Carroll University
  • Previous Job: Head Coach, Chattanooga

Terry Bowden overachieved for several years at Akron, securing a MAC East Division title as recently as 2017, but the program never took advantage of their fertile recruiting region and the Zips’ offensive struggles were well-documented.

Arth is far from a known commodity — he played at D-III powerhouse John Carroll before embarking upon a whirlwind pro career that included brief stints in the NFL, CFL and now-defunct NFL Europe. He got his first head coaching gig at his alma mater in 2013, leading the Blue Streaks to a 40-8 record and three D-III playoff berths before departing for FCS Chattanooga for the 2017 season. As a Cleveland native, he knows the area well and is considered a quarterback guru, but this hire came out of nowhere. 

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#19 – Will Healy, Charlotte 49ers

  • Age: 33
  • Hometown: Chattanooga, Tennessee
  • Alma Mater: The University of Richmond
  • Previous Job: Head Coach, Austin Peay

Brad Lambert, the founding coach of the 49ers, managed a mere 11 wins in four years after transitioning from the FCS level and never finished higher than fifth in C-USA’s East Division. While it looked like Lambert had the Niners on the verge of a breakthrough on more than one occasion, there was never much chance for sustained success under his watch apart from the occasional upset.

Healy, meanwhile, took over a long-downtrodden program at FCS Austin Peay at the age of 30 and improved them significantly in his three seasons at the helm. Charlotte has nice facilities and is located in a terrific recruiting region, so there’s potential here to give a sleeping giant of a program a shot in the arm, but Healy still has much to prove as a first-time FBS head coach.

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#18 – Tyson Helton, Western Kentucky Hilltoppers

  • Age: 41
  • Hometown: Gainesville, Florida
  • Alma Mater: The University of Houston
  • Previous Job: Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks Coach, Tennessee

WKU’s decade and a half of FBS football has been a rollercoaster: no coach has stayed in Bowling Green for more than three seasons. While the ‘Toppers experienced major success in the Willie Taggart era (2009-12) and the Jeff Brohm era (2014-16), they fell flat on their faces under Mike Sanford’s watch, going 6-7 in 2017 and 3-9 in ’18.

Helton, the younger brother of USC coach Clay Helton, worked under Brohm for two seasons and was most recently offensive coordinator at Tennessee. Known as an ace recruiter, Helton also has a solid pedigree as a quarterback developer, including first-round NFL Draft pick Sam Darnold. On the surface, this seems like a decent hire, but can WKU get back to the top in an increasingly competitive Conference USA? 

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#17 – Scot Loeffler, Bowling Green Falcons

  • Age: 44
  • Hometown: Barberton, Ohio
  • Alma Mater: The University of Michigan
  • Previous Job: Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks Coach, Boston College

Loeffler has an eye-catching resume as an assistant coach, beginning his career at his alma mater when Brian Griese and Tom Brady were lighting up scoreboards in the late 90s. More recently, Loeffler was Tim Tebow’s quarterbacks coach at Florida in 2009, while also working as an offensive coordinator at Temple, Auburn, Virginia Tech and Boston College, where he reunited with Steve Addazio, another former Florida assistant.

Former coach Mike Jinks was an odd fit at BGSU from the get-go, as a Texas native with no prior connections to the MAC or even previous FBS coordinator experience. While the Falcons recruited well under his watch, the results were extremely disappointing after the wildly successful Dino Babers era (2014-15) and the Dave Clawson era before that (2009-13). Porous defenses didn’t help, either.

Loeffler lacks head coaching experience and has been criticized for his conservative play-calling at VT and BC. Bowling Green traditionally doesn’t stay down for long, however, so Loeffler’s staff just might have the pieces to make a move in a relatively weak MAC East division.

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#16 – Mike Locksley, Maryland Terrapins

  • Age: 48
  • Hometown: Washington, D.C.
  • Alma Mater: Towson University
  • Previous Job: Offensive Coordinator, Alabama

The writing had been on the wall for sometime in College Park, after the tragic heatstroke-related death of offensive lineman Jordan McNair during the summer, followed by multiple allegations of player abuse and a toxic culture under coach D.J. Durkin. Interim coach/offensive coordinator Matt Canada did an admirable job keeping the locker room united and the Terps competitive on the field in 2018, but school administration decided it was best to clean house. Enter Locksley, a former Terps offensive coordinator (2012-15) who was most recently at Alabama, where he won the Broyles Award in 2018 (given to the nation’s top assistant coach).

