At a New York Yankees spring training game in Fort Lauderdale in the mid-1970s, I had a chance to talk with Joe DiMaggio. Joltin’ Joe retired from Major League Baseball in 1951 after a season that injuries curtailed his production and limited him to 116 games. A year before he had hit 32 homers, 122 RBI and hit .301 while striking out only 33 times (he only struck out 369 times in his entire career). I asked him why he left the game when he did since most of the baseball writers I talked to thought he could have played productively for at least 4-5 more years.
“I knew it was time to quit when I started having to run for balls in the outfield that I would have gotten to easily just a couple of years before,” DiMaggio said. “I didn’t want anyone to remember a broken down ball player. I knew it was my time to quit.”
I remembered those words as I watched Bobby Bowden and Joe Paterno struggle at the end of their coaching careers, mere shells of what they were just a few years earlier. They didn’t know when to quit and only left college football when they were forced out.
I remembered the DiMaggio words again Wednesday when I read an interview at coachingsearch.com in which Steve Spurrier admitted he waited too long to hang up his coaching whistle at South Carolina.
“As players and coaches, we all have expiration dates,” Spurrier said. “We all have one. Some guys are smart enough to know what it us. Some of us are not smart enough. I think I should have expired mine at the end of 2014. We’d just won our fourth straight bowl game. I really thought we had enough for 2015. We had some returning players, a new defensive coach, some junior college kids. We got off to a rough start and it stayed pretty rough.”
When South Carolina struggled to go 7-6 in 2015 there was plenty of speculation that Spurrier would retire but he pledged five more years in which he would rebuild the Gamecocks back to where they were from 2010-13 in which they won 42 games including three straight seasons with 11.
At midseason in 2015, with the Gamecocks struggling at 2-4, Spurrier called it quits and turned the team over to Shawn Elliott. He regrets that he stayed too long and offers this advice to older coaches:
“If you’re a coach in your late 60s or 70s, try to pick up a good moment. I didn’t go that. I wasn’t smart enough to do that.”
Fortunately, for Spurrier, he gave South Carolina its greatest years and didn’t linger too many years past his prime. He will be remembered well. A lot of coaches, however, will coach well past their sell-by date and won’t be nearly as fortunate.
SEC SCHEDULES 2016: WHO HAS THE TOUGHEST SEPTEMBER?
1. OLE MISS
9/3 Florida State: 10-3; lost Peach Bowl
9/10 Wofford: 5-6 in Division IAA Southern Conference
9/17 Alabama: 14-1; SEC champs/national champions
9/24 Georgia: 10-3; won Gator Bowl
Assessment: If the Rebels somehow make it through September with a 4-0 record they will be on the short list for national championship contenders. They are capable of a September to remember but 2-2 is more likely.
9/3 Clemson: 14-1; played for national championship
9/10 Arkansas State: 9-4; Sun Belt champs; lost New Orleans Bowl
9/17 Texas A&M: 8-5; lost Music City Bowl
9/24 LSU: 9-3; won Texas Bowl
Assessment: If Auburn could scrape a win together in game one against Clemson, it would set the tone for the entire season. The game is at home and Auburn should be improved, but not that improved. There isn’t a lightweight on the September schedule so 3-1 would be astounding but 1-3 or 2-2 is more likely.
9/3 Wisconsin (in Green Bay, WI): 10-3; won Holiday Bowl
9/10 Jacksonville State: 13-2; lost in Division IAA championship game
9/17 Mississippi State: 9-4; won Belk Bowl
9/24 at Auburn: 7-6; won Birmingham Bowl
Assessment: The Wisconsin game at Lambeau Field is particularly interesting since LSU’s new DC used to be the DC at Wisconsin. Jax State finished second in Division IAA. In Starkville, Mississippi State would be a problem but not in Baton Rouge. Auburn might need to knock off LSU to salvage a season even if it is September. As for LSU, 4-0 is most likely.
4. TEXAS A&M
9/3 UCLA: 8-5; lost Foster Farms Bowl
9/10 Prairie View A&M: 8-2 in Division IAA
9/17 at Auburn: 7-6; won Birmingham Bowl
9/24 Arkansas (in Arlington, TX): 8-5; won Liberty Bowl
Assessment: Given the amount of pressure on HBC Kevin Sumlin, this is a nightmare of a schedule. Prairie View A&M is the only surefire win while the other three are tossups. If the Aggies finish September 1-3 or 2-2 then buzzards will be circling over the football complex in College Station.
