Perfect Jobs Don't Exist…
No situation is perfect. Men who reach the status of head coach have been in the business long enough to know that every school has its pitfalls. One school expects coaches to graduate more players and limit acceptance of academically risky students. Another program does not value player graduation rates but demands victories over their rival and a few more wins each season to ensure job security. Still a third university might cry for a particular kind of offense or defense they consider part of their tradition (like the Nebraska option or a strong running game at Ohio State). Yet another job might create an atmosphere where coaches are pressured to win at all costs; he must decide whether or not he can stomach a little cheating by overzealous alumni and salve his guilty conscience with victories and a fat payday…
Whatever they are, each and every job has its trade offs. It is merely a question of ‘what are they?' - not ‘do they exist?' Coaches must individually weigh what they can and cannot stomach. Their decision to take or turn down a job will hinge more on the particular local expectations and their own personal philosophy than the dire predictions of apocalyptic disaster by some sportswriter with too much time on their hands. Nor are they likely to come out and explain such private matters. Can you imagine a coach upon leaving a job and taking another saying:
"Well, you see we had this big booster, and I had some dirt on him. He is a first class crook and has been involved in shady dealings both in the football and the business arenas. He knows it, I know it, everybody knows it. I did not want to take the fall when the NCAA comes to town. Plus, my athletic director was in cahoots with this guy because not only am I not his hire, these two had been scratching one another's back like a pack of monkeys since they were teammates in college. Neither one particularly liked me. As a direct result, I was about to be fired the next time I had a bad season. Now, I know the fans loved me, but I could not come out and tell them the situation to save my job because that would have killed my ability to recruit. So, I just decided to move on over to this new job for more money, better facilities, and believe it or not – less stress…"
Few coaches are going to say such things because it will cripple their ability to get jobs in the future. Those who are completely honest often find themselves blackballed. It is better to simply accept that it is time to move on and search for a situation that while not perfect – is livable. Fans and the media might wonder what in the world is happening and criticize the coach for going elsewhere, but they would do well to remember that very rarely (if ever) do they have the whole story. Maybe – just maybe – the coach does know what he is doing; perhaps he has realized that this new situation – while not perfect – is certainly better than his last one.
You knew I had to get here – right? I wish I had a nickel for every time in the past few seasons a coach has been accused of being nothing more than a ‘money grubbing so and so.'
Is this perception reality?
Sure it is to some extent. The last time the medical personnel checked, football coaches were Homo sapiens. They are not going to turn a deaf ear when some school offers to make them as rich as the legendary King Midas. They should not be expected to do so. There is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to get paid handsomely in whatever job you find yourself employed.
However, the oft-implied belief that coaches have become religious devotees to the idol of the almighty dollar is skewed at best and slanderous at worst.
Coaches frequently turn down fat paychecks and even accept lower profile positions based on their family or long-term relationships. Bellotti reportedly rebuffed USC for the sake of staying in family friendly Eugene. Riley allowed himself to be eliminated from the Alabama sweepstakes because of his desire to be back on the West Coast with his family at UCLA. Barry Alvarez politely declined the interest of Miami when Butch Davis departed. Franchione reportedly wanted to get his family back to Texas…
Furthermore, I must ask what is wrong with a coach leaving their current job for one that they perceive is better (for whatever reason)? What did Bear Bryant do that was so horrible when he left Texas A&M for Alabama in part because of his loyalties to the Tide as a former player. Does Houston Nutt qualify as some sort of evil gypsy because as a former Razorback he leaped at the opportunity to come back to Arkansas to work for Broyles? What is wrong with Spurrier saying adios to Duke and coach at Florida, or Jim Tressel leaving Youngstown State to take a position he seemed his destiny at Ohio State? Why tar and feather Tommy Tubberville for leaving Ole Miss if Auburn is where he wants to work?
Where is the crime against humanity here? What constitutional amendment has been broken?
Think about what your honest answer to these questions would be:
(1) What if your current boss did not treat you as well as what you had earned the right to be treated?
(2) What if you were being paid below current market value for top shelf work?
(3) What if you knew you were capable of accomplishing so much more than you were currently allowed to do but the powers that be consistently stymied your every attempt to take any kind of visionary steps toward the future?
(4) What if you were ordered to fulfill your task on a shoestring budget that was hamstringing your ability to get the job done, and then you were blamed for the results of someone else's decision to be a miser?
(5) What if all the above conditions were true, and then a top competitor came knocking on your door one day… They were offering you twice your current salary, the same hours, more perks, better treatment, greater resources, and a chance to make all of your professional dreams come true?'
What fool out there would turn down such an offer without extenuating circumstances? Journalists, fans, alumni, and whoever else can decry the situation and claim that their former coach would sell his own momma's corpse for a nickel, but if put in the same position would they not likely make the same decision? Would they not feel like they absolutely had to accept the newly offered position? In fact, I am willing to bet that a great many of them have already jumped from one job to another because of pay, proximity to family, better treatment, prestige, etc.