The elephant in the room: Locksley’s only prior head coaching experience was at New Mexico (2009-11), where he went a horrendous 2-26 before getting fired halfway through his third season. Among the lowlights in Albuquerque included Locksley punching an assistant coach and serving a one-week suspension, a sexual harassment lawsuit filed by his former administrative assistant (the case was later dropped) and a stolen vehicle driven by a Lobo player that was registered in Locksley’s name.

If you want to play devil’s advocate, you could argue in favor of Locksley’s exceptional recruiting chops and his time spent in Tuscaloosa. If Lane Kiffin can rehabilitate his image after working under Nick Saban & Co., why can’t Locksley? On the other hand, Locksley’s tumultuous tenure at New Mexico will be an issue until he proves otherwise.

As for the job itself, things could be worse. The Terps have no shortage of athleticism, in addition to outstanding facilities and a passionate fanbase, but they’ve frequently battled the injury bug and have found it difficult to be consistently competitive in the rugged Big Ten East.

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#15 – Walt Bell, UMass Minutemen

  • Age: 34
  • Hometown: Dickson, Tennessee
  • Alma Mater: Middle Tennessee State University
  • Previous Job: Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks Coach, Florida State

Bell has been regarded as one of the nation’s up-and-coming coordinators after developing up-tempo, pass-happy attacks at Arkansas State, Maryland and Florida State. Bell cut his teeth under spread offense gurus like Blake Anderson and Larry Fedora and his palpable enthusiasm should translate at UMass, one of the toughest jobs in the country.

Even Mark Whipple, the winningest coach in school history, couldn’t get the Minutemen over the hump during his second tenure in Amherst, winning only 16 games in the past five seasons. Granted, three of those seasons were as an FBS independent playing brutal schedules, but the Minutemen still need consistency across the board, plus a better defense.

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#14 – Mike Houston, East Carolina Pirates

  • Age: 47
  • Hometown: Franklin, North Carolina
  • Alma Mater: Mars Hill University
  • Previous Job: Head Coach, James Madison

Houston might be one of the nation’s best coaches that you haven’t heard of yet. Not only did he win 37 games and an FCS national championship in three seasons at James Madison (2016-18), he also enjoyed a three-year run of success at D-II Lenoir-Rhyne College and at The Citadel.

The Pirates have one of the more demanding and passionate fanbases in the Group of Five, and they certainly need someone who understands the dynamics and expectations. Houston has the personality and coaching acumen to turn things around in Greenville.

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#13 – Mack Brown, North Carolina Tar Heels

  • Age: 67
  • Hometown: Cookeville, Tennessee
  • Alma Mater: Florida State University
  • Previous Job: ESPN analyst

Brown is hardly a young, fresh face, but he’s still the winningest coach in UNC history a full two decades after leaving Chapel Hill. The current issues with this roster are plentiful, but the Heels have proven resilient in the past, and Brown has not been shy about expecting to win immediately. After five years in the ESPN broadcast booth following his dismissal at Texas, Brown claims that he’s ready to get back into coaching, and he managed to haul in a nice recruiting class during the December early signing period.

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#12 – Hugh Freeze, Liberty Flames

  • Age: 49
  • Hometown: Senatobia, Mississippi
  • Alma Mater: The University of Southern Mississippi
  • Previous Job: Head Coach, Ole Miss

Ex-head coach Turner Gill did an admirable job prepping Liberty for its FBS transition in 2018, but he never won more than eight games in a season. It seemed that the program had stagnated under his watch despite solid recruiting classes and significantly upgraded facilities, and Gill chose to step down in November to spend more time with his wife, who suffers from a chronic illness.

No one doubts Freeze’s coaching chops, but his personal indiscretions have been well-documented and Ole Miss is still suffering from scholarship reductions and postseason bans from his tenure. Can Freeze redeem himself a la Bobby Petrino and Lane Kiffin? Or will the Flames slip through the cracks as they try to keep their heads above water in the FBS?

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#11 – Jim McElwain, Central Michigan Chippewas

  • Age: 56
  • Hometown: Missoula, Montana
  • Alma Mater: Eastern Washington University
  • Previous Job: Wide Receivers Coach, Michigan

McElwain stumbled at Florida under the albatross of high expectations, but his three-year stint at Colorado State (2012-14) was excellent. Following his unceremonious mid-season dumping at Florida in 2016, McElwain was thrown a lifeline by another Coach Jim — Harbaugh — and landed at Michigan last season, where he coached the wide receivers in a revitalized offensive attack.

CMU is in an interesting spot. The recently fired John Bonamego was an alum and an all-around likable guy, but no one saw the disastrous 2018 season coming, where the Chippewas finished 1-11 after reaching bowl games in each of Bonamego’s first three years. The Chips needed to make a smart hire considering historic rivals WMU and EMU are on the rise in the MAC West. In McElwain, they think they’ve found someone they can believe in.

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#10 – Jake Spavital, Texas State Bobcats

  • Age: 33
  • Hometown: Tulsa, Oklahoma
  • Alma Mater: Missouri State University
  • Previous Job: Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks Coach, West Virginia

Spavital is a coaching wunderkind, having already compiled a sterling resumé at age 33. He coached Johnny Manziel at Texas A&M, he worked the Air Raid under Sonny Dykes for two seasons at Cal, and was most recently calling plays at West Virginia while mentoring future NFL starter Will Grier.

It may not seem like it, but the Texas State job is one of the more difficult in the country right now. No-nonsense Everett Withers was a highly-regarded defensive guru when he arrived in San Marcos, fresh off back-to-back nine-win seasons at FCS powerhouse JMU. Inheriting an undisciplined team, Withers burned the program to the ground and began a youth movement. The result? Seven wins in almost three seasons — including a 2-20 mark in the Sun Belt. Withers was fired shortly before the 2018 season finale.

Spavital is facing an uphill battle, with little proven talent, dwindling attendance rates, lackluster facilities and little local media coverage in a market dominated by the neighboring Longhorns. At 33, he will be the second-youngest coach in the nation behind Kent State’s Sean Lewis. However, as a high-risk, high-reward hire, this could actually work out swimmingly.

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#9 – Eliah Drinkwitz, Appalachian State Mountaineers

  • Age: 35
  • Hometown: Norman, Oklahoma
  • Alma Mater: Arkansas Tech University
  • Previous Job: Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks Coach, NC State

Like Spavital, Drinkwitz is a highly-regarded young offensive mind who worked under acclaimed coaches for many years, in this case Auburn’s Gus Malzahn and Boise State’s Bryan Harsin. Following his tenure in Boise, Drinkwitz moved to NC State, taking quarterback Ryan Finley with him and eventually developing him into an NFL prospect.

As for App State, they’ve handled the FCS-to-FBS transition as well as anyone, winning 47 games in the past six seasons under Scott Satterfield. They have the winning traditions and the rowdy fanbase to make up for geographic disadvantages, and Drinkwitz should feel right at home.

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#8 – Gary Andersen, Utah State Aggies

  • Age: 54
  • Hometown: Salt Lake City, Utah
  • Alma Mater: The University of Utah
  • Previous Job: Defensive Line Coach, Utah

Matt Wells did what very few have done over the years — he made Utah State into a consistent contender. In his six-year tenure, he won 44 games and took the Aggies to five bowl games. Replacing him will be a guy who also won at USU: Andersen, who hired Wells as his offensive coordinator/QB coach in 2011 before eventually departing for Wisconsin and, later, Oregon State. Andersen landed at Utah last season, where he coached the defensive line.

Andersen has a proven winning formula and he should have something to prove after his tumultuous exit in Corvallis, in which he resigned in September 2017, bad-mouthed his assistant coaches to the press, and refused his $12 million buyout.

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#7 – Geoff Collins, Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets

  • Age: 47
  • Hometown: Conyers, Georgia
  • Alma Mater: Western Carolina University
  • Previous Job: Head Coach, Temple

While many assumed that longtime coach Paul Johnson would retire on his own terms several years down the line, he surprised many by stepping down shortly before the Jackets’ bowl game destination was announced. Georgia Tech had taken a step back in the past few seasons, so this was understandable.

Collins, a Peach State native and former Georgia Tech assistant, kept Temple relevant in the American Athletic Conference during his two-year tenure and was known for his charismatic, fun-loving persona, which rubbed off on his players. He also has a well-deserved reputation for stingy defenses from his time at Mississippi State and Florida.

The immediate problem will be the tricky scheme transition on offense. While Johnson’s triple-option offense was a big equalizer in the ACC, fans have been complaining for years about the limiting factor it has on the athletes the Yellow Jackets can recruit. Granted, Georgia Tech is very selective academically, but they’ve shown that they can find elite athletes (Calvin Johnson, anyone?). It’ll be a bumpy transition in Year One, but there’s plenty of reasons for fans to be excited about Collins.

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#6 – Scott Satterfield, Louisville Cardinals

  • Age: 45
  • Hometown: Hillsborough, North Carolina
  • Alma Mater: Appalachian State University
  • Previous Job: Head Coach, Appalachian State

It seemed like just yesterday that analysts and experts were pegging Satterfield as a coaching lifer at his alma mater, where he won 51 games in six seasons. But things don’t always work out that way.