9/3 Louisiana Tech: 9-4; won New Orleans Bowl
9/10 at TCU: 11-2; won Alamo Bowl
9/17 Texas State: 3-9
9/24 Texas A&M (in Arlington, TX): 8-5; lost Music City Bowl
Assessment: Arkansas started out 1-3 last year but rallied to finish 8-5. Bret Bielema can’t afford another disastrous start like that in 2016. The only game the Hogs will be underdogs is game two at TCU. A 3-1 record seems likely.
6. SOUTH CAROLINA
9/3 at Vanderbilt: 4-8
9/10 at Mississippi State: 9-4; won Belk Bowl
9/17 East Carolina: 5-7
9/24 at Kentucky: 5-7
Assessment: It’s not the toughest schedule in terms of opponents’ won-loss records but because it’s three SEC games on the road. A 2-2 record would be a monumental achievement considering South Carolina’s talent level.
9/3 Southern Cal (in Arlington, TX): 8-6; won Pac-12 South championship; lost Holiday Bowl
9/10 Western Kentucky: 12-2; won Conference USA championship; won Miami Beach Bowl
9/17 at Ole Miss: 10-3; won Sugar Bowl
9/24 Kent State: 3-9
Assessment: The Ole Miss game is the one that will be circled on every calendar. Southern Cal and Western Kentucky will put up resistance. Kent State is Nick Saban’s alma mater. Think 4-0.
9/3 Appalachia State: 11-2; won Camellia Bowl
9/10 Virginia Tech (in Bristol, TN): 7-6; won Independence Bowl
9/17 Ohio U: 8-5; lost Camellia Bowl
9/24 Florida: 10-4; won SEC East championship; lost Citrus Bowl
Assessment: If the Vols aren’t 3-0 when Florida comes to town then Butch Jones’ job will be on the line because the Gators have beaten UT 11 straight years. Tennessee will probably be favored to beat Florida but don’t count on it happening.
9/3 North Carolina (in Atlanta): 11-3; ACC Coastal Division champions; lost Russell Athletic Bowl
9/10 Nicholls State: 2-8-1 in Division IAA
9/17 at Missouri: 5-7
9/24 at Ole Miss: 10-3; won Sugar Bowl
Assessment: Since it’s in the Georgia Dome, North Carolina will seem like another home game but this game will be white knuckles because Larry Fedora has it going at UNC. Nicholls State and Missouri should be in the win column. Ole Miss will be the toughest game on the September schedule. This looks like 3-1 but no one should be surprised if UNC wins game one and Georgia goes 2-2 in the first month.
9/3 at West Virginia: 8-5; won Cactus Bowl
9/10 Eastern Michigan: 1-11
9/17 Georgia: 10-3; won Gator Bowl
9/24 Delaware State: 1-10
Assessment: New coach Barry Odom will cut his September teeth on two easy wins (Eastern Michigan and Delaware State) and two bad losses (West Virginia and Georgia).
9/3 Southern Miss; 9-5; won Conference USA South championship; lost Heart of Dallas Bowl
9/10 at Florida: 10-4; won SEC East championship; lost Citrus Bowl
9/17 New Mexico State: 3-9
9/24 South Carolina: 3-9
Assessment: Kentucky desperately needs to win three September games but there are two tossup games (Southern Miss and South) Carolina, one surefire win (New Mexico State) and the usual sacrifice to the Gators.
12. MISSISSIPPI STATE
9/3 South Alabama: 5-7
9/10 South Carolina: 3-9
9/17 at LSU
Assessment: It would be difficult for Mississippi State to lose any of the three home games. The Bulldogs will be big underdogs in Baton Rouge against LSU. This has 3-1 written all over it.
9/1 South Carolina: 4-8
9/10 Middle Tennessee State: 7-6; lost Bahamas Bowl
9/17 at Georgia Tech: 3-9
9/24 at Western Kentucky: 12-2; Won Conference USA championship; won Miami Beach Bowl
Assessment: Vanderbilt’s defense should be good enough for two wins in September. Which two is anybody’s guess.