Based on that fact, for the public to hold these coaches up like barbarians of a past age who have not yet learned to control their more base urgings is ludicrous. This is a double standard. It is sheer hypocrisy. Coaches are like everyone else in this life – they are not unaffected by dollars, and nor should they be.
So there should be no audible gasp when a coach leaves one school paying him $1,000,000 on a 5 year contract for one guaranteeing him $1,500,000 over 7 years. $3.5 million dollars is not exactly chump change…
Coaches Know More about Football than the Media…
Occasionally there will be a former head coach of a college program who really knows of what he speaks. Lee Corso, Ara Parsegian, Bud Wilkinson, Bill Curry, Bill Mackovic, Lou Holtz, Terry Bowden, etc. have all worked as national media personalities after coaching. They understand what is going on when a coach considers going to a new school. They can gain more insight on the situation just by sitting around the coaching offices and athletic department for an afternoon than most reporters can by asking questions for a solid month. They have contacts – old friends – that are still coaching at a plethora of programs. By simply picking up the phone, they can get the lowdown on most any job in the country. They can find out what is really going on rather than just what the power brokers are telling the fans and media. Thus, they truly know whether or not a job is considered a good one with big risks or a horrible situation with completely unrealistic expectations.
On the other hand, many in the national media has no clue what constitutes a "good job" or a "bad job."
First, coaching (like most professions) is a closed fraternity. Coaches sit in back room meetings hour after hour. They talk amongst themselves. They share their frustrations, their joy, and their grief with one another. They swap stories about nightmarish alumni, recruiting snafus, and unreasonable fans. They do not have to explain what it is to be a coach – they know. They do not have to try and quantify "how it feels" to lose a national title or a critical game – they know. This is an environment where outsiders are given some information, but it is virtually impossible for them to grasp the depth of the knowledge of those on the inside.
Second, the media often does not know the actual man behind the coach's persona. Most coaches know their field mirrors the Miranda Rights; anything you say can and will be used against you. They learn very quickly to guard their personal life and the lives of their family. Listen to coaches some time. Maybe they speak about a great range of issues, but they rarely speak to who they are as a person. Holtz and Bowden are masters at spinning yarns about personal experiences and humorous events, but how often do they sit down and talk about their deeply held opinions or feelings or their interaction with their families (other than to say they love them). Most coaches are even more recalcitrant than these two. As a result, the impression of many who think they "know" a coach is often false. They do not really know them, they don't understand what drives them, and the coaches keep it this way to protect themselves and their families from the intrusive scrutiny of complete strangers.
Finally, not everyone who is pawned off as a "resident expert" really is. If you talk to enough people, you cannot help but come to the conclusion that a lot of people think they are experts in a lot of subjects when the reality is quite different. Someone might have an opinion about foreign policy, but in no way does that make them an expert. Even if they work in the state department dealing with Europe, they lack qualifications and training to tell ambassadors and foreign ministers how they should handle North Korea. It is simply not their area of specialty. In the same vein, the media may know a great deal about their field, but they (at least most of them) – at a base level lack the qualifications, training, and expertise to tell a coach what to do with their career. Can they express an opinion? Yup - you bet. Are all opinions valid and based on real knowledge and expertise? Nope. They are simply opinions and should be expressed as such. For the most part, these are individuals who have never coached at the college level, never interviewed at a high profile school for their head coaching position, and never faced the anger of unreasonable fans and alumni. For them to believe they inherently know more by virtue of their long tenure as a sports analyst – than the coach who has talked to, investigated, and considered the situation at ground zero is simply hubris.
It is very possible, and likely probable in fact, that the coach knows more than the media. Do not always believe what you read. Not all of it is accurate…
It is just a Tempest in a Teapot…
Sure, one might point out that there is less mobility in recent years than in the past because parity allows everyone to have a chance to win. Sure, there are some jobs that have more inherent risks and pressure. Sure, hindsight might be 20-20 and some coaches might regret coaching moves they have made.
However, after looking at hard evidence, I cannot help but believe that when it comes to these dire predictions the media has it wrong; it is not a question of if these schools will find a good coach but rather, who will it be? The schools continue to land top-notch talent no matter how their last man exited because they understand what drives these men of high intensity. They know that their job offers the chance to win, the chance at a higher payday, a shot at immortality and national titles. They know that these men believe they can win (which is why they want to hire them), and that these men are willing to reap the benefits and work around the difficulties. They know that the proverbial dangling carrot will simply be too much to bear; someone in their most wanted list will take the bait.
The conclusion of the matter must be that most of these criticisms heaped upon schools that fire their head coaches are little more than tempests in a teapot. They accomplish nothing. The coaches are not listening. The alumni have turned a deaf ear. Even the fanatical fans refuse to believe their school will not attract a top coach (though they might believe it if it were their rivals). About the only folks who listen to and value articles predicting doom and gloom on a school are those who write them and those who are easily persuaded.
So the next time someone tries to pawn off a self-righteous tirade about how school X is what is wrong with college football, take it for what it is worth – very little.
E-mail Charles at email@example.com