Bobby Petrino’s second stint as Louisville coach was a remarkable underachievement considering he had a once-in-a-generation QB to work with. But even with Lamar Jackson, the Cardinals could never overtake Clemson in the ACC Atlantic, and without him, their larger issues were exposed. A porous offensive line, an equally porous defense, and a lack of depth all contributed to a disastrous 2-10 season and Petrino’s November dismissal.

Meanwhile, Satterfield won (or shared) three straight Sun Belt titles at Appalachian State and also won three bowl games. The Cards never seem to lack for talent at the skill positions and typically punch above their weight in recruiting. With Satterfield at the helm, this could be a relatively quick fix.

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#5 – Chris Klieman, Kansas State Wildcats

  • Age: 51
  • Hometown: Waterloo, Iowa
  • Alma Mater: The University of Northern Iowa
  • Previous Job: Head Coach, North Dakota State

It’s a daunting task to take over for Hall of Famer Bill Snyder, whoever you are. But Klieman isn’t most coaches. The man inherited a well-oiled machine at FCS North Dakota State and kept the juggernaut going the past five seasons after Craig Bohl’s departure for Wyoming. A 68-6 record in football, regardless of level, is eyebrow-raising, and Klieman’s relationship with K-State athletic director Gene Taylor certainly didn’t hurt, either.

Snyder has a well-deserved reputation as an overachiever, but the program seemed to lack excitement in recent seasons, and misses on the recruiting trail didn’t help. It’ll be quite a step up from Fargo to Manhattan, but Klieman has all the tools at his disposal to make it a smooth transition.

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#4 – Mel Tucker, Colorado Buffaloes

  • Age: 46
  • Hometown: Cleveland, Ohio
  • Alma Mater: The University of Wisconsin, Madison
  • Previous Job: Defensive Coordinator/Defensive Backs, Georgia

After a six-game losing streak in the latter half of the 2018 season, Colorado AD Rick George decided that it was time to move on. Outside of the 2016 Pac-12 South championship season, CU never made a bowl game under Mike MacIntyre and finished last place in the South Division four out of five times. Tucker, meanwhile, has an outstanding reputation: he worked in the NFL for a decade as well as powerhouse college programs like Ohio State, LSU, Alabama and (most recently) Georgia. The Buffs have a nice nucleus of talent, experience and athleticism, but their margin for error remains as slim as ever.

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#3 – Matt Wells, Texas Tech Red Raiders

  • Age: 45
  • Hometown: Columbia, South Carolina
  • Alma Mater: Utah State University
  • Previous Job: Head Coach, Utah State

Texas Tech is a program that will always hang its hat on offense — particularly the Air Raid — and in that sense, Kliff Kingsbury was the perfect fit as a Mike Leach disciple and a TTU alum. Despite promising gains on defense late in his tenure, the Raiders were never able to hang with the elites in the Big 12 and frequently choked in big games. Wells, on the other hand, is a proven program builder who helped take Utah State (his alma mater) to unforeseen heights, winning 44 games and going to five bowls in six seasons. He has the pieces in place to win immediately in Lubbock.

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#2 – Les Miles, Kansas Jayhawks

  • Age: 65
  • Hometown: Elyria, Ohio
  • Alma Mater: The University of Michigan
  • Previous Job: Head Coach, LSU

You couldn’t have predicted a more interesting hire, as Miles is essentially the polar opposite of David Beaty. Beaty was a little-known Texas A&M wide receivers coach who jumped into a train wreck of a program in Lawrence after the spectacular failures of Charlie Weis and Turner Gill. Meanwhile, Miles won over 100 games at LSU — not to mention a national championship — and has prior Big 12 experience at Oklahoma State (2001-04). Naysayers will point to his age, his conservative offensive style and his lack of success with quarterbacks at LSU, but Miles is undoubtedly a home-run hire for a KU program that has been the Big 12’s laughingstock for the past decade.


#1 – Ryan Day, Ohio State Buckeyes

  • Age: 39
  • Hometown: Manchester, New Hampshire
  • Alma Mater: The University of New Hampshire
  • Previous Job: Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks Coach, Ohio State

After a trying season both on and off the field, Urban Meyer finally elected to call it quits (again), citing health reasons (again). Day, who served as interim coach during Meyer’s September suspension and went 3-0 during that time, has done an excellent job as offensive coordinator and is a proven recruiter. The question remains if Day can continue keeping Ohio State as a perennial national title contender or if there’s a chance the Buckeyes can slip behind the Big Ten elite.