9/3 UMass: 3-9
9/10 Kentucky: 5-7
9/17 North Texas: 1-11
9/24 at Tennessee: 9-4
Assessment: There is no getting around the fact that this is the easiest SEC September schedule. The first three are at home. You have to go all the way back to the Reagan administration to find the last time Kentucky beat UF and it won’t happen this year. The Tennessee game is the toughie and Florida has owned the Vols to the tune of 11 straight wins. Florida is 89-13 in games in September since 1990.
HOW THE MIGHTY HAVE FALLEN
How far have the mighty fallen? Consider this: the last time Kentucky was an underdog for a basketball game was two years ago during the NCAA Tournament. That the Wildcats are -1.5-point road dogs in Fayette-Nam tonight speaks volumes because this Arkansas team (9-8, 3-2) is nothing special. The way Arkansas defends the perimeter Kentucky’s guards could be in for a really difficult shooting night. As for UK’s bigs, Skal Labissiere, Alex Poythress and Marcus Lee combined for 13 points and 9 rebounds in the loss last Saturday to Auburn.
It would probably be foolish to write Kentucky off just yet, but the Wildcats are almost at that sink or swim point to the season. Having seen them at their best and at their worst this season, I think it’s likely UK treads water and struggles to break even in SEC play.
HOW THE MIGHTY HAVE FALLEN, PART II
As surprising as Kentucky’s struggles are, consider this: Duke has lost three games in a row for the first time since Bucky Waters was the coach and Randy Denton was his center in the late 1960s. This Duke team has no inside depth and no point guard. If Grayson Allen, Brandon Ingram and Luke Kennard aren’t bombing away and hitting 3-balls, Duke probably loses. Freshman Derryck Thornton is not the answer at the point and freshman center Chase Jeter looks like a candidate for the most overrated freshman in the country. Things are going to get worse before they get better for Duke.
ESPN’S TOP NBA CENTERS OF ALL TIME
1. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
2. Wilt Chamberlain
3. Bill Russell
4. Shaquille O’Neal
5. Hakeen Olajuwon
6. Moses Malone
7. David Robinson
8. Patrick Ewing
9. George Mikan
10. Bill Walton
John Garrett, offensive coordinator at Oregon State in 2014 and an offensive quality control assistant with Florida last season, has joined the Richmond staff as offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach. Garrett’s brother Jason is the HBC of the Dallas Cowboys.
New San Francisco 49ers HBC Chip Kelly has reached out to Lake Kiffin to
Chris Tuley, the Missouri booster behind self-imposed sanctions and possibly something worse down the line from the NCAA, says he had good intentions when he gave Mizzou basketball players impermissible benefits. Where have I heard that before? And Frank Haith can swear on a stack of Bibles that he didn’t know what was going on but I’ll believe donkeys fly first.
Former Michigan coach Lloyd Carr is expected to be named to the College Football Playoff selection committee.
The Buffalo Bills will go down in the record books as the first NFL team to hire a full-time female assistant coach. Kathryn Smith, who spent six years with the New York Jets and one year with the Buffalo Bills working for Rex Ryan, was named by Ryan as a special teams quality control assistant. Last summer the Arizona Cardinals hired Jen Werter to work with inside linebackers during training camp but she wasn’t part of the regular season staff.
QUESTION OF THE DAY
Some experts say that 2015 Alabama ranks among the greatest college football teams of all time. Two-part question: What are your all-time top five college football teams and if 2015 Alabama is not top five, are they at least on your short list?
MUSIC FOR TODAY
Thanks to the woman who cooked, cleaned our house and ironed our clothes during my family’s 3-year exile to Mississippi, I discovered the music of Jackie Wilson and his incredible 4-octave tenor voice. We had a 4-speaker stereo system in our house and Willistine always brought her records to play while she worked. I never saw Jackie Wilson in person, but people I talked to who saw him say he was James Brown with a voice and the dance moves of Michael Jackson before he was even an idea. While his musical story that of how doo-wop evolved into the soul music of the 1960s, he is an American tragedy because the people who he trusted mismanaged and stole his money. He had a heart attack on a Dick Clark show at a New Jersey casino in 1975 and never regained his health, dying at the young age of 49 a pauper. He was buried in an unmarked grave in Detroit until a fundraiser collected money for a head stone. Jackie Wilson died 21 years ago today, which is why he’s today’s